Wednesday, 27 August 2014
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Director


Raji Sourani

Joint Laureate, Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for Human Rights; Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience, 1985, 1988, International  Commission of Jurists EXCO Member, IDAL EXCO Member.


Raji Sourani was born into a deeply rooted Gazan family in 1953. After graduating from the University of Alexandria in 1977, Raji began practicing law – and his work against human rights violations soon attracted the attention of the Israeli occupation forces. In September 1979, he was arrested and tortured by the Israelis; he was held in prison for “political activities” for three years. On the last day of his detention, the Israeli security services attempted to fabricate a case to keep him incarcerated even longer, but were not successful.

 

Upon his release, Raji immediately established his own law firm and began to work on a wide variety of cases related to the military courts and the Israeli occupation, including inquiries and compensation cases on detention, torture, deaths in custody, house demolitions, deportations, and serious physical injuries inflicted by Israeli soldiers. He represented artists and fought precedent-setting cases on torture resulting in death carried out by special brigades.

 

Over the years of his work, Raji was detained multiple times, and his home and office were frequently raided by secret services and the army. In 1985, he was held in administrative detention and subjected to severe torture for six months. He was declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International. After Raji’s release in March 1985, the Israeli Military Governor issued an unprecedented ruling which restricted him from legal work and visits to prisons for one year. In December 1986, he was arrested again and held for one month. After the eruption of the first Intifada, he was again arrested in March 1988, and held in administrative detention in the newly-opened and soon infamous Ansar III/ Keziot prison in the Negev desert. After six months, he was released without charge following an intervention on his behalf by the American Bar Association and his naming as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty.

 

In 1990, Raji became the Director of the Gaza Centre for Rights and Law. The same year, he was allowed to leave Gaza to become a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University. Since 1977, Raji had been prohibited from travelling outside the Gaza Strip by an official order, but even when he was allowed travel to the United States, it was under restricted conditions laid out by Israel. He was not permitted to travel outside of New York and was barred from any contact with the media as well as public appearances or lectures. However, he returned to Columbia as a visiting scholar on various occasions between 1990 and 1994.

 

The Gaza Centre for Rights and Law became the leading organization in the Gaza Strip reporting on human rights abuses under Israeli occupation. In 1991, Raji received the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Prize for Human Rights for his work with the centre. Following the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the centre issued a series of criticisms regarding the restriction of the freedom of assembly, restrictions of movement, and the crackdown on political opposition groups, including a massive campaign of arrests. After the Palestine Mosque massacre in November 1994 and the establishment of the State Security Courts in early 1995, and the Centre’s highly critical responses to these events, the Palestinian Authority pressured the board to dismiss Raji from his post as Director. In protest, 13 of the organization's 17 core staff members left in solidarity.

 

Raji and the lawyers and researchers who had left the Gaza Centre for Human Rights and Law with him then jointly founded the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in April 1995. Since then, PCHR has become the foremost human rights organization in the Gaza Strip. Raji and the PCHR staff have participated in numerous research projects, joint papers, and conferences around the world, including the United States, South Africa, Japan, and across Latin America. PCHR has organized several international conferences dealing with human rights and international law issues throughout Gaza, the Middle East, and Europe.

 

PCHR has been honoured with several awards for its efforts to defend human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory. The Centre received the French Republic Human Rights Award in 1995, the Bruno Kreisky Prize for Outstanding Achievements in the Area of Human Rights in 2002, and the International Service Human Rights Award in 2003. In 2009, PCHR was honoured with the Human Rights Prize of Andalucia.

 

Raji continues to live in Gaza City with his wife Amal and their two children, Nour and Bassel. 

 

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