Episode 9 - Young women on the frontline of human rights defense
In this episode, we introduce you to Wessam Farid and Nourhan Moustafa from MAAT for Peace Development and Human Rights, an NGO based in Egypt.
They respectively work in the organization in a number of capacities and are here today to tell us all about their work and this amazing organization that does so much for human rights, sustainable development and international law.
[00:00:00] Dr Miranda Melcher: Hello and welcome to Just Access. In this podcast series, we talk to some fascinating people: legal experts, academics and human rights advocates. We explore ideas about the future of human rights and improving access to justice for all.
[00:00:22] I’m Dr. Miranda Melcher, a Senior Legal Fellow at Just Access. In this episode, I speak with Wessam Farid and Nourhan Moustafa from MAAT for peace development and human rights.
[00:00:34] They respectively work in the organization in a number of capacities and are here today to tell us all about their work and this amazing organization that does so much for human rights, sustainable development and international law. So thank you very much for being here, the both of you, and welcome to our listeners to learn more.
[00:00:56] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you both so much for being on our podcast to tell us all about your work and tell us a bit about yourselves and how you came to work in this field. So, to start us off, I was wondering if I could ask you each to introduce yourselves a little bit, Wessam first? How did you come to work at this organization – MAAT for peace?
[00:01:24] Wessam Farid: My name is Wessam Farid. I am Human Rights Officer at International Human Rights Mechanisms Division at MAAT for Peace Development and Human Rights Association. Actually I graduated from Faculty of Economic and Political Science Kairo University, and after my graduation I was searching for an opportunity, especially in NGOs. This is what the field that I want to work in. So, I searched in social media and MAAT at the time, the offering an opportunity and I applied for it, and I was accepted after the interview and this is since 2021.
[00:02:07] Dr Miranda Melcher: Wonderful! Thank you! Nourhan, what about yourself?
[00:02:12] Nourhan Moustafa: I finished my law degree in 2016. I just did writing, trying continue my career as a lawyer. And building my career in international community, at this time I feel that, wow, how can I start in this field because I don’t have any experience and not more educational knowledge.
[00:02:31] Then I started to volunteer for different organization. Side line for that, I continue as a lawyer, when I saw the platform of MAAT, as my colleague Wessam mentioned, offering a different opportunity for young people. I apply as an internship in 2018, and they gave me the offering to be at the legal research firstly and then for all opportunity in United Nation in Geneva in Human Rights Council. And they helped me a lot for building my career and my knowledge in human rights law. Was envolving with the meeting of the treaty bodies, trying to give me the space to negotiation with the different actors about different topic, like the comment to do commentary about different article in the treaties. And this is the first organization give to space the use, and then I take this initiative to continue my work with them. And now I’m, give me that new position as a manager of the HR armament unit. This is actually not a new position for me, but they give me that space to create a new division in MAAT to continue my work in this field because I have a passion in this field and also small experience because I lead the initiative online called Law Student Initiative. And now I study my master program in Geneva on University of Geneva in international security, and also I choose, by the Geneva Center for Policy as a new leader in international security in Middle East, North Africa.
[00:04:13] Dr Miranda Melcher: Wonderful. What an amazing progression. And both of your answers speak to the fact that MAAT works in a lot of different areas and does many different things. So could you perhaps introduce the organization and what it does and how it got here a little bit for our listeners who may not be so familiar? Wessam?
[00:04:36] Wessam Farid: Indeed. MAAT has a rich history. The work of MAAT has began since 2005 when it was registered with the Ministry of Social Solidarity in Egypt. And after that, MAAT obtained ECOSOC status of the United Nation Economic and Social Council in 2016. The international and regional work of MAAT began as a strong coordinator of social Society organization in the African Union. After that MAAT also had the presidency of the Egyptian network, coordinating the network at the level of Egypt.
[00:05:11] Currently MAAT is also an accredited observer in the UN meetings, and also have a distinguished role in the cooperation with office of the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court. The main fields of work of MAAT it was the International Human Rights Mechanisms, international humanitarian law, disarmament, achieving sustainable development goals, as well as the government and the good governance and Elections and democracy. This is through various activities. So I can tell that Nourhan can continue.
[00:05:49] Nourhan Moustafa: Yes, we have a big, different subject we work on. And we have a big also colleagues as Wessam mentioned that we have a different position. We have a different tools with which to work in international, regional, national also. We have a good rules in ground with the different mechanism in Cairo, for example, we advocacy for a new rule, we advocacy for the new structure, for example, for human rights and we support many things from editing some article in our national code law.
[00:06:21] And because that’s MAAT focus, also in regional for support and build the capacity for the people, to give them the space to understand about different topic, like the armed conflict, for example, disarmament, the international security, peace, those topic is not any one discussion in the middle east, but MAAT now take this initiative to start to, and continue for advocacy for support many people to know and understanding about this. And also internationally, we have good opportunity because that consultative status help us a lot for joining a different meeting in United Nations Human Rights Council, disarmament, we try to give the consulted for different meetings, in New York, Vienna, Geneva. I think that we have a good rule and we have a good teamwork in MAAT.
[00:07:13] Wessam Farid: I would add something, actually, our work, it’s not exclusively working in Asia. We cover more than 38 countries in the near region as our focus in the North Africa and Middle East countries, protect and promoting human rights at these areas.
[00:07:33] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you for adding that and the both of you for explaining the so many different things that the organization does. With that, I was wondering if we could go a little bit more into specifically what each of you do now in your current roles. So Wessam, could you tell us more about what your particular work is at the organisation?
[00:07:55] Wessam Farid: My current role is somehow in different mechanisms of the United Nation as I work as a human rights officer in international human rights mechanisms, the Human Rights Council, treaty bodies, the periodic review, I’m monitoring and reviewing the country’s human rights situations and writing reports, trying to raise our voice in this occasions.
[00:08:19] Besides I am a presentative of MAAT for Peace Development and Human Rights in the Vienna Office, United Nations Office on Drugs and Declines. Actually, after we opened the IHL Division, we started looking for more opportunities and more work to increase our networks and increase our vision, so we started to open more opportunities and increasing our networks with United Nation Office of Vienna. So, while I’m searching and it was my work to search for opportunities and how we can participate in Vienna, so the first thing I search for that I came to, the SE4U course, as I think Just Access has this course also with us, this course for stakeholders engagement and the implementation of United Nation s Convention of Organized the crime. I was the only Arab organization that participated in this course.
[00:09:22] After this course, they invited me in many different versions of the course, as the course is continued until now. They invited me to share MAAT’s experience, in what I done in Vienna, how I represent what the activities that we have done after the course, how we increased our network with the civil society unit of Vienna. This was somehow a bit success to, MAAT to prove itself for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
[00:09:57] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you so much for explaining. That sounds absolutely fascinating, but also a lot of work. So wonderful that you’re doing it. Nourhan, can you tell us more about your particular work?
[00:10:08] Nourhan Moustafa: Yes, sure, but now with some explaining about her work and that I feel and thinking about all of my colleague in MAAT, about their role, because as we mentioned firstly, we have a different topic, we work on it and we different position, international, regional, national, and we try to cover all this in three unit in our organization: sustainable development and African region, the human rights mechanism unit, international humanitarian law and disarmament unit. And each of those department we try to cooperation together, to support in our work. As Wessam mentioned now that in part of our work to represent MAAT in different mechanism internationally. As me now, I’m a manager of the HR unit and disarmament.
[00:10:59] When I started this work I represented the MAAT in disarmament meeting in United Nation, in New York, Vienna, and also in Geneva. And my role, my work now to putting the program of our work to make the reporting, to planning and the thinking with my colleague in my unit, to thinking about which meeting we should focus on, which topic we should focus on, applying for those meeting, organize the site events. And also, we work on building our network in the field. I present also MAAT in the International Criminal Court. We try with the ICC to promoting the idea of Roman Statute with different people because we focus more about young people, specificly those people that live in area of armed conflict, also visiting the area of armor conflict, make that mission to collect and send all these violation and writing reports at the United Nation from different mechanism. And we try to advocacy, we try to consultation for a different meeting, and that’s trying to organize each year some of the courses, some of training with a different expert from American Latin, from Europe, Africa also, because Matt is not Egyptian organization. Matt is African organization, Egyptian, and also Arab organization. And that’s because we focus different project, different work, we have a big goal that members work in MAAT in different areas.
[00:12:35] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you for explaining this. And it is this idea of working in different areas that, um, I’m curious to learn more about because as you’ve both described, the organization does a lot of different things and has many focuses, right? Human rights, sustainable development, international law, democracy.
[00:12:52] Can you explain maybe a little bit, it sounds, when you list them kind of, Oh, that’s so complicated. How do you do all of that? But clearly you are. And putting them together, and especially thinking about the national, the regional, the international, how the layers, combine how do you, and how does the organization think about these different things?
[00:13:12] Do you have particular projects that are just focused on one of the key areas or just at one level? Or are all the projects sort of interconnected? How do you balance all of these different things when it comes to choosing a project, or starting a new area?
[00:13:31] Wessam Farid: Okay. We can tell that our main work or that international human rights mechanism, when we say international human rights mechanism, we can see that it tackles all these topics.
[00:13:44] So whenever we are in Geneva or Human Rights Council, we should discuss sustainable development, disarmament, democracy, human trafficking, all of this. So our hierarchy in the organization somehow complement each other. So, for example, the last thing that we have done in the United Nation Convention on transnational organized Crime, it was in last October, so, this convention tackles three topics, three protocols: Human trafficking, smuggling migrants and firearms. So when we talk about firearms, so with witch unit, or how I can find some resource or some topics, we are already working in disarmament, firearms and these topics, so I came to Nourhan’s division and asked her to help me organize and tackle this topic. So this is how our work is done.
[00:14:45] When we are in Geneva, so we should talk about the right to development, this topic is related to sustainable development goals and the 2030 agenda. So we come to sustainable Development Goals division, they support us with the reports, statements, resources, and things like that.
[00:15:05] When it comes to a real project, somehow we have different roles, as I said, we have an advocacy role and this is our main role, trying to reach the voice of the people to the international level. So, Nourhan can talk a little bit about the projects part.
[00:15:25] Nourhan Moustafa: Yes, Yes Wassam. Thank you. And, yes, as Wessam mentioned we have a link with each other and as we mentioned firstly, we cover 36 countries and different subject and we have a different project as the human rights mechanism. This is the main project and we have a main strategy in MAAT, this is the lead for each department, as I mentioned. We try to negotiation together to focus year by year. But I would like to tell you some story about this, because our leadership and my manager, Dr. Ayman Okeil, usually, he have a story with this organization, because MAAT for peace and development and human right association, not normally name from him because MAAT that’s mean that the God of justice – Maat, this is mean of MAAT, and that he thinking that if we need to find justice and we need to implementation of those justice, we should focus about the peace, what we can do to achieve the peace when we don’t have a development.
[00:16:30] And because that when he think about that, he focus more about the human rights because that’s our name, MAAT for peace development, human rights, to support the justice, to support the peace, to support the humanity. Because when we work to together for our project, we thinking about those topic, we thinking together how to get more opportunity for us to implementation those four words.
[00:16:56] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you for explaining that. It’s helpful always to have explanations and understand how things fit together. I’d love to ask a bit more about something Wessam, you sort of mentioned a little bit already, which is that the organization obviously as you’ve talked about, goes to Geneva, goes to Vienna, works with the international level, but of course also works with the public. And I’m wondering if either of you might have any examples or stories or advice for NGOs and how they can think about how to reach out to the public. What have been some kind of good lessons you’ve learned from that? Maybe some not so good experiences, about how think tanks and NGOs can work with just the general public and making your message more heard. Wessam?
[00:17:43] Wessam Farid: I think Nourhan better than me to answer this question because she had more experience with dealing with the public and doing trainings and workshops.
[00:17:52] Nourhan Moustafa: Yeah, it’s difficult to help the population to understand the topic of human rights. Its very difficult to speak with them. This is when my family ask me: what are you doing Nourhan? I tell them that I work in the field of human rights and my family is not, their work is not related to my work and sometimes ask me what’s mean that. And that’s a start from, not for me, from all people work in MAAT, from the manager also. We lead the rally. When we go to the United Nation, we make the rally to speak about different topic, to advocacy for this, we try to speak with the public people, the population in the street.
[00:18:32] We try to help them to understand this topic, for normal ways and tools, and also we try to use the social media. And that, it will help us a lot for engagement with the population. And for example, MAAT make a different campaign for a different topic. I think some of them was just access, I think, and also we have UN in Arabic. This is a program, made by our manager, Ayman Okeil, to try to help the people to understand human rights. And I think he have a good viewer and famous and also good and easy people to understand what he said about human rights.
[00:19:26] And we also make trainings. It help us for engage with the different young people, specificly in the area of armed conflict. You know, that’s difficult to speak with the youth live with armed conflict. They not understand about the rule of law. They just understand that we try to fight to live. That’s when I communication with the youth and young people in early environment conflict. And because that, we normally and usually try to invite them to attend our courses. To get to them the space to discuss with different people not living with the armed conflict region.
[00:20:07] And we’ve very succeeded because now we’ve trained young people from Lybia, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Karabah region, and we surprised because many people not understand and not know about the Karabah region and what happened there. And when we gave the space use young people in Nagorno Karabah to try to use the internet to try to share with the different young people like them their stories, they surprised because that many people support them. Many people try to find places to read more about what happened there. And they now take the initiative to speak with the population on the ground how important to implementation the Geneva Convention, and also different treaty in respect of the rule of law.
[00:21:02] Dr Miranda Melcher: It does sound very hard to explain in a lot of instances. So very good to hear about these examples. I think a lot of NGOs can probably learn from this, so thank you for sharing that. Given the difficulties of explaining things to the public, et cetera, there sometimes can be criticism for NGOs, for international organizations, that in the world of human rights, you know, Oh, well all you do is write reports. And who does that help? What does that do to just write reports? And of course we know that writing reports can be really helpful, right? Knowing what’s actually happening. Having it documented can be incredibly powerful. But also talking to the public is important, but very difficult. So given all of these things, how does MAAT think about impact? How do you decide whether something is a success? What does success look like in the organization? Wessam?
[00:21:57] Wessam Farid: Actually, this is very important question, as in recent period, MAAT has notice that there is a large gap in the work of international mechanism for protection of human rights in particular. And there are many records and meetings, whose cost are estimated to be thousands of dollars in parallel for economic crisis and a small achievement of development opportunities other than the continuation of violation of human rights.
[00:22:24] It’s dialogue based on the recommendation and the negotiation recommendations, suggestions, took until that MAAT contributed at the local level in launching the national strategy for the protection of human rights, social communication, and creation of groups to open dialogue with various groups of society, whether at the level or the Arab or African region, or even at the local level. Currently MAAT has managed to reach people from America to Asia and also in light of the lack of interest in the content of human rights and development the problem is that we don’t need to create new mechanism or even amending international agreements. We need to create dialogues about the barrier of stakeholders. This needs time and the light of that country is achieving their self interest through the United Nation, for example. So, we know that there is a gap, but we are trying as an NGO to focus on that specific topic that can increase that truth.
[00:23:36] Nourhan Moustafa: I don’t know. I don’t add more because she covering the main problem. We live with this problem usually when attend a different meeting, but we have a trust and passion that it’ll take more time and long time, but we keep, and that we try to still work, to still advocacy, to still speak in different meeting, to achieve in our goal.
[00:24:05] For example, we have a small story about this when we attend the autonomy light weapon in June in meeting of the group of the government expert for the light weapon. In this meeting, the representative of MAAT tried to make some comment of the final report of the whole meeting. When he start to speak about the human right, he stopped by Russia and India in the meeting and the presentative of Russia and India tell him: please, that not have the space for civil society to join this meeting and to speak about the final report. The final report only can comment and added by the countries not civil society. And he ask ed the president of the meeting: please, stop this meeting and stop this oral intervention by representative of MAAT. He’s not continue his oral intervention. When in this time I feel that, oh, really? How can work in human rights situation when the countries not listen for civil society. Because the civil society have a good and big role to support these countries to continue in work to developing, to protect people, to save the civilians in time of war, for example.
[00:25:28] And in this time we found that some group of countries stopped the Russian and Indian. This is our goal achieved from many years when I start this meeting to support many civil society to added their oral intervention in final report. And this is by implementation for the prison of the meeting and accepted this rule and representative of MAAT continue his oral intervention and also in this meeting we get the space for many, many organizations to make oral intervention.
[00:26:05] Wessam Farid: Yes. I add something that the role of civil society in some of the United Nation mechanisms. Somehow they’re not give the space, I know that they are trying to do that, but they’re not a big space to civil society.
[00:26:20] Many of countries are trying to confronting, confronting civil society, they see that they are going in things that they are not related or they are biased by another countries. But it’s not that way. We are trying to find a solution. We trying to read the voice of people, that we are, we exist, It’s our roles.
[00:26:46] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you for explaining that and bringing us in really to the goals and the world of the organization. And I’d love to ask a little bit more about working with the UN and within these mechanisms. From your perspective, working within it and also trying to improve it, how much do you each think that the current UN system for human rights can protect and improve access to justice, particularly in terms of creating opportunities for vulnerable people, or where do you see areas that need to improve or change in this system?
[00:27:24] Wessam Farid: There is a weakness in the current United Nation human rights system for the purpose of protecting and improving access to justice, especially in terms of creating new oportunities for the week and marginalised, and we have mentioned before, as Haurhan has mentioned, that countries achieve their interests through these mechanisms according to political goal. And the best proof of that, it’s the Ukrainian- Russian war. You know that some countries are with Ukraine, some countries with Russia and every country’s searching for its interest, not searching for a solution for the war itself. And they’re trying to use the United Nations for that purpose, not trying to have a solution, no, to have their own interest, to achieve their interests, not to achieve the solution.
[00:28:16] Dr Miranda Melcher: Wonderful. Nourhan, is there anything you’d like to add?
[00:28:19] Nourhan Moustafa: Yeah, Wessam covered this point because we try to work with all this problems. We try to understand this country have a political system, have a self interest, but we try to advocacy we try to also negotiation, we try to highlight that the civilians and the humanity the priority, not the self interest, but it’ll take more time. We will still work, we will still support our ideas.
[00:28:47] Dr Miranda Melcher: So I’d love to ask a little bit more about the current work, particularly with other NGOs, including of course, Just Access, journalists, community engagements in the region. Can you tell us about maybe one or two of these that you’re most excited about?
[00:29:05] Nourhan Moustafa: When we talk about MAAT, we not work alone. We have a big network in a different organization where work in ground, we support us, we support them. We try to building for this cooperation and get to them also the space to join the different mechanism on United Nation and make oral intervention.
[00:29:26] It’s more excited to join with a different organization to achieve one goal. It’s difficult sometime because not all organization same goal, but it’s good if we try to work together in a different atmosphere and different environment. MAAT would not work only with the NGO, we work also with the journalist because you know that it’s important about the role of the journalist and because they always use different information and we try to support them at the training as opening space to discuss with them a different topic.
[00:30:02] Just Access also. We lead with them a good campaign and good work with different side event together to share our ideas about different topic. And that’s really, we need, we not need more treaty, we not need more mechanism in United Nation, we need just the opening space to work, the government understand about different topic and give the space, the NGO to help them to implementation those treaty and make a good work for better life.
[00:30:34] Dr Miranda Melcher: Wonderful. Thank you. Wessam, is there anything you want to add to that?
[00:30:38] Wessam Farid: Actually yes. Our last work was the other organization is that we are assigned a protocol with International Organization of Migrations about a series of workshops for African migrants, especially in Egypt. Actually this is our last work and our important work on the sideline of the work of UNODC. And as we conducted this protocol after I took the SE4U course. So I will tell a little bit more about this project.
[00:31:13] Nourhan Moustafa: I forget to tell you also, we have a good cooperation with a different university in Africa, Latin and Africa region. We try to make the exchange of experience with those university and our university in region. And we also have a good relationship and cooperation with the Geneva Center for Policy. For example, different organization in Geneva and Vienna and New York. Thank you Wessam because I don’t forget our amazing work we are doing.
[00:31:48] Dr Miranda Melcher: Wonderful cooperation and collaboration there as well. So thank you very much for that. Before we finish off, is there maybe one project or one effort you’d most like to highlight to our listeners that maybe they can follow along or maybe they can help out with in some way? Is there one or two, or maybe one each project or initiative you’d most like to highlight?
[00:32:13] Wessam Farid: Actually there are two, I will talk about one and Nourhan will talk about the coalition. So as I said, I will talk more about the protocol with IOM. This protocol is about raising awareness between immigrants in Egypt, as Egypt have a lot of African, especially African migrants.
[00:32:33] This protocol especially is conducting in a series of workshops. These workshops trying to let them know about what they are, what their human rights. How can they access to justice, how they, if you have any violations or if they have anything, how they can reach to the government, how they can reach to the organizations.
[00:32:58] Also, in this protocol we are trying to find better solutions for improving their economic and social rights in Asia. And we are trying to conduct workshops about entrepreneurship. To build small projects for them to have their own money. Also, in this protocol we are planning to conduct a conference in Egypt with the government and Egyptian Human Rights Council, uh, and IOM, to discuss more about the situation of migrants in Egypt, especially the economic and social rights. I think Nourhan can continue in another project.
[00:33:42] Nourhan Moustafa: Yeah. It’s difficult to cover all our project because very interesting, very benefit, very successful also. Because we have a different project I will take a quick for those, but I will focus more about the Coalition for Limitation of Armament. But we work in the human right mechanism, we have a different good project on this UPR mechanism and building capacity of those NGO, young people, University.
[00:34:14] We also support more young people to achieve the goal 16 and also the goal of the peace and security. Also in disarmament we have a good cooperation and also good project called Coalition for Limitation of Armament. This is the big coalition, we have now 40 organization and this is to start to work in different region in the situation of disarmament and support those NGO to get the opportunity to speak with the United Nations disarmament meeting to cover all point and try to take those NGO take a initiative and negotiation with this government, advocacy to implementation the Treaty on ground. And also, this is coalition now.
[00:35:03] First, when we start on this coalition, we try to be in our region, but some of organizations tell us that you should to make this globally because this is important for us to engage with you in the real work of, to achieve the piece and security. And lastly, because I talk a lot, good cooperation with the university, as I mentioned before, was American Latin in Argentina and Brazil.
[00:35:31] Because we have in our region some problem, we don’t have the idea of education of the international humanitarian law and we try to give some opportunity for young people to know more, and that we see with the different categories from people how they understand the Treaties – the Geneva Convention, for example, because we work with Buenos Aires in Argentina to make trainings and we try to select some people from, our region, Africa, American Latin for doing those training. And also we have another good cooperation with the university of Rio in Brazil, because that we implementation the first research paper with the group of the student from Egypt and Brazil think together about the Geneva Convention and they choose the uh, how to protect the culture in the Army conflict. And now we have a research paper in English. We will try now to translation in Portuguese and Arabic.
[00:36:42] Dr Miranda Melcher: What amazing work. Thank you for introducing us and explaining a bit more about those projects, and thank you both generally for sharing your stories with us, giving us insight into your journeys and work and MAAT’s work as well.
[00:36:57] Nourhan Moustafa: Thank you!
[00:36:57] Wessam Farid: Thank you!
[00:36:59] Dr Miranda Melcher: Thank you both and for our listeners, stay tuned for future Just Access interviews.