2016: Abdullah al-Khateeb
“I’m not even sure I will be alive in five or ten years. But I am sure that I will keep working for what I believe in, and use all the non-violent methods at my disposal.”
Since the uprising against the dictatorship in Syria began in 2011, Abdullah al-Khateeb has become an ever stronger voice in support of peaceful protest for democracy and human rights.
The list of crimes against human rights in Syria is long. Apart from killing and torture, it encompasses sexual assaults, kidnapping and forced relocations. All parties involved in the conflict – the forces of the Assad regime, IS and the Nusra front – are accused of committing these crimes.
The UN estimates that more than 400,000 people have been killed and that at least 6.5 million have fled their homes.
The 27-year-old human rights activist has escaped two kidnapping attempts and recently suffered a gunshot wound in an targeted attack.
Interview with Abdullah al-Khateeb
How did you become involved with human rights work?
– I don’t think it was a particular event that triggered my involvement. It was more a series of events that I had witnessed in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s mostly women and children who suffer from systematic violations.
Abdullah works mostly in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, where more than 200,000 Palestinian refugees lived before the popular uprising against the Assad regime.
His work spans a number of areas – urban farming to provide food, psychosocial support for children and youth affected by the war and education for human rights activists in southern Damascus. Abdullah lives under constant threat and must remain hidden.
His father has been jailed by the Assad regime because of his son’s activism.
What are your views on the Per Anger Prize?
– I think the prize will have a very positive effect on the commitment of my extremely exhausted and energy-depleted colleagues. Personally, I really hope that the prize, thanks to the international exposure it gives me, will also reduce the risk of my father being murdered in the Syrian regime’s prison.
Already at the age of 17, Abdullah al-Khateeb started working with human rights. First as a volunteer providing recreational activities at SOS Children’s Villages in Damascus.
Abdullah is also one of the founders of the Palestinian League for Human Rights – Syria (PLHR), a network that monitors and documents the situation for Palestinian refugees in Syria.
Where do you find strength and inspiration?
– There are many sources that inspire me in my commitment and give me hope. The happiness when I see children participating in the summer club and are offered opportunities to stay in child-friendly safe havens.
In southern Damascus, Abdullah’s mother and younger brother are trying to survive the siege.
Abdullah constantly documents what goes on around him. In part to use as legal evidence in the future, but also as a way to cope with the horrible situation.
Have you ever considered giving up?
– I won’t deny that the temptation to give up has struck me several times. These thoughts are always present, especially when group members and friends have been killed.
How can the conditions for human rights in Syria be improved in the future?
– I consider it the highest priority that war criminals and those who have committed crimes against humanity are prosecuted in an international court. In addition to increasing support for human rights groups and human rights defenders, it is important to continue inviting activists to international gatherings, where they through public appearances can deliver first-hand witness accounts about what this war does to them!
What do you think the situation will be like for you and your colleagues in five to ten years?
– At the start of the revolution, we had many hopes and dreams. The losses that the Syrians must endure are beyond anybody’s imagination. My personal losses will change my life forever, but this reality will also reinforce my commitment to keep doing what I do. I really think that a life not lived according to the principles of justice and rights is not worth living.
The Living History Forum would like to emphasise that these interviews are based on the testimony of the prize recipients themselves. They are not an objective assessment of facts on behalf of the government body.
Abdullah al-Khateeb was awarded the Per Anger Prize for 2016 after being nominated by the International Commission of Jurists, ICJ-Sverige.
The citation of the jury for the Per Anger Prize
“Abdullah al-Khateeb is awarded the prize for his courageous struggle for human rights and humanitarian law in Syria. In the middle of an ongoing war and in the purgatory between combating forces, he documents violations, negotiates between different ethnic groups and takes on the role of spokesperson for those most vulnerable. Putting his life on the line, he works in the spirit of Per Anger.
Abdullah al-Khateeb works with the Palestinian League for Human Rights – Syria, a network that monitors and documents the situation for Palestinian refugees in Syria with the aim of supporting the rights of stateless Palestinians.
The Living History Forum works with schools to engage students in issues of human rights.