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Leaving no one behind: promoting respect for fundamental human rights by non-state armed actors

Today is the International Human Rights Day and on this occasion Fight for Humanity would like to pay tribute to all human rights defenders and to highlight the need to better protect fundamental human rights in countries affected by armed conflict notably in areas controlled by non-state armed actors. Although at least 66 million people are estimated to live in these areas, there is a lack of awareness as well as tools and mechanisms to enhance the respect for human rights by many of these actors. The lack of respect for basic human rights such as the freedom of expression, religion, or assembly; and the restriction of minority rights or women’s rights make the return to peace more difficult and force many people to leave their homes and countries. Fight for Humanity has prioritized human rights that it estimates essential to support peace efforts. The freedom of expression In a recent article, Fight for Humanity explained how the freedom of expression is considered an indispensable condition for the full development of a person. Indeed, it constitutes an essential prerequisite for the enjoyment of other cardinal rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and association or the right to vote and take part in the conduct of public affairs. In areas controlled by non-state armed and political actors, this right may be strongly reduced, preventing the realization of many other rights. In this context, human rights defenders and civil society activists live dangerously in many countries today including in areas controlled or of influence of non-state armed actors. Nevertheless, their work is crucial to help strengthen respect for the rights of people, as it helps to shed light on abuses on the ground. Cultural rights Cultural heritage is deeply connected with identity and can, as such, foster reconciliation by stressing communalities and creating bridges between communities and groups. The affirmation of cultural and minority rights and the protection/promotion of cultural heritage in non-state areas, can contribute to peace-making efforts and support the fight against any form of discrimination. In Syria, Fight for Humanity is conducting a project jointly with the local authorities to promote and protect artefacts and a cultural site. Promoting the rights of women and girls In a recent webinar on the rights of women and girls, women leaders from various non-state armed and political actors discussed measures to promote the rights of women and girls in these territories. Fight for Humanity believes that the work for gender equality from the bottom up, in addition to being a goal in itself, is the best way to fight sexual violence and promote women’s participation at all levels. In addition to these key topics the organization also works on the situation of children living in territories controlled by non-state armed actors notably in Syria. Fight for Humanity will continue to construct partnerships with like-minded organizations and to advocate human rights to relevant armed in political actors, in order to better protect the rights of the millions of people living in the areas under their control, working to make sure that no one is indeed left behind.

Women’s rights in times of conflict: women from armed and political movements express their views

If you missed the event, or would like to listen to the speakers again, you can watch the recording by clicking here. (original version) On 19 November 2020, Fight for Humanity organized a webinar to discuss the progress and challenges faced by women leaders when trying to protect, promote, and defend the rights of women and girls in times of conflict. The event took place in the context of the 20-year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security. Nearly 200 people participated in the event to hear first-hand views from 4 women leaders from armed and political movements: Zeyneb Muhemed, Member of the Coordination Committee of Kongra Star (North-East Syria), Dr Najwa Fadhl, STC Presidential advisor for women issues of the Southern Transitional Council - STC (Yemen), Olga Lucía Marín, former combatant and current member of the Common Revolutionary Alternative Force – FARC political party (Colombia) and Naw Wah Khu Shee, central standing committee member, Karen Women’s Organization-KWO/Karen National Union-KNU (Myanmar). When war and insecurity take hold, women bear a heavy burden of violence, poverty and inequality: “during conflict lots of women experience sexual abuse, murder, displacement”, and it “can not be ignored” recalled Naw Wah Khu Shee. Traditionally in many cultures, “men are in leadership positions” and the “problem we are facing is a mentality which is 5’000 years old, the patriarchy” said Zeyneb Muhemed. “[Women are] confronting their husband, facing domestic violence, being kept home. Change need to start from their houses.” There is therefore a need for women to be better represented in the society so that they can promote and defend their own rights, as well as those of other women and girls. The four panelists acknowledged that this representation has been enhanced over the past few years: “Women have become more involved in the structure of the STC. Each governorate has a department mandated to protect the rights of women and empowering them in society” explained Dr Najwa Fadhl. This progress is not enough: even if “there was a focus on gender in the Colombian Peace Agreement” the implementation of this agreement has not permitted to reach a greater gender equality yet. “The issue is not to note it on a piece of paper but to make it happen” stressed Olga Marín. The second part of the webinar looked at possible solutions to achieve greater gender equality in areas affected by armed conflict. For Naw Wah Khu Shee “Education plays a very important role [in achieving] gender equality […] and as KWO we focus on child development and nursery schools so that the mother can have free time and work”. For Olga Marín women “need to organize political parties or women committees” while Zeyneb Muhemed also stressed the need “to establish relations with other women’s organizations” for exchanges, including at the international level. Indeed, this change requires the support from the international community “We hope that the international society will support women especially in countries plagued by conflicts, by supporting their participation and ensuring they are adequately represented” raised Dr Najwa Fadhl. Participants also underlined the importance of awareness-raising towards reaching a broader consensus within society and to include men in the struggle. As Olga Marín said it, “We need to keep struggling for our rights. Even if it doesn’t produce immediate effect it does produce a change of consciousness in people.” Fight for Humanity will publish a report of the event in the coming weeks, based on which it will propose concrete follow up steps and recommendations. It will also work with like-minded organizations to ensure that the voices and efforts of those promoting the rights of women and girls in areas affected by armed conflict and/or controlled by non-state armed actors are heard and made visible.

Women’s rights in times of conflict: Perspectives of women from armed and political movements

Webinar series: first-hand views on human rights and peace Thursday 19 November 2020 2:00pm - 3:15pm (CET) Colombia time: 8:00am / Syria time: 3:00pm / Yemen time: 4pm / Myanmar time: 7:30pm With the participation of women leaders from the Southern Transitional Council - STC (Yemen), the Karen National Union – KNU (Myanmar), Kongra Star - the Women Movement from North East Syria (Syria) and from the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - FARC (Colombia) >> Register for the event About the event In the context of the 20-year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security, Fight for Humanity and Berghof Foundation are organizing an online event to discuss the promotion of the rights of women and girls in conflict settings, from the first-hand perspectives of women in leadership roles in territories governed by various armed and political movements. In this debate the women leaders will reflect upon the progress, the remaining challenges, and look forward towards what can be done within the next 20 years – and beyond – to implement SCR 1325, and more broadly to promote the rights of women and girls in their territories. Panelists Zeyneb Muhemed, Member of Coordination Committe of Kongra Star (North-East Syria) Najwa Fadhl, President advisor for women issues of the Southern Transitional Council (Yemen) Olga Lucia Marín, former combatant, Common Revolutionary Alternative Force – FARC (Colombia) Naw Wah Khu Shee, central standing committee member, Karen Women’s Organization-KWO / Karen National Union-KNU (Myanmar) Agenda (Central European time) 2:00pm Introduction 2:10pm Panel discussion 1. Progress and challenges on the rights of women and girls Q&A session 2. Looking ahead: What could be done to further promote the rights of women and girls Q&A session 3:00pm Concluding remarks 3:15pm End of event Moderation: Fight for Humanity and Berghof foundation Language: English and interpretation into Arabic, Burmese, Spanish and Kurmanji Event registration Registration is mandatory. Once you have registered you will receive an email with instructions on how to join the event on 19 November. You will first access the event waiting room and then the moderator will allow you to join the event at 2:00pm CET. Asking questions to the panelists Send your questions in advance to During the event, you can also send your questions to the moderator by chat messages. There will be no direct webcam or microphone interactions between participants and panelists during the event. >> Register for the event

Forgotten Freedoms: The Right to Free Expression in Areas Controlled by Non-State Armed Actors

In this article, Melina Fidelis-Tzourou and Anki Sjöberg from Fight for Humanity, explain why it matters so much to protect this essential right in territories controlled by non-State armed actors. This article was published as part of a symposium on Compliance in Armed Conflict "New Avenues to Generate Respect for Humanitarian Norms" hosted jointly by the Opinio Juris and Armed Groups and International Law blogs. To read the article on the Armed Groups and International Law blog, please click here.

Video: the protection of cultural heritage in conflict situations: an opportunity for peace ?

by Fight for Humanity and ALIPH foundation In this video, Alexandra Fiebig, Project Manager at the ALIPH Foundation and Anki Sjöberg, Co-Director at Fight for Humanity give concrete examples of projects protecting cultural heritage sites and artefacts in Syria including in Raqqa and in the North East part of the country. They also analyse how vital it is to preserve and promote this heritage, not only for its historical values but also for its unifying power. By promoting the common heritage of different communities living in a same region, these protection projects contribute to peace-building efforts and a better social cohesion. Featuring: Alexandra Fiebig, Project Manager at the ALIPH Foundation Anki Sjöberg, Co-Director at Fight for Humanity

A reflection on the prevention of Sexual Violence in conflict through Positive Role-Modelling

In the context of the 20th anniversary of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security, the journal of International Peacekeeping is publishing a series of articles entitled “Peacekeeping Prevention: Strengthening Efforts to Preempt Conflict-related Sexual Violence[1]”. Anki Sjöberg, Fight for Humanity’s co-Director, contributed to this forum with an article on experiences from the prevention of Conflict-related Sexual Violence (CRSV) with non-State armed actors. “When encouraging armed actors to prevent sexual violence and promote gender equality, it is also important to highlight positive examples, research in neuroscience has shown that only showcasing violations may have a counterproductive effect – contributing to more, not fewer violations” she says.

In her article, she provides lessons learnt from her long experience on advocating the prevention of sexual violence towards non-State armed actors and she draws a set of recommendations on how to be more successful: Working on gender issues can be a door opener with non-State armed actors, as discussions exclusively on CRSV are sensitive, provides high risks and limited incentives for them. Focusing on sexual violence and not just CRSV could help create and maintain the interest of non-State armed actors interlocutors, as they may be facing challenges that don’t relate in direct terms to the conflict, such as domestic violence and abuse. Context-specific and targeted data on violations provides a basis for advocacy work towards non-State armed actors and allows them to find solutions that fit the actual problem. If well done and acknowledging efforts undertaken it can also help build confidence in the dialogue process. Positive role-modelling is a as way of helping non-State armed actors accept a change in behaviour. “To be able to approach armed actors on this issue it is also essential that peacekeeping forces and policies support the creation or expansion of space for human rights actor such as Fight for Humanity” she stresses. To read all the articles click here and for Anki Sjöberg's article go to page 562. 20 years ago, on 31 October 2000, the United Nations (UN) Security Council adopted resolution 1325 that reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and peacekeeping. The International Peacekeeping is an international peer-reviewed journal that examines the theory, practice, outcomes and consequences of peacekeeping operations throughout the world. [1] Olsson, Louise, Angela Muvumba Sellström, Stephen Moncrief, Elisabeth Jean Wood, Karin Johansson, Walter Lotze, Chiara Ruffa, Amelia Hoover Green, Ann Kristin Sjöberg and Roudabeh Kishi. 2020. FORUM. Peacekeeping Prevention: Strengthening Efforts to Preempt Conflict-related Sexual Violence, International Peacekeeping.

The Syrian Democratic Forces pledge to protect cultural property in North East Syria

Read the Arabic version here. On October 12, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued military instructions to protect cultural heritage during armed conflict. It is the first time a non-state armed actor issues specific military instructions concerning the protection of cultural heritage. Fight for Humanity welcomes this important step that follows a sustained dialogue with the SDF on this issue. “Protecting cultural heritage is also protecting what the different communities living in the region have in common. We encouraged the SDF to issue these instructions and provided legal advice, we now hope that other armed actors will follow suit in Syria” says Mehmet Balci, Fight for Humanity co-Director. In the preamble of these military instructions, the SDF states that "in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict (in particular the 1954 Hague Convention), the 2015 United Nations Security Council Resolution 2199 regarding respect for cultural properties […], the SDF pledges to ensure respect for cultural property during armed conflict. The SDF also pledges to ensure that cultural properties are not affected in areas under its security and military control.” Upon a request from the SDF, Fight for Humanity consulted several experts on international law and the protection of cultural heritage and provided legal and technical support on the writing of these instructions. The organization will now support their implementation in collaboration with the Directorate of Antiquities of the Self-Administration in North East Syria. A roadmap is under development to plan activities including an awareness-raising campaign towards the different communities on the importance of preserving this common heritage. Fight for Humanity will also work on starting up a dialogue with other non-state armed actors in Syria on this topic and encourage them to take similar measures. The organization calls upon all parties to the Syrian armed conflict to respect and protect cultural heritage for future generations and for its peacebuilding potential, as it can help re-forming bonds between communities. Since 2011, cultural heritage in Syria has been seriously damaged by armed conflict. Several non-state armed actors operating in Syria have been involved in the destruction of cultural heritage sites and in illicit trafficking of artefacts. Fight for Humanity is currently implementing a project to protect a historical site in Tell Beydar and to safeguard artefacts found during past excavations or seized from smugglers. This project is implemented with the support of the ALIPH foundation.

Promoting the rights of victims of ISIS: a first meeting between Iraqi and Syrian NGOs

On 18 August 2020, Fight for Humanity, in collaboration with the Coalition for Just Reparations (C4JR) organized an online meeting on the rights of victims of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq and North East Syria. 24 participants attended this exchange between local NGOs defending Human Rights in Iraq and North East Syria. The meeting aimed at sharing experiences between Iraqi and Syrian NGOs, on the topic of the judicial processes against ISIS detainees in Syria, Iraq or in any other country, and exploring possibilities to reinforce collaboration between both sides. The organizations presented their work, and related challenges, and came up with recommendations to increase collaboration including the creation of a joint mechanism to favour exchange and collaboration. “The crimes committed by ISIS removed the borders [between the countries]” stated a participant from Iraq. “The international experience shows that it takes a long time for criminal justice, but we should have the objectives to work towards this. There is a need to see how we could work together and transfer the work to international bodies", added a Syrian NGO participant. This collaboration would facilitate common advocacy to make their voice heard at the local level, but also at the international level. It would be helpful to increase information sharing about abuses that involve both regions. “One problem is that the ongoing processes in Iraq, Syria, and elsewhere, tend to favour a justice based on anti-terrorist laws and condemn ISIS members just because they belong to the group, without considering the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparation” says Anki Sjoeberg, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director. “Thousands of victims and survivors of ISIS that live in North-East Syria and Iraq are hoping for reparation and justice. Although the situations in Iraq and North East Syria are very different, an increased collaboration and dialogue between both sides would certainly benefit them” added Fight for Humanity’s other Co-Director Mehmet Balci. Fight for Humanity will keep on working to facilitate a better inclusion of the victims’ perspectives in the debate on ISIS detainees. This project is supported by Medico International.

NE Syria: disseminating the rules protecting children in armed conflict, among the armed force

Since December 2019, Fight for Humanity has been working toward implementation of the ‘Action Plan to End and Prevent the Recruitment and Use of Children’ signed by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the United Nations (UN). To make this agreement a reality in North East Syria, Fight for Humanity has been conducting advocacy initiatives and direct dialogue with the local armed and political actors. In addition to these activities, Fight for Humanity has also held 12 awareness-raising sessions, on child protection and the Action Plan, for 467 participants from the SDF, the Self-Administration in North East Syria (SA-NES), the Internal Security Forces (ISF) and local NGOs. These sessions focused on the Action Plan and the obligations it contains, including the prohibition to recruit children under the age of 18, even for functions such as driver, cook or manning a checkpoint. The sessions also cover topics such as the other norms aimed at protecting children and education during armed conflict. The Syrian Democratic Forces Fight for Humanity has trained more than 248 officers from the Syrian Democratic Forces, including commando forces at their training centres. In August, Fight for Humanity trained 8 officers in charge of approving new recruits at the SDF recruitment centres. The trainer presented the general principles and standards to correctly assess the age of new recruits. The Internal Security Forces Fight for Humanity has trained 176 officers and members of the ISF on the UN action plan. In June, two sessions gathered 155 male and female officers from different cities, while in July, 21 women officers, from different ISF centres, attended another session Local authorities Fight for Humanity’s Coordinator in NES organized a dissemination session in August, for 9 members of the Child Protection Committee in Raqqa city. This committee was recently created by the Self-Administration to work on all child protection aspects in NES, including analysing and tackling child recruitment within the armed forces. In addition to this committee, the local authorities also established a complaint mechanism that allows families and humanitarian actors to submit complaints and reports regarding the recruitment of minors into the ranks of the SDF. Local NGOs It is also important that the civil society is aware of this Action Plan and Fight for Humanity conducted specific sessions for them. Later in August, two more sessions were provided for 15 local and international NGOs. All this trainings will ensure that the obligations of the UN/SDF action plan are widely-known in the area, notably by armed actors. Even if it is early to evaluate the impact of this dissemination work, the level of awareness of the armed forces, and the population, on the action plan has already been enhanced and the UN observed that the number of children recruited by the armed forces has dropped in the area in 2020.

Colombia: protecting peace during the current spike in armed violence in the Nariño region

On August 20, Fight for Humanity, together with the Nariño Humanitarian Group, facilitated a discussion about the violence in Nariño. The Peace Provincial Council and the Nariño Governor, the president of the National Peace Council and the United Nations in Colombia and Nariño Humanitarian Group shared their views on how to develop solutions to better protect people in the region from armed violence. This meeting followed the recent massacre in Samaniego, in which 9 young people were killed by an armed group. In the context of COVID-19, a sharp increase in armed violence has been observed in Colombia: according to NGO Indepaz, there have been 61 massacres in Colombia so far in 2020. The meeting highlighted the situation in Nariño at the national and international level. Following this discussion, the situation was prioritized in the agenda of the National Peace Council and a special session will be held on Nariño. During the meeting, participants also gave their support to the Action Plan: “10 points for peace in Samaniego”, created by the City Peace Council of Samaniego. Fight for Humanity will continue to support local initiatives to promote peace and protect people from armed violence. The “Nariño Humanitarian Group” was created in February 2020 and is composed of several humanitarian and human rights organizations, including the Colombian Campaign to ban Landmines, the South Institute - Alexander von Humbold, Compromiso Humano and Fight for Humanity. The group signed an agreement with the Nariño authorities to advise the provincial authorities and Peace Council on humanitarian and human rights issues.

Debate: Mind the Gap? Human Rights and Non-States Parties to Armed Conflict

If you missed the event, you can watch it here. On 14 July 2020, Fight for Humanity organized an online event hosted by France, Slovenia and Liechtenstein, for the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council. The webinar discussed the existing gaps in the application of Human Rights to non-state parties to armed conflict. An all-female panel of four human rights professionals and academics, moderated by Ambassador Peter Matt of Liechtenstein, responded to the question: “Should human rights laws be applied to, and respected by, non-state parties? An uncertainty on whether human rights legally binds non-state actors As Emilie Max, Researcher, Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights; explained it, non-state parties are bound by rules of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) either under common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions or under Article 1 of additional Protocol II. However when it comes to Human Rights Law, “there is an uncertainty or even a controversy on whether human rights law actually binds as a matter of law, non-state parties because it is a legal framework that only speaks to states, whereas, for instance, IHL speaks to the parties to the conflict,” commented Emilie Max. In fact, the international community expects non-state parties to respect human rights in the areas they control, but, legally speaking, “While there are certain mechanisms in place […] that regularly monitor the situation and enter into dialogue with states on the respect of human rights, there is no similar mechanism to engage with non-state actors,” stressed Professor Vasilka Sancin, Head of the Department of International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Being pragmatic “I don’t believe that the international legal framework is fit for purpose” explained UN Special Representative Agnes Callamard, “by privileging a narrow reading of human rights law, which was meaningful in 1948 […] we have denied the experience of people who live under the control of armed groups. […] The discussion today is challenging us to re-think how we are making sense of the lived experience of millions of people around the world who have been neglected by the legal framework.” Even if the legal framework is not adapted to the non-state actors, the panelists agreed that the most important was to focus on the question “What can we do to improve their respect for human rights law?” For that, it is necessary to understand why non-state actors do, or do not, respect human rights. “Non-state parties to conflict often see human rights as something that they can claim that belongs to them, and not necessarily something that they should also respect and provide” said Anki Sjoeberg, Fight for Humanity’s Co-Director “This perspective needs to be challenged and slowly changed, so that non-state parties to conflict take measures to increase respect for human rights." Recommendations to better protect people living in territories controlled by non-state actors Noting that, in this context, the situation is complex, the four panelists made several recommendations on what can be done by the international community to tackle this challenging situation: Engage in dialogue with non-state parties and raise awareness and knowledge of human rights; Work with members of non-state parties to modify their rules in favour of human rights Support local human rights organizations on the ground and engage with them; Support research and reporting of what is happening on the ground. It can help advocacy work and engagement work; Think about creating a mechanism to hold non-state actors accountable for human rights violations. Following this event, Fight for Humanity will start a process to build tools and approaches towards a better respect for human rights by non-state parties to conflict.

Annual report 2019: Advocating respect for human rights

2019 was an exciting year for Fight for Humanity. It should, as it was the first! Throughout the years working in and on conflict areas on humanitarian issues, mainly in areas of non-state or split control, we were challenged with the implementation gap on the ground. In fact, people in areas affected by violence and conflict, and especially in non-state areas, were “less equal” than others, as those controlling the areas were not considered as duty-bearers and were not included in action towards improving the respect of human rights. After several months of discussions, Fight For Humanity was born to fill this gap and work on the promotion of human rights, peace and gender in countries affected by armed conflict notably in areas controlled by non-State actors. Based on this objective, we have developed a three-year strategy that put values such as diversity, inclusion, creativity, new technology, positivity and efficiency at its core. During this first year Fight for Humanity developed the organization structurally and operationally. The governance structure was we set up, policies developed, an agreement signed with a partner that administers the accounting, payroll, and grant management, while, at the same time, organizing the first operational events in Geneva, and starting up in-country projects with partners. We would like to thank the members of our Committee, the Advisor Council, associate experts, volunteers, and human rights and humanitarian activists who helped us make this possible. >> Download our 2019 annual report >> Download our 2019 audited financial statements

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