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Field Notes: An exploration of the methodology of human rights monitors

In conjunction with Human Rights Watch UK

Speakers: Aida Seif El Dawla; Tiawan Gongloe; Javier Stauring
October 2004

Abstract

In this fourth 'Field notes' event, a panel of frontline human rights defenders will discuss the principles of monitoring human rights violations in their countries: their different methods of collecting and evaluating information and the ways in which they develop a strategic advocacy campaign both locally and at an international level.

Aida Seif El Dawla is a founding member and chairperson of the Egyptian Association against Torture. The Association works with nongovernmental organizations that provide legal, medical, and social services to ensure that victims of torture and their families receive support; monitors and reports on cases of torture; and advocates for both prosecutions and for legal and social change. A professor of psychiatry at Cairo's Ain Shams University, Dr Seif El Dawla and three others in 1993 formed the El Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, the first and, to date, only organization of its kind in Egypt. El Nadim initially focused on services for men, women, and children tortured by Egyptian police and security forces, but later developed an independent program for the treatment of female victims of all forms of violence. In 1984 Dr Seif El Dawla also helped found the New Woman Research Center, which, unlike other Egyptian groups at the time, challenged both the government's incrementalist approach to women's rights and religious fundamentalists' efforts to deny women the most basic freedoms. As Egypt recently has witnessed further restrictions of the rights of organization, freedom of expression, and peaceful assembly and demonstration, Dr Seif El Dawla and the El Nadim center have been on the front lines, documenting torture of anti-war demonstrators in March and April 2003, assisting in their legal defence, and even demonstrating in front of Egypt's Prosecutor General's office to demand medical care for those still in prison.

Los Angeles native Javier Stauring is a Catholic lay chaplain who has worked to improve the conditions in which juvenile offenders are incarcerated. Mr Stauring has served as a chaplain at the Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles since 1995 and is now co-director of detention ministries for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, a position he has held since January 2003. He also serves as policy director for Faith Communities for Families and Children, a Los Angeles-area interfaith coalition that advocates on behalf of youths in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems. Shocked by abusive detention conditions for youths in Los Angeles's Men's Central Jail, Mr Stauring recently mobilized and led a local coalition to press for change. After the coalition publicized abuses in the jail, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors declared that Men's Central was unfit for detainees under the age of eighteen. Mr Stauring's decision to speak out, however, came at some risk to his professional reputation: When he spoke at a protest in front of the jail and questioned whether conditions in the jail contributed to two May suicide attempts, the sheriff's department, in an apparent act of retaliation, revoked his clearance to minister to the youths at Men's Central. Mr Stauring believes that a holistic approach of direct ministry, education, and advocacy can better the lives of incarcerated youth and their families. He has worked effectively to promote creative approaches to crime prevention, alternatives to incarceration, and systemic change of the juvenile justice system.

Tiawan Gongloe is one of Liberia's leading human rights lawyers. A steady voice calling for the respect for the rule of law and human rights, he has exhibited incredible courage and strength over the ten years that he has worked closely with Human Rights Watch. Political detainees, independent journalists, human rights activists and victims of abuse have relied on Mr Gongloe to step forward to defend their rights in the courtroom or demand their release. Outside the courtroom, Mr Gongloe is a well-known voice in Liberia, regularly commenting in the media or at meetings on human rights issues. Liberia's former president, Charles Taylor, tried to silence independent voices to stem criticism of abuses by his government and his security forces. Increasingly under attack and subject to mistreatment and violence, numerous journalists and human rights activists fled for their lives. But Mr Gongloe stayed, indefatigably coming to the defence of persecuted colleagues. In April 2002, Mr Gongloe was arrested without charge and detained overnight in police custody. By the following morning, he had been brutalized so severely that he was unable to stand. Following pressure from local and international groups, the government did transfer Mr Gongloe to a hospital. Fearing that he would be rearrested and tortured again upon his release from the hospital, Human Rights Watch helped organize for Mr Gongloe and his family to leave Liberia. He currently lives in Philadelphia, where he is still recuperating.

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