INTERNATIONAL SERVICE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
( TRAINING COURSE ON THE UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS MECHANISMS ) SANA’A, YEMEN, 18 TO 22 SEPTEMBER 2005
From 18 to 22 September 2005 the International Service for Human Rights joined the Cultural Bridges Forum and the National Center on Human Rights and Democracy Development, both Yemeni non-government organisations, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in conducting a five day training course on the United Nations human rights mechanisms. The invitation to ISHR arose from the participation of Jamal Al-Awadhi, a leading member of both Yemeni organisations, in the ISHR Geneva Training Course – Arabic in March-April 2005.
There were 30 registered participants in the course and around 10 others who joined it informally during the week. Of the registered participants 24 came from Yemen and six from other states (two from the United Arab Emirates, two from Kuwait and one from Palestine). The Minister in the Iraqi Embassy in Sana’a also attended the full course and the Ambassador of Oman to Yemen attended several sessions.
The Yemeni organisers were extremely successful in ensuring the attendance of highly suitable participants. The participants were very well selected. Most pleasingly, slightly over half of them were women.
The Yemeni participants came from many Yemeni non-government organisations and from both Sana’a and the regions of Yemen. They worked with issues relating to the rights of children and young people, women and political and other prisoners and included lawyers, social workers, journalists and managers in their organisations. They were broadly representative of the various strands of Yemeni society: both pro-government and pro-opposition organisations, city and country, very traditional and more reform minded. A large number of them had been involved in preparing a shadow report to a human rights treaty monitoring committee, either the Human Rights Committee or the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
The participants from outside Yemen were also generally suitable. One was head of the human rights section of the Dubai Police and another also had a role there. Three were active in organisations for children with disabilities.
Almost all participants were very active and engaged throughout the course. They were eager contributers in group discussions and activities and were very vocal in question and discussion periods in the plenary sessions. They demonstrated their interest in the subject matter of the course, their eagerness to learn and their developing grasp of key concepts and processes.
The participants had very good attendance records. All but one attended each day, The exception was a man whose child was hospitalized for two days following an accident. He was absent on those two days (the second and third days of the course) but then returned for the final two days. Two other participants were unable to attend a session each but both advised the organisers in advance of their coming absence and the reasons for it. Participants were pleasingly punctual and all sessions started within 5 to 10 minutes of the designated time. This was helpful in enabling a prompt finish in accordance with the timetable each day but one.
The course provided an introduction to the most significant mechanisms and processes of the international human rights system. It began with a short overview of human rights concepts and international human rights law, necessary background material for a good understanding of the core content of the course. It focused especially on the Commission on Human Rights, the Special Procedures and the treaty monitoring bodies. It took a very practical approach, not only dealing with the theoretical and structural elements of the system but also appraising its strength and weaknesses and, most importantly, explaining clearly how the system can be accessed and used by human rights defenders and organisations for the better protection and promotion on human rights.
The majority of the time was spent in plenary, with interactive sessions of presentation and discussion. The group was small enough to allow good participation in plenary debates and lively dialogue between presenter and participants and among the participants themselves.
The plenary sessions were supplemented by small group discussion periods and group activities. Again participants entered eagerly into these sessions. They were active contributers. They seemed to appreciate especially the role play (simulating Yemen’s examination by the Human Rights Committee) and the opportunity to practise the preparation of communications to Special Procedures (a communication to the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders).
The greatest difficulty encountered in delivering the program was interpretation and translation. The two presenters from ISHR could not speak Arabic and so were dependent on interpretation of their presentations. The budget provided for an interpreter and the local organisers had arranged for the participant from Palestine, who was an excellent interpreter, to assist in this way throughout the course. However with translation it proved very difficult to have training materials (the powerpoint presentations of the ISHR trainers) translated into Arabic in response to participants’ persistent requests for them as the interpreter was already heavily committed to the interpretation task. Future courses in Yemen will need to have both an interpreter and a translator available throughout the course itself and for a couple of days in advance to assist in material preparation.
Venue and physical arrangements
The course was conducted in the new headquarters of the Cultural Bridges Forum in the south of Sana’a. The room itself was a good size but broken up by structural columns that interrupted eye-lines and made it impossible to provide tables for participants to use during the presentations. This was certainly a difficulty but not necessarily a negative. The participants were required to meet in a smaller space, which increased the sense of intimacy and promoted greater interaction than would have been the case if they had been spread out over a larger area and working at tables.
Lunch was brought to the venue each day. This was very helpful in ensuring that participants did not “get lost” midway through each day’s program. It also facilitated interaction and networking among participants and trainers.
The organisation of the course was good and logistics were smooth throughout the five days. There were no significant difficulties at all. Certainly administrative support was basic and it would have been better had there been clearer designation of assistants and their roles and better facilities (especially photocopying and internet access) on site. The limited facilities may have been due to the newness of the building and the fact that the Cultural Bridges Forum had not yet fully established itself in it.
Reviewing the experience of this course and the feedback from participants ISHR considers that this course could be followed up usefully in Yemen with
- a very practical course on the preparation of shadow reports to treaty bodies
- a course on the development of a national human rights institution for Yemen
- a consultation of and on human rights defenders in Yemen and the region
- one or two more general courses on the international machinery
- courses in regional cities on human rights more generally.
The ISHR trainers were very pleased with the course. They consider it met its objectives very well in successfully introducing Yemeni and other participants to the international human rights system and the ways to make use of the United Nations machinery most effectively. They congratulate and thank the Yemeni organisers, the Cultural Bridges Forum and the National Center on Human Rights and Democracy Development, and their officials, especially Jamal Al-Awadhi. They look forward to further collaboration with these organisations in future training and related work on human rights protection and promotion.
International Service for Human Rights
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