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Human Rights Commissioner in the Middle East

26.01.2015 - Article

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, Christoph Strässer, last week visited the Middle East for political talks on the human rights situation with governments and civil society in the region.

The Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, Christoph Strässer, last week visited the Middle East for political talks on the human rights situation with governments and civil society in the region. He was able to get a first-hand impression of the situation of Palestinian refugees and of the work of human rights organisations in Egypt.

Visiting Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial
Visiting Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial© AA

Israel: Visit to Yad Vashem

The trip began in Israel on 11 January with a visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial. Strässer paid tribute to the victims of Nazi persecution and laid a commemorative wreath bearing the message “Never again! Nowhere! In shame and humility”.

Given the tense political situation in the Middle East, Strässer was especially keen to talk with the Israelis and Palestinians about the existing challenges, particularly in the humanitarian and human rights fields, as well as to see for himself the situation on the ground. His talks focused on subjects such as limiting the fall-out from the most recent military conflict in the summer of 2014, the situation of Palestinian prisoners in administrative detention and the role of various actors in the region (United Nations, European Union, civil society).

Visiting a UNRWA school in Gaza being used as a collective shelter
Visiting a UNRWA school in Gaza being used as a collective shelter© AA

High expectations of the international community

If the people of Israel and the Palestinian territories are not to lose all hope of a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict, it is vital that human rights are upheld. Although matters were at times quite controversial, the atmosphere at the discussions with representatives of the governments, civil society and United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was frank and friendly. It was clear that both sides have high expectations of the role to be played by the international community.

Egypt: Risks for human rights activists

Strässer then travelled on to Egypt. In Cairo he held talks with government representatives about the security situation in the country (including Sinai) and the danger of human trafficking, the situation of the refugees, as well as freedom to demonstrate and freedom of opinion. The Human Rights Commissioner also stressed the need to reach an agreement providing a legal basis for the work of German political foundations.

Meeting the Egyptian press in the Ambassador’s residence in Cairo
Meeting the Egyptian press in the Ambassador’s residence in Cairo© AA

Several meetings with civil society representatives confirmed the substantial risks facing human rights workers. The fact that the international community had helped to prevent the further deterioration of the situation in Egypt was viewed positively.

Speaking to the Human Rights Commissioner, representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO) pointed to the alarming extent of child labour in Egypt. Even though the country has ratified the relevant conventions for the elimination of child labour and child labour is legally prohibited in Egypt, the ILO claimed that 1.8 million children aged between 5 and 15 regularly worked in Egypt.

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