Raji Sourani
( 2013 , Palestine )

...for his unwavering dedication to the rule of law and human rights under exceptionally difficult circumstances.

Hard times push us to either give up or to stand undaunted in the face of challenges. As representatives of victims, we have no right to give up. Our obligation is to face the challenges, to be dreamers in spite ...


Raji Sourani has, without fear or favour, defended and promoted human rights for all in Palestine and the Arab World for 35 years. As the most prominent human rights lawyer based in the Gaza Strip, Sourani established the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights to document and investigate human rights violations committed in the Occupied Territories, and has defended countless victims before Israeli courts. Never hesitant to speak truth to power, Sourani has been imprisoned on six separate occasions by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. As President of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights, he organised the first fact-finding mission to Libya after the fall of Colonel Qadaffi, and has recently trained Syrian lawyers, judges and activists on monitoring and reporting human rights violations.

Contact

Raji Sourani
pchr (at) pchrgaza.org

Office Phones:
+972-8-2844299;
+972-8-2824776;
+972-8-2825893

http://www.pchrgaza.org/

Biography

Defending human rights under the occcupation

Raji Sourani was born in Gaza on 28 December 1953. He studied law at Beirut and Alexandria universities, receiving his degree from the latter in 1977. After his studies, he founded his own law firm and very soon found himself almost wholly dedicated to working on human rights cases. He is widely recognised for his effective defence of Palestinians before Israeli Military Courts.

Sourani’s dedicated work towards justice for victims of human rights violations posed a challenge to the Israeli administration. In 1979, he was imprisoned by Israel for his political activities, and was tortured during his three-year sentence in Gaza prison. Three more imprisonments in 1985 and 1986 followed. While held in administrative detention in 1988, Sourani was declared an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. From 1977 to 1990, he was prohibited from leaving Palestine. Throughout this period, he was constantly harassed, and his office and houses were subject to dozens of raids. Further, he was prevented from visiting prisons or working on any cases from 1986 to 1987.

Raji Sourani was concerned that the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords did not contain a single word about human rights. His subsequent criticism of the new Palestinian Authority’s formation of State Security Courts and its use of several of the same suppressive laws applied by Israeli authorities led to him becoming the Palestinian Authority’s first ever political prisoner in 1995. He says: “I had thought t …

Raji Sourani was born in Gaza on 28 December 1953. He studied law at Beirut and Alexandria universities, receiving his degree from the latter in 1977. After his studies, he founded his own law firm and very soon found himself almost wholly dedicated to working on human rights cases. He is widely recognised for his effective defence of Palestinians before Israeli Military Courts.

Sourani’s dedicated work towards justice for victims of human rights violations posed a challenge to the Israeli administration. In 1979, he was imprisoned by Israel for his political activities, and was tortured during his three-year sentence in Gaza prison. Three more imprisonments in 1985 and 1986 followed. While held in administrative detention in 1988, Sourani was declared an Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience. From 1977 to 1990, he was prohibited from leaving Palestine. Throughout this period, he was constantly harassed, and his office and houses were subject to dozens of raids. Further, he was prevented from visiting prisons or working on any cases from 1986 to 1987.

Raji Sourani was concerned that the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords did not contain a single word about human rights. His subsequent criticism of the new Palestinian Authority’s formation of State Security Courts and its use of several of the same suppressive laws applied by Israeli authorities led to him becoming the Palestinian Authority’s first ever political prisoner in 1995. He says: “I had thought that struggling against the occupation was the most difficult thing but I discovered that I was naïve. Struggling against your own authority for respect for democracy, the rule of law, and human rights is much more complicated and difficult.”

After his release, Sourani founded the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), where he continues to serve as Director. PCHR soon became the key human rights organisation in Palestine, carrying out essential work monitoring and documenting human rights violations, and providing legal assistance to victims of these violations. PCHR also organises workshops, conferences and trainings in the Gaza Strip, and its weekly reports and press releases are an invaluable source of information for civil society groups operating in the area.

Innovative use of universal jurisdiction

When all attempts for national remedies fail, Raji Sourani is innovative in using the concept of universal jurisdiction – a legal principle that allows states or international courts to claim criminal jurisdiction over someone accused of serious crimes outside their territory – to bring cases against high ranking Israeli officials accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In partnership with lawyers in European countries, Sourani has brought cases under universal jurisdiction in the UK and Spain against alleged Israeli war criminals. Whilst trials have yet to materialise, these cases have had a significant measure of success: for example, due to Sourani’s efforts, a London Chief Magistrate issued an arrest warrant against a retired Israeli Major General, Doron Almog, for grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Fearing arrest, Almog returned immediately to Tel Aviv after his plane landed in London on 11 September 2005.

Working for peace in Palestine

Raji Sourani believes in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and has maintained good relationships with Israeli lawyers, academics and human rights activists since the 1980s, facilitating their visits to refugee camps in the Gaza Strip. Sourani regrets Israel’s closing of the Gaza Strip, which he believes is a deliberate effort to prevent dialogue and exchanges between Israelis and Gazans.

Today, Sourani prioritises reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza, and believes that his role vis-à-vis the peace process is to enhance democracy and the rule of law in the Palestinian context.

Promoting human rights and empowering human rights defenders in the Middle East

Raji Sourani has been able to inspire, motivate and empower human rights defenders across the Middle East both by example and through concrete programmes, interventions and trainings. Since April 2012, he has served as President of the Arab Organisation for Human Rights (AOHR).

Under Sourani’s leadership, the AOHR lobbied the Arab League in 2004 to make amendments to the Arab Charter for Human Rights to bring it in line with international human rights standards, achieving partial success. Currently, the AOHR is engaged in discussions with the League regarding reforms. In addition, Sourani facilitated the Arab League Fact Finding Mission to Gaza after “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009.

Raji Sourani believes that his duty is to continue to promote the rule of law in the Arab world, and ensure that the spaces that have opened up for human rights work, thanks to the “Arab Spring”, are fully utilised. To this end, the PCHR has established close working relationships with civil society organisations and provided practical and theoretical knowledge to human rights defenders from Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Libya, with the aim of strengthening civil society in those countries. Following these trainings, two new human rights NGOs were established in Yemen. Sourani was also part of the first team of human rights monitors who went to Libya after the fall of Colonel Qadaffi, where he was able to persuade the new Libyan government to investigate the disappearances of human rights defenders.

International work

For the past 25 years, Raji Sourani has actively worked with the UN and its various Special Rapporteurs, the EU, the Quartet on the Middle East, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), making oral and written submissions on the human rights situation in Palestine. In all these bodies, the PCHR’s material is considered to be credible and impartial. PCHR is currently lobbying the Palestinian Authority to sign the Rome Statute of the ICC, so that it will be able to bring cases of human rights violations in Palestine before the Court.

Honours

Raji Sourani was awarded the Robert F Kennedy Memorial Award for Human Rights jointly with Israeli lawyer Avigdor Feldman in 1991. He has also received several other awards throughout his career including the Human Rights Prize awarded by the French Republic (1996), theBruno Kreisky Prize for Human Rights (2002) and the International Service Human Rights Award (2003).

It is noteworthy that Felicia Langer (Right Livelihood Award 1990) defended Sourani before the Israeli military courts when he was imprisoned for his human rights work in the 1980s.

 
 

Interviews

Interview with Raji Sourani by the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights available here.

”Wir bleiben hartnäckig“. Interview with Raji Sourani in Amnesty Journal April 2012. Read online in German here.

Publications

Articles

By Raji Sourani:

Time for the ICC to act on Palestine – Al Jazeera English – October 2013.

The Palestine people are still waiting for justice – Al Jazeera English – December 2012.

History is repeated as the international community turns its back on Gaza – Al Jazeera English – November 2012.

Israel must grant Gaza justice – The Guardian – December 2010.

About Raji Sourani:

Honouring Palestinian human rights defender Raji Sourani – Al Jazeera English – October 2013.

Raji Sourani: ”There can be no peace without justice” – Advokaten – January 2010. English translation available here.

A matter of principle: Human rights lawyer Raji Sourani – Washington Report on the Middle East – September 1995.

Lecture

Raji Sourani gave a lecture in October 2011 jointly hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston. The lecture was moderated by Dr. Sara Roy, senior research scholar at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University.

The audio file is divided into four parts: 1. introduction; 2. main lecture; 3. Q&A; 4. closure.

Links