“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
- Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
9 December 2011
2011 has been an historic year for human rights. Tomorrow, people around the world will honour and congratulate those who have taken to the streets to demand their rights.
Each year on 10 December, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
But to the Palestine refugee, 1948 brings back memories of dispossession, exile, and loss. It is the year they commemorate as the start of their nakba (catastrophe), when thousands fled their homes, thinking they would return when the fighting ceased.
Sixty-three years after the adoption of the Declaration, millions of Palestinians have yet to return to their homes, and many lack the basic human rights we take for granted. For Palestine refugees, almost every article of the Universal Declaration has been violated.
To mark Human Rights Day, we asked students in UNRWA schools: What do human rights mean to you?
In Jordan, UNRWA provides basic education from first to tenth grade for more than 122,000 students. The students below live in Amman New Camp, on the outskirts of Amman.
“To live in a place where nobody feels pity for me or underestimates me because I live in a camp.”
- Amira Ramzi, 16, whose family is originally from Gaza, is chair of the student parliament.
“Human rights for me mean that nobody from outside the camp attacks me or my school, which should be safe and protected”.
- Bilal Shafiq, 14, from a family originally from ‘Innaba in al-Ramla.
“For me, it means that I have the right to return to Gaza.”
- Batoul Raed, 10
“My brother and I should be treated equally.”
- Aseel Fathi, 16, plans to become a gender equality activist in the future. Her family is originally from Al-Faluja, Gaza.
Years of conflict and closure have devastated the Gaza Strip, and pushed residents into unprecedented unemployment and poverty. Not surprisingly, for refugee children in Gaza, human rights represent security and freedom of movement.
"Human rights means to live in dignity and enjoy the right to freedom and education. As a Palestinian, I lack the right to live in security. My life is in danger from time to time because of the ongoing Israeli explosions in the Gaza Strip. I am then distracted during my studies, losing another right, the right to education.”
- Rawan El Edeiny, 11
"Our life is not pleasant because we do not enjoy our rights; I do not feel safety in my country because my life is at risk as a result of the Israeli siege, ongoing shelling, and constant fear of a new war."
- Hala Salah, 9
“To enjoy my right to play, have fun and to live in freedom and peace like other children in the world.”
- Elyia Hmaid, 8
“We notice the absence of the human rights between the children of Palestine and their mates around the world. They don’t face a siege, they have the right to play, to have fun, and live in dignity. But we, Palestinian children, are constantly threatened by a new war on the Gaza Strip. Thus, we lack the human right to live in peace and security."
- Ahmed Al Buhesi, 14
In Lebanon, Palestine refugees lack many basic rights and are excluded from state services, leaving them dependent on UNRWA for their most basic health, education and relief needs.
“That every individual enjoy his rights, and work to obtain these rights, because this is the way to a decent life. Foremost is the right to education, remoteness from violence, and tolerance. This month, we commemorated the International Day to Combat Violence against Women at my school. I am against such violence, even if it comes from those close to us.”
- Inas Mahmoud, 15, lives in Ein el Hillweh camp. Her family is originally from al-Sumayriyya in Acre and she dreams of becoming a successful businesswoman.
“I don’t feel secure, and I can’t enjoy a happy life because I don’t live in my country Palestine. Lebanon is not my country; I am a refugee here. I learned early on that I cannot consider everything I seek as my human right.”
- Ahmad, 13, Beddawi camp. His family is originally from Damun in Acre.
Palestine refugees in West Bank camps live in extremely crowded conditions, and are unable to access many of their rights because of closures imposed by Israeli authorities.
“This day means a lot to me, the UN stresses on human rights, and the human being feels his values and dignity. I have access to education but I lack a healthy and safe environment where I can live with my family. I also lack the freedom of movement and to participate in building the state. I wish that my rights be bestowed upon me.”
- Fatima Abdel Kareem, 15
“This day is celebrated by the UN to emphasize human rights. I go to school and I have access to the health clinics, but I lack many other rights such as my right to protection, and to movement with no barrier or restrictions inside my own country.”
- Shuruq Mohammed, 15