Peace Line monthly – Elahe Sharifpour-Hicks has been defending human rights for more than two decades. She was the Iran researcher for the Human Rights Watch from 1994 to 2001, and is currently the manager of Human Rights and Planning at New York.
On the tenth anniversary of the Human Rights Activists in Iran (HRAI), Ms. Sharifpour-Hicks tells Peace Line monthly: “The most positive feature of HRAI is distancing itself from politics.” And in regards to the permanence of HRAI she adds: “The only thing that makes such an activism possible and permanent, is to show devotion, and that is exactly what the members of HRAI have shown.”
How would you describe HRAI, and if it is possible to highlight one positive feature of it, what would that be in your opinion?
The work of all the groups that have been established in the past with the purpose of defending, promoting and advancing human rights in Iran, is commendable. Taking into consideration the risks and dangers of gathering information in Iran and also considering constrains and difficulties that these groups face aboard, their activism takes a non-stop around a clock effort which is of high importance, considering the human rights situation in Iran.
Regarding the most positive feature of this specific group (HRAI) I can mention distancing itself from the politics. When dealing with human rights issues, staying away from politics is very important. Considering that in a country like Iran, that lacks political parties, and it constrains and even makes political activism impossible, there is a very fine line formed and many would intentionally or unintentionally cross the line and confuse politics and human rights. In fact, there is a concern that any of us having our own political believes, could bring those believes to our human rights work. This is a crucial responsibility and I’m sure you and your colleagues have always taken it into consideration, because I believe HRAI has always stayed away from politics.
As you mentioned, for HRAI and overall for the civil society and for any group or organization that is defending human rights in Iran there are many ups and downs and difficulties; this results in many of these groups and organisations not being able to survive for long. With that being said; what do you think is the structural differences that leads to a perpetual existence of a human rights organization and its continued activism? In this regard, what difference could you mention specifically about HRAI?
To start from the whole society and the international organizations, those who couldn’t continue or advance (despite their longer history compared to the rest of the groups) have had financing and budget problems. As I mentioned before these organizations need to stay politically neutral and should only be active to defend, promote and advance human rights. In Iran this is even more of an issue, because human rights organizations and in general Communitarian and Non-Governmental organizations are still new to people, and people don’t value paying this kind of memberships. Therefore it is very important to find funding from places that do not make the organization dependent, indeed this is one of the biggest obstacles that a human rights organization faces. In this regard even the special rapporteur of the United Nations faces budget problems.
Considering these issues, the only thing that makes such activism possible and permanent, is to show devotion, and that is exactly what the members of HRAI have shown. In fact, their work is not like the daily work of a researcher working for Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, their work is similar to a 24-hour unique job. Therefore the unique feature that has led to the continuation of activism of HRAI (which we are specifying here) is devotion, endeavor and around the clock tirelessness without sufficient funding.
Is there anything you would like to tell the members and colleague who have been with HRAI in the past decade?
None of us have anything to say in this important matter of defending, promoting and advancing human rights. Maybe you are talking to me because of my experiences and my age. But all of us who work to defend human rights, whether from older or younger generations, we have a great respect for each other. I don’t want to say the cliché that I bow to your tirelessness, but I truly and honestly shake your hands in friendship and kindness. This path that you have started and continued, along with its risks, dangers and around the clock work, is a very precious path. Maybe many of human rights activists would not see the result of their endeavor and hard work in the short time (just like freeing a prisoner takes lots of hard work and time), however any society would have a special respect for these people who work really hard and have devoted themselves to improve the conditions of their fellow humans. We are just like classmates that learn from each other, and I have also learnt a lot from HRAI.
Thank you for sharing your time with Peace Line Monthly.