Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) organized the 13th annual training course on human rights from 10-30 July 2006 for students from Egyptian and Arab Universities. The course took place at the Upper Egypt Association for Instruction and Development in Cairo. 80 students from Egyptian and Arab universities representing different faculties attended the course, so did 8 facilitators, men and women. The training was entitled: “towards the activation of the role of the youth in the democratic transformation process”, and discussions focused on examining and analyzing this title.
The training agenda included various lectures, training sessions, round table discussion, and 7 working groups, besides to a number of field visits to institutions and centers active in the field of human rights. Lectures were delivered by a number of intellects, university professors, and human rights specialists. It was observed in the selection to have a group of lecturers truly representing the different political and cultural visions. That is in addition to a number of experts in human rights and development. The students themselves participated in organizing and moderating the working groups throughout the training, in which they discussed the most urgent issues in the Arab area; such as the political reform and democratic transformation, women’s rights, claims of universality and specificity, issue of torture and refugees rights.
The training lasted for 18 days, and the proceedings included a set of lectures focused on introducing knowledge on international and regional instruments on human rights, particularly the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention against Torture, and the Special Declaration on the Elimination of all forms of Intolerance and Discrimination on the basis of Religion or Belief, and the Declaration on the Rights of People Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Lingual Minorities. It was of great benefit to present to the participants the Arab Charter for Human Rights: the updated version, as well as the African Charter for Human and People’s Rights, and the Rules of Procedures of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. These lectures also focused on the issues of racism and discrimination being sources of threat to the International Human Rights Law. They also tackled the International Human Rights Law: the Four Geneva Conventions, the role played by the International Committee for Red Cross, and the International Criminal Court and depicting the Arabic stance towards it.
The training also covered a number of issues which represent a subject of public discussion within society. In this respect, some lectures dealt with the different dimensions of the principle of citizenship, and the political and social impediments against the application of such principle, particularly that Alexandria incidents and others are deemed as a remarkable set-back to the practices of the so called “national unity”. Furthermore, there were discussions on the status of human rights in Egypt, the role of the Egyptian Judiciary in protecting the rights and freedoms, the issues related to academic freedoms and students unions, as well as the role of actors and actresses in society and the experience of writing the “Yaccobian Building” novel, considering all the issues it raised.
On the other hand, the students training included a number of workshops and training sessions with a view to providing the students with the skills required to deal with human rights violations. Students were trained on how to utilize a number of international conventions. For instance, there was a training session on the International Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The sessions also highlighted the issues related to women involvement in public work and the obstacles they faces, and how to surmount such. Students were also trained on the right to bodily integrity, and were familiarized with the patterns and forms of torture and how to resist them, as well as working on providing psychological assistance for the victims of torture. In another context, there was an interest in showing a number of documentaries on violence against women, including the “6 girls”, and a feature movie on Al-Kashh incidents, along with other movies like “I do love the cinema”, and American movies like “Siriana” & “Fahrenheit September 11”.
Its worth noting the field visits made in the framework of this training, where the participants visited many organization operating in the field of human rights. Three thematic organizations were selected which work on different set of issues: the “Egyptian Center for Women Rights”, which works on women issues, and “Human Rights Center for Assistance of Prisoners” which works on defending the prisoners, and CIHRS, which is a research institute. The last component of the training course was the discussion group activity. This is a small working group, where the participants are divided into groups and a highly qualified facilitator moderates the discussion and facilitates the information flow. Each group covered the following:
1. An article for discussion (15-20 minutes): a number of various different articles has been circulated among the participants to discuss it among themselves by posing a set of questions: e.g. what do you know about the writer? What do you know about the newspaper? What do you know about the issue is handles? What are the new information found in the article? What is the key issue in the article? What are the sub issues? What is the position of the writers towards the key and sub issues? What is your own position towards the issue? This very particular activity aims at breaking the ice among the participants by exchanging their opinions as well as following up the public discussions within society in relation of the greatest number of issues.
2. practice: a set of activities and exercises regarding the training manual “directions”. Some of the activities are used in the discussion groups component.
3. issue or topic for discussion: it’s the main part of this component where there was a discussion and debate on some previously defined topics. In this context, there was focus on (6) key issues: women’s rights, universality and specificity, citizenship, independence of the university, freedom of opinion and expression, and political and constitutional reform.
At the end of the group discussion, there was an open discussion on all the issues. Also, the initiatives drafted on each group were presented. For instance in the part related to the independence of the university, the students presented a detailed paper on the key pillars to ensure the freedom of students actions within the university. According to the students these pillars are: providing all guarantees that a student can express his opinion in a democratic manner within the university by not restricting the space in which the students can participate in the actions taking place within the university; not restricting the freedom of opinion and expression in all its forms; and finally the security bodies shall not interfere in the university affaires. In the group on citizenship: the students drafted a bill on adopting the International Human Rights Law as a reference in relation to celebrating rites with no discrimination as to religion or belief. Procedures of litigation on construction and restoration works are regulated and referred to an independent judicial body rather that the executive authority. As for the group on political and constitutional reform, the students presented a proposal to amend articles 76 & 77 of the Egyptian Constitution by consolidating them into one article, and limiting the extension of the number of times the president may run for elections to two times only.
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