Koenders praises Mideast Youth as paragon of innovative human rights work

‘Mideast Youth is not an organisation that opts for short-sighted quick fixes. It is innovative, a frontrunner in the digital revolution, and determined to defend individuals’ rights to choose their own path.’ These were the words of foreign minister Bert Koenders as he presented the Human Rights Tulip to Mideast Youth director Esra’a Al Shafei. Mr Koenders praised Ms Al Shafei’s ground-breaking approach, saying, ‘Your organisation breaks the taboos in the Middle East on a range of issues and gives a voice to oppressed groups.’

‘The Netherlands is working tirelessly to promote democracy, the rule of law and human rights,’ the minister said. ‘We focus specifically on freedom of expression, the rights of women and sexual minorities, human rights defenders and the right to a fair trial. And we are working with full conviction to draw more attention to human rights in conflict areas. Not that we should be naïve. Values cannot be imposed on people, especially not by force. Disseminating them is often a long, drawn-out process, in which local activists do the bulk of the work. Human rights are universal, but their observance has to be ensured at country level.’

Mr Koenders expressed grave concern about the dramatic decline around the world in respect for human rights. ‘In more and more countries, religious minorities are being persecuted or discriminated against,’ he said. ‘Women’s rights are being trampled underfoot. Activists who defend freedom of expression face oppression, as do LGBT people. The forms taken by violent extremism in Syria and Iraq defy our imagination. Anti-Semitism and xenophobia are on the rise both in Europe and beyond. Where identity is transformed into ideology, people treat each other more callously, language grows cruder, and human rights are often the first to suffer. I am seriously alarmed at the increasing difficulty worldwide of promoting human rights of all kinds.’ The minister stressed the importance of taking this trend seriously. ‘We are discussing this problem with governments, institutions and civil society organisations on the ground,’ he said. ‘Organisations like Mideast Youth.’

Mideast Youth builds online platforms to give a voice to people who are working to promote human rights. The platforms create a safe space where young people in particular can talk about issues that are taboo in parts of the Middle East. The websites are accessible and interactive.