Supporting Human Rights Defenders

Esra’a Al Shafei is one of the world’s most influential internet activists. She is the founder of  the human rights organisation Mideast Youth (established in 2006, continuing its work under the name Majal since 2016). With her organisation she fights for a world without censorship by using the internet as a platform for freedom of expression and information. She is the voice of a new generation, who use social media, design and music to highlight controversial issues.

With her team she builds diverse digital platforms for young people, to give a voice to those working to promote human rights. The platforms create a safe space, where people can talk in particular about issues that are taboo in parts of the Middle East, such as equal rights for LGBTI people, equal rights for religious and ethnic minorities, and the protection of labour migrants who live in harsh conditions. Majal is giving them as much exposure as possible, so that everyone around the world can become a witness to their issues. ‘I really wanted to create a space where we can talk about these issues, taboo topics and where we just can be creative. Where we didn’t feel isolated because of our differences, our political or religious background, sexuality, and so on. We have, for example, built a LGBTQ platform where we use gaming to protect and engage our community. We have a Mideast Tunes platform, which is a music application that showcases underground and independent musicians from across the Middle East and North Africa who use music as a tool for social justice,’ explained Esra’a in an interview with The Fem Word.

‘I think censorship is one of the biggest reasons we’re not progressing faster in terms of human rights’ – Esra’a Al Shafei in an interview with TEDxAmsterdam.

Human Rights Tulip Award

Mideast Youth received the Human Rights Tulip Award in 2014. Esra’a accepted the award on the organisation’s behalf. The prize was awarded because of Mideast Youth’s innovative commitment to human rights. ‘The dramatic global decline in the observance of human rights requires an unconventional approach to tackling violations. Mideast Youth excels at this,’ said then foreign minister Bert Koenders.


Many stories and events never reach public view. Because of censorship, not everyone gets to see the whole story. Mideast Youth changed this and made a platform where everyone can share their story. With the support of the Human Rights Tulip prize they built a platform called CrowdVoice: an open source tool that gives visitors a complete overview of the necessary context for each story. ‘I’ve often had people tell me something didn’t happen, saying ‘the protesters weren’t killed by the police’ or ‘there's no evidence’. CrowdVoice helps gather that evidence. You can send people a link where they can find everything. Then they realise that there is indeed a problem,’ Esra’a explained in an interview with the International Journalists’ Network (IJNet). On CrowdVoice, everyone in the world can express their voice. Anyone who takes photos or videos of a protest, or injustice on the street, can submit them. ‘We do our best to make sure we don't spread false information,’ said Esra’a. ‘Our team removes unreliable information.’ The Human Rights Tulip also enabled the Mideast Youth team to come together under the same roof after seven years.

Human Rights Tulip

Supporting human rights defenders

Human rights defenders are individuals or organisations that seek to protect human rights. Through their work they promote and defend globally recognised human rights and fundamental freedoms by peaceful means. They are able to generate change and improve the lives of many, but they often have to contend with serious threats and violence. The Netherlands supports human rights defenders so they can continue their invaluable work effectively and safely. Their voices and their stories must be heard. They are audacious people from different countries, walks of life, and backgrounds. They can be local leaders, journalists, lawyers, environmental activists, or many other things. But they have one conviction in common: that freedom is fragile, and universal rights need protection.

Human rights

Human rights are rights that apply worldwide, to all people, in all places, at all times. They protect the dignity of every human being. You have human rights because you are human,  regardless of your gender, ethnicity, religion or political opinion. The Netherlands strives to protect and promote human rights all over the world. This is a priority of the Dutch government’s foreign policy. The Netherlands employs a wide array of actions and initiatives geared towards strengthening human rights. To uphold your right to express your opinion. To live your life, if you're different. To adhere to your own religion. To go to school if you’re a girl. Human rights will thrive if we stand up for them, together with many other countries. By supporting local organisations. By not letting violations go unpunished. By incorporating human rights into trade treaties. By continuing to defend them.

Human Rights Tulip

The Dutch government supports human rights defenders and organisations. With the Human Rights Tulip, the Netherlands provides recognition and visibility for the winners and emphasises the legitimacy and importance of their work as human rights defenders. Each year, the Dutch government awards the Human Rights Tulip to a person or organisation that promotes human rights worldwide in innovative ways. The winner receives a bronze sculpture and €100,000. This money allows them to continue and expand their work. The prize money comes from the Human Rights Fund.
  • Read about the candidates for the Human Rights Tulip 2020 here.
  • Read about other examples of previous winners of the Human Rights Tulip here.