Amnesty campaigners Amy Summers and Bethan Cansfield joined us on Facebook for a live Q&A on the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa.
For those of you that couldn't join us live we've put all the questions we answered during the hour below.
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Bethan: Hi all, I am Amnesty UK's Women's Human Right Campaigner. Working on women's rights in the Middle East and North Africa
Amy: Hello! I work on our Middle East and North Africa campaigns at Amnesty UK.
Question: Has the case of Syria shown that there is online so far that peaceful demonstrations can go before the necessity for defense?
Amy; Hi Saf, no I certainly don't believe that. The vast majority of people killed and injured in Syria have been peaceful protestors. Even in the face of government brutality, protestors across the whole region have shown that peaceful protest and non-violent action brings about change. Not violence.
Q: We've a question from Ibrahim Rabiu: As recognised global organisation,what effort did u put to restore peace in syria and to verify justice in syria?
Amy: Hi Ibrahim. Since April, we have been calling on the international community to refer the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; impose immediately a complete arms embargo on Syria and implement an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others. In terms of justice, we believe that referring the situation in Syria to the ICC is a good first step to ensure accoutability for human rights violations
Q: How can we help?
Amy: Hi Rachel, you can help us pressure the governments involved to act. Keep an eye out on our website for actions to come. www.amnesty.org.uk/protest
Q: And another question from Liam McMahon: what was the role of women in the revolution?
Bethan: This participation raised women's expectation after Mubarak's resignation - unfortunately the reality has been a crushing disappointment.
Q: what about - how are you/how can we support women post revolution in Egypt where their situation seems to have deteriorated rather than improved, with attacks on women celebrating International Womens Day in Tahrir square just after the downfall of Mubarak and the "virginity tests" of single women arrested during demonstrations?
Bethan: Given the election of the new parliament, we feel that now is the right time to check in with Egyptian women’s groups, to see how things stand and how best activists around the world can support their work. We will be updating activists on how these conversations go and will hopefully have campaign actions later in the year. Another large way that organizations like Amnesty can support women’s activists is to amplify the voices of women's activists.
Q: Hi, what do you see as the main challenges in Egypt currently? Thanks.
Bethan: We are very concerned about women’s human rights in Egypt. Since it assumed power, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces has subjected women to forced virginity testing and other gender based violence. Women are also systematically excluded at almost every level of decision-making .
Amy: Hi Anne, at the moment the main challenge is to ensure that real human rights reforms are made. We have been calling on the political parties in Egypt to sign up to our 'Manifesto for Change' - 10 key human rights pledges. But a key barrier to human rights at the moment is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) who has not shown itself able to offer the kind of accountable, transparent government that the Egyptian people called for throughout 2011.
Amnesty UK: Hi Anne, we've an action you can currently take asking the Supreme Council to end military trials of civilians
Q: What can we do as indivduals to help the people in Syria? What's the next step?
Amy: At the moment, a UN Security Council resolution referring the situation in Syria to the Prosecutor of the ICC, imposing a complete arms embargo and implementing an asset freeze against President Bashar al-Assad and others are achievable and realistic steps that could be taken to show the Syria government that the world will not stand by in the face of mounting evidence of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity. Look out for action you can take on our website soon www.amnesty.org.uk/syria
Amnesty UK: We can also show the people of Syria that we're with them in spirit - join our solidarity action here: https://
Q: Hallo! How far do you think that Amnesty International has influenced the Arab Uprisings?
Amy: Hi Sanna, we have called on governments of the region to implement human rights reforms and respect the right to peaceful protest. We hope that we are having an influence on those in power. You can read about the reforms we have been calling for in our 'Agenda for Change' documents - available at www.amnesty.org.uk/protest
Q: Can anyone say these countries now have a better approach to human rights?
Bethan: From a women’s human rights perspective the revolutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa have presented an amazing opportunity for progression on women’s human rights. Unfortunately this progress has often not materialised for women
Amy: There has definitely been a seismic shift in the region. Governments now know that they must do more to meet the aspirations ont heir people, and to deliver a degree of accountability and transparency. There have been significant human rights gains in Tunisia and Egypt, where long standing repressive governments known for their human rights abuses were oustsed by people power. You can read more about our analysis of the human rights situation across the MENA region in our 'Year of Rebellion' Report here: http://www.amnesty.org.uk/
Q: Does amnasty international have any indictments against the various genocides by western nations and on helping dictators do it? what are your indictments against illegal military interventions by the western nations for economic gain and neo-colonist ideas?
Amy: Accountability for crimes against humanity is a key priority for Amnesty International and we have a long history of work on this area and a current global campaign on International Justice. Our calls for justice and accountability for human rights violations are consistent, regardless of where they occur, or who is responsible. For example, we are calling for former Vice-President Cheney to be investigated for his role in torture
Q: Hi Beth and Amy, how will the family women survive on a day to day basis ,where during the uprising the family breadwinners have been killed or have disappeared? Can they take over family businesses and how easy will it be for them to work if the position of women has deteriorated this year?
Bethan: I recently spoke with an Egyptian women’s rights activists about women workers. More than 25 per cent of households are headed by women and these are the poorest of the poor. Women face gender discrimination in the workplace including sexual harassment. Women cannot complain because they fear they will lose their jobs. Many women also do not know their rights.
Q: Do you have any evidence that the sexual assaults on demonstrating women have been engineered - maybe by SCAF - to increase disquiet about the revolution and subdue people?
Bethan: Throughout the world, women’s human rights defenders and activists are subjected to sexual violence. This violence is used to control women in times of internal conflict. Although in this case we do not have information on the violence being engineered by SCAF to increase disquiet.
Q: Isn´t it a big misunderstanding to expect social and cultural changes that fast, just because we gave military support to these countries?
Amy: Hi Toia, we have seen significant human rights gains in Tunisia and Egypt. But there is still a long way to go. In Libya, the NTC has committed itself to building a democratic, multi-party state based on the respect for fundamental human rights. Amnesty welcomes these committments, but will continue to urge the new Libyan leadership to translate these into reality. The international community should assist Libya in this process.
Q: Isn't it true that human rights in Libya are actually more in danger now, than before NTC came to power? There is an abundance of evidence out there showing rebel militias torturing and imprisoning Libyans based on their connections with the former regime, their color of skin or even just based on rumors.
Amy: Yes Ana, we have evidence of serious human rights abuses committed by all sides throughout 2011. We have continued to highlight the abuses committed by the NTC. Have a look at our reports and news stories here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/
Q: I am wondering whether we are able to distinguish these events in the Middle East and whether we are doing the people involved a disservice by lumping them all together under easy catchphrases such as "Arab Spring". All the the events seem to have different motivators and involvements. Egypt seemed to go the way it did because senior people, even in the army, wished to see Mubarak overthrown - possibly because they had not previously been aware of the income to which the regime had access. I heard the BBC broadcast about the army being asked to shoot at demonstrators and one soldier shooting at his own brother. It seems a very different situation, more like a tribal war between peoples. Is Amnesty in a position to distinguish in its work between such widely diverse cultures and reactions?
Amy: Hi Sarah, we have teams of researchers at our International Secretariat who are experts on individual countries. They work with civil society groups and NGOs on the ground in those countries and where possible, conduct regular research in-country. Their thorough research and expertise guides the all the reports we write. All our work on the MENA region has fully considered the different politcal, cultural, economic and social conditions. Also, I don't think the term 'Arab Spring' is appropriate, the protests brought together people from many different communities – certainly Arabs for the most part but also Amazigh, Kurds and others. You can read more about our analysis of individual countries in our 'Year of Rebellion' Report: http://www.amnesty.org/
Q: Will those measures you are calling for actually have an impact on the Syrian government?
Amy: Hi Paul, we believe they are achievable and realistic steps that could be taken to show the Syria government that the world will not stand by in the face of mounting evidence of gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity.
Q: I've just read that "Several NGOs have had their offices raided by Egyptian authorities, and nineteen Americans, five Serbs, two Germans, and three non-Egyptian Arab nationals have been banned from leaving Egypt" (from Care2 Action Alerts) by the military council in Egypt. How do you think this reflects on people's hopes that human rights will be upheld within new regimes overturned during the Arab Spring?
Amy: Hi Tom, the crackdown on NGOs in Egypt at the moment is shocking. You can read a bit more about our response here: http://www.amnesty.org/en/
Comment:I think it highlights the fear that the authorities still have of the people and the fact that NGOs act independently from their power circles, promoting human rights and the validity of every Egyptians thought and voice. The people will continue to hope and continue to fight for genuine change not just a superficial one, and this will motivate them to challenge the new powers...I believe that the raids and shut down of NGOS since the beginning of Jan has been under the orders of the only remaining man standing in government from Mubaraks old regime.
Q: Who are the groups who have the power or are interested in taking it in North Africa and the Middle East, and where do they all fall on the political spectrum?
Amy: Hi Tom, there are many existing political parties and new groups who are forming new political parties, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia where we have seen recent elections. Their place on the political spectrum varies, but you can find this information online. We have done some work with political parties to urge them to sign up to our 'Manifesto for Change', have a look here: http://www.amnesty.org/
Q: We've had some questions on our events page which we'll try to answer as well. Here's one from Jessica Walsh: When campaigning for equality in Africa how do you deal with the challenge of balancing the respect for humanity with cultural tradition and religion? It must be a regular barrier to the work you do; facing the misconception that you are westernising people?
Bethan: Human rights are universal – including women’s rights. Tradition and culture can not be used to justify violations of women’s human rights. It is a barrier, labels such as 'western' are meant to denigrate the important nature of women's human rights defender's work in the region.
Q: "Unity, not uniformity, must be our aim. We attain unity only through variety. Differences must be integrated, not annihilated, not absorbed." - Ultimately its all about balancing multiculturalism and assimilitionism. In a certain sense, while campaigning for equality, you are westernising them because equality for whatever reason does not exist in their current cultural/religious traditions, equality, while not purely a western idea, is very much from the west and came about firstly through the judeo-christian tradition and then through the development of secular humanism. Humanity, cultural traditions and religion must be respected, though sometimes it shouldnt be respected. It depends on which approach would be more productive, sometimes respecting a culture or religion can be counterproductive, other times it is productive. Bethan, human rights are not universal, they do not exist in all cultures and to try to impose human rights on cultures is by definition imperialist (that being said, imperialism isnt necessarily a bad thing). The people must choose their way of life after being taught about it.
Bethan: Hi Richard - Amnesty disagrees, human rights are a package you cannot sign up to one and ignore another set of rights. Human rights are indivisible. Unfortunately it is often women who bear the brunt of the claim that human rights are not universal - it is often their rights that are traded away under the guise of culture or tradition. Women's activists in the region are clearly saying that democracy, freedom, social justice MUST include women's human rights.
Thank you for a fantastic hour - we hope you've found the answers from Amy and Bethan helpful and interesting. To wind up our hour, Amy, Bethan, have you any closing thoughts you'd like to share?
Amy: Thank you everyone for taking part today, and sorry if I've not had a chance to respond to all of you. 2012 gives us a once in a generation opportunity to effect significant human rights change in the MENA region, I hope that you will join us in ensuring this happens.
Bethan: Thank you for all the interesting questions. As a final point, Amnesty is clear that women's rights are human rights - and that human rights are universal. Women throughout the MENA region are demanding their rights, alongside men and children - and we are supporting them in their fight.
Amy: You can of course find out more information on our website www.amnesty.org.uk/protest and you will find information and reports on all the issues raised today from our research headquarters here: www.amnesty.org/MENA
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