Homo Homini human rights award given to a Syrian teacher that stood up to Bashar Assad's regime and the Islamic State

Published: Feb 13, 2015 Reading time: 7 minutes
Homo Homini human rights award given to a Syrian teacher that stood up to Bashar Assad's regime and the Islamic State

Prague, 13 February 2015 – The 2014 Homo Homini Award has been given to Souad Nawfal, a Syrian teacher and activist, for her perseverance and fortitude with which she stood against the injustices committed by President Bashar Assad's regime and the so-called Islamic State, regardless of the threat to her own safety. The prize is traditionally awarded at the opening ceremony of the One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, which will be held on March 2, 2015 at the Prague Crossroads.

"Souad Nawfal deserves the Homo Homini Award not only for her courage to publicly show her opposition to the criminal behavior of the Islamic State in front of its headquarters in Raqqa, but also for her long-term non-violent protests against one of the world’s cruelest regimes, that of Assad in Syria," said Simon Panek, Director of People in Need, which awards the prize annually. "Through this award we want to express our support for the many other Syrians who are actively and non-violently opposing extremism and terror, whichever sideit’s coming from," added Panek.

Souad Nawfal became well known after protesting daily against the behavior of ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) for two and a half months in the summer of 2013 in Syria. Her struggle for freedom and justice, had started much earlier when she turned against the oppression and injustices being committed by the Assad regime. When the revolution broke out in Syria, she was among the first who stopped being afraid of pro-government militias and openly expressed her desire for the regime's downfall. "Right from the beginning, after the incident in Dar'a, we started to demonstrate that this cannot go on and that the regime must fall.  We organized small flash-mob demonstrations where 7 to 10 people quickly gathered and, after a few minutes, quickly dispersed, because the presence of state security in the streets was very strong." says Souad. The police investigated her several times and eventually succeeded in getting her dismissed from the school where she worked as a teacher.

Souad continued with her protests and started helping people who, , had to flee their homes because of the war. She notes that the arrival of ISIS later on came as a consequence of Assad's regime, which enabled it to rise. "The behavior of ISIS is exactly the same as the behavior of Assad – they also suppress all freedoms, and use arrests and kidnapping of activists and anyone elsewho disagree with them," explains Souad. "Islam is completely innocent, it has nothing in common with their interpretations. They only apply their twisted way of thinking, which is no different from Assad’s politics," she adds.

As a result of the frequent kidnappings of activists and people who disagreed with the new order, Souad was left asthe lone protester in front of ISIS’ headquarters in Raqqa. "When I came and stood there, holding up a sign in front of ISIS’ headquarters, for the first time I could see the fear in their eyes. They were terrified by the idea that a woman could come and stand before them and all their weapons, holding up only a sign and still not be afraid of them. They threatened me daily with those weapons," says Souad.

After more than two months of her daily protests, the violent behavior and threats from the armed men forced her to leave her home. She went into hiding and eventually managed to flee from Syria. She now lives in Europe. Shortly after Souad’s departure from Raqqa, ISIS completely took control of the town and called for the strict enforcement of extreme prohibitions and penalties.

With the outbreak of an armedconflict in Syria, the voices of peacefulactivists, lawyers, journalists and doctors, who had been calling for respect of human rights and democracy in Syria, have virtually disappeared from the attention of the media. Like Souad, they are opposed to Bashar Assad's regime as much as to any other, new sources of repression. Dozens of well-known activists are being held in the regime’s prisons, or in the hands of ISIS and other armed groups, many have disappeared without a trace.. Sources at The Violation Documentation Center and Human Rights Watch speak of tens of thousands of civilians being held without proper trials or on the basis of flawed judicial processes,often being subjected to torture.

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The Conflict in Syria

Pro-democracy protests against Assad’s regime in Syria spread across the country in March 2011 after police in Dar'a arrested and tortured high school students for painting the school’s wall with revolutionary slogans. Little by little  thousands of demonstrators went into the streets across Syria.

Initially peaceful protests were suppressed by the regime’s security forces using live ammunition against demonstrators. Activists, journalists as well as doctors helping the wounded were being arrested and tortured, as the country slid into a civil war.

Armed clashes between Assad’s troops and armed opposition groups have been taking place primarily in civilian areas, hospitals, schools, demonstrations or other gatherings with larger groups of people have been frequent targets of the bombing attacks of the Syrian military  causing high civilian casualties. The rise of jihadist groups towards 2013, including the IS (the Islamic State) added a new dimension to the conflict, widening involvement of the US and its allied forces along with the Kurdish Peshmerga.

It is estimated that the conflict has so far resulted in the deaths of 200 thousand people, over 3.2 million Syrians fleeing out of the country and another 7.6 million living in Syria in makeshift conditions outside their homes. More than 12.2 million people in Syria are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, nearly half of whom are children. About 5 million people are currently living in areas that are almost completely inaccessible because of the war or because they are under siege.

In the long-term, the situation in Syria is symptomatic of a deepening breakdown of global diplomacy with the Security Council paralyzed by the stances of Russia and China. The people in Syria bitterly perceive this failure. Activists such as Souad and many others who try to confront terror in Syriaand work towards a normal life have been greatly disappointed. "Why has the World, which claims to stand with the Syrians, not intervened? Why has the world  not taken notice before and has not used its allies’ airpower to fight against the terrorism that Assad has been committing over the last four years?" asks Souad, who considers Assad’s policies to be the main cause of the current tragedy in Syria.

People in Need’s Work in Syria

People in Need (PIN) has been providing help in Syria since 2012, when it initiated support for the underground networks of volunteer doctors working in the conflict zones (PIN gave the 2011 Homo Homini Award to the Doctors Coordinate of Damascus, an underground network of medics and doctors). In the areas where the largest number of internal refugees are concentrated, PIN has been working with local people to distribute food and food vouchers or to supply basic materials (e.g. clothing, mattresses, blankets, cooking utensils, hygiene supplies). At the same time, PIN has helped to restore the supply of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people. People in Need has also supported local authorities, so that they would be capable of providing basic services such as refuse collection.  In addition, PIN’s assistance helped thousands of Syrian children return to school. PIN is also one of the few organizations that have continued to provide help in the virtually besieged city of Aleppo. Over the last two years in Syria, PIN has delivered direct aid to 1.3 million people and indirectly helped an additional 1.2 million people with access to clean water and functioning waste management systems.

Currently, the assistance is delivered from southern Turkey, while permanent offices and local teams are based in the provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. PIN’s team consists of 101 local and 10 foreign employees. Between 2012 and 2013, more than 70 million CZK worth of assistance was provided to Syrians. In 2014, the volume of assistance increased sharply with the total annual budget exceeding 300 million CZK.

Souad Nawfal will come to Prague to accept the award in person and will be available for interviews. Her schedule is not yet known. If you are interested in an interview, please write an email to Adéla Pospíchalová at adela.pospichalova@clovekvtisni.cz.

Additional information about the Homo Homini Award can be found at www.homohomini.net.

For any more information:

Adéla Pospíchalová, People in Need, adela.pospichalova@clovekvtisni.cz, tel. (+420) 777-787-968

Petr Štefan (questions about PIN’s  humanitarian assistance in Syria), tel .:

Autor: AP