Learning from young human rights activists in the Middle East & North Africa

Michel Banz, acting Manager of the International Human Rights Education Centre shares the experience of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Youth and HRE Exchange workshop that took place in Morocco in December 2012.

MARTA: Hi everyone. This is Marta Nali for the Human Rights Education Network News talking with Michel Banz, acting Manager of the International Human Rights Education Centre.

MARTA: In December 2012 you went to Morocco, Michel, to talk with young human rights activists from the Middle East and North Africa Region. What was the main purpose of the workshop?

MICHEL: The main purpose was to learn about the MENA region and the issues that are at stake for the youths especially. So we wanted to talk with them, listen to them about how they regarded the issues in the region.

MARTA: What was special about the way you held the workshop and how did this affect the atmosphere of the meeting? How did the participants react to it?

MICHEL: What was special about it was that it was based on participatory approaches. That means that we let the participants take ownership of a very big part of the workshop and they had the opportunity to influence how it was done, what kind of content we had in the workshop and so on. So they had a big responsibility and a very big ownership of the workshop. For many of them it was the first time that they experienced being in this and to be taken seriously, so what we experienced is that they really engaged seriously, indeed. I think that the workshop gained a lot from them because they took the responsibility and they put some issues on the agenda that we could not have thought of from the beginning. We can also see that they are going to use much of the same kind of approaches in their own work, at least this is the initial reaction from them because it was really something that engaged them quite a lot.

MARTA: How many participants were there and where were they from?

MICHEL: We had 17 participants from different countries in the MENA region. We had people from Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Morocco, Algeria, so from all over the region.

MARTA: What did the young people have to say about human rights in the region?

MICHEL: They focused very much on freedom of speech. Because that’s a big issue and is connected with a lot of other issues because freedom of speech is kind of the base of being able to voice your concerns about other issues in the region. But much of the beginning of the revolutions were resting on the fact that there is a very a big inequality in the societies and it’s difficult for young people to find a job, to get bread on the table and so on. So it has a lot to do with the poverty issue as well as inequality.

MARTA: Did you get an idea of what the atmosphere is like in the MENA region in relation to human rights education?

MICHEL: I think that’s a very big opportunity just now. It’s really important that we can do human rights education in the region because we have some countries which are in a transition period from having a dictatorship and now trying with democracy. But democracy requires that people are informed about what they do and how they engage in the society. And that’s where human rights education comes in. Human rights education in this sense is also about empowerment of people and for them to be able to be critical with what the promises that they get, the stories that they read on the media and so on. So I think it’s also really connected with all the other work that we are doing in the Region and that we are going to do.

MARTA: What do you think are the key areas to address in the MENA region over the next year?

MICHEL: For us as the [International Human Rights Education] Centre we are going to focus a lot on capacity building to build relations with young activists but also with the sections and the Regional office of Beirut, of course. We are going to start seed projects in the Region. We have resources from the Norwegian Telethon, so I hope by the end of the year we will see some large HRE projects taking place in the Region.

MARTA: Thank you very much for the interview!

Interview conducted by Marta Nali, HRE Communications intern on 6 February 2013 at the International Secretariat in London, for the International HRE Network News.

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