Human Rights Day: Nonviolent Tactics Promote Positive Change in the Middle East

December 10, Human Rights Day, is a time to honor human rights defenders everywhere who speak out for the rights of all people.
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December 10, Human Rights Day, is a time to honor human rights defenders everywhere who speak out for the rights of all people.

This annual observance has special meaning for the Center for Victims of Torture. In 1999, our organization launched a project with the intent of developing more creative, strategic approaches to preventing torture, one of the most denounced yet intractable human rights violations in the world. New Tactics in Human Rights strengthens the human rights community by creating and sharing information and materials, training and mentoring, and building a vibrant online community of human rights advocates.

The goal of New Tactics is to help human rights defenders work more effectively so they can achieve their goals and better address human rights violations around the world. We know from our work that tactics are emerging that may more effectively advance human rights and end persistent abuses.

Human rights challenges, such as those confronting the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, often receive global attention, particularly from the media. But less publicized are the human rights defenders who are using nonviolence to promote positive change in their countries. This approach is becoming more important as the situation in countries like Egypt require human rights advocates to face increasing challenges and constantly changing responses from their governments.

Among the nonviolent tactics New Tactics has documented comes from Egypt where the Front to Defend Egypt Protesters (FDEP) uses modern technology, Short Message Service (SMS), to facilitate communication between detainees and human rights groups in order to provide medical help and legal assistance.

FDEP was established in 2008 at time when activists were commonly targeted during protests and demonstrations by authorities.

FDEP is made up of volunteer medical, legal, communications teams and others who use SMS communications to collect information from activists on their arrests, detentions, injuries, and need for legal counsel. Detainees requiring assistance will text FDEP their name, age, health status, and the location of their detention. As soon as the teams are made aware of an arrest at a demonstration or protest, they mobilize a coordinated response to provide help and support to those individuals facing human rights violations.

Additionally, FDEP often makes available lists of detainees after verification and updates on their status. This has allowed families to receive information on the condition of their relatives held in detention.

It is encouraging to learn that since it began, FDEP has provided vital medical and legal aid to hundreds of protesters.

New Tactics has documented hundreds of tactics to help defenders be more effective. New methods from the Middle East illustrate creative nonviolent approaches, including a tactic by an LGBT group in Lebanon that provides confidentiality for those who could be at risk if linked to an LGBT advocacy group, and an Egyptian group that is bringing transparency to the military influence in state institutions.

Lastly, as we recognize and honor human rights defenders on Human Rights Day, let us never forget about those individuals struggling, and sometimes suffering and dying, for their human rights, their freedom, and their dignity.

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