Date: Mar 5, 2015
Author: Sulaiman Sweiss
Source: The Global Network for Rights and Development - Jordan
GNRD-Amman interviewed Dr. Suleiman Sweiss on Human Rights and Development
The Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) Amman Office continued its series of interviews with Human Rights and Development Activists. These interviews aim to acknowledge the definition of the activist in general and an activist in the Human Rights and Development field in particular, from different perspectives, highlighting the main topics related to Human Rights and Development issues in Jordan and increasing awareness on the importance of being an activist.
The interview series with the Human Rights and Development Activists in Jordan continued with an interview with Dr. Suleiman Sweiss, which took place in GNRD-Amman Office.
Dr. Suleiman Sweiss was a founder of the “Defense of Democratic Freedoms Committees” in Jordan in 1979 and member of the General Secretariat of these committees until 1990. He was arrested because of his political views in 1985 upon his return to Jordan, Arab and International Human Rights Organizations came to his defence; particularly Amnesty International; until he was released. His priority was human rights issues; with a special focus on Jordan's ratification of the different International Human Rights Conventions; its obligations and level of applicability. In 1990 he conducted a study, titled; “How to deal with the Jordanian media on human rights issues” commissioned by the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Arab Journalists Union. 
Furthermore, Dr. Sweiss was a member of the executive office of Amnesty International group in Jordan in 1990 - 1991. In 1992; he was a member of the Steering Committee of the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Jordan and responsible for the media and cultural committee. In 1991, Dr. Sweiss began his experience in the Arab press by releasing a weekly page on human rights in the newspaper "Voice of the People" until 1995. He then presented a weekly radio show for 20 minutes under the title "Human Rights" by Jordan Radio. In 1993, Dr. Sweiss participated in the World Conference on Human Rights (Vienna, Austria). In 1996; he was also member of the designated triple team from the Arab Institute for Human Rights to study and analyse the content of Jordanian school textbooks regarding human rights issues. Also in late 1996; he became one of the founding members of the “Jordanian Society for Human Rights", and from 2003 to 2007; he was selected as a member of the Trustees Council of The National Center for Human Rights.
In 1995, he was among 200 activists in the world working in the human rights field that was invited to participate in the celebrations organized by civil society organizations in Italy for the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. In 1998, he was one of the 100 human rights activists from all over the world selected by Amnesty International to participate in the global celebrations marking the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Paris, where he gave a lecture on the human rights situation in Jordan and the Arab countries.  
The GNRD representative started the conversation with Dr. Sweiss and had the following questions:

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Dr. Sweiss; I would like to start this interview by asking you to give your interpretation of what the term “Activist” means in general and “Human Rights Activist” in particular?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: A human rights defender is a person who has a deep belief in human rights and fighting for it every day with devotion and sincerity and treating it as a personal interest. In my opinion, a human rights activist has to defend all human rights, without exception or hesitation, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international conventions. This should be done without any bias or discrimination of any kind. She/ he should practice this commitment in her/ his daily life.
 •       Q. GNRD representative: Could you tell GNRD what was your first experience as an Activist?
Dr. Sweiss: The first experience was through the founding of “The Defence of Democratic Freedoms Committees” in Jordan, with a group of Jordanians in 1979. It lasted for about ten years until the Jordanian popular Intifada in April opened a new era of democracy for the Jordanians. We have to remember that the means of modern communication technology (satellite TV, the Internet, cellular phones...) were not popular at that time (eighties). Accordingly, the “Defence of Democratic Freedoms Committees in Jordan” with its limitations was more like "Amnesty International" but working just on the national level. The committees focused on publishing reports with accurate information on political prisoners and sent them to the various international human rights organizations and media. These represented a great deal to the detainees and played a positive role in their favour as we have later learned.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Did any events influence you, positively or negatively, to become a Human Rights Activist?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: Yes, my detention experience from late 1985 to the beginning of 1986 because of my political views. This strengthened my sense of the importance of freedom, and when I was released I was even more determined to defend the freedom of every person deprived of liberty in an unjust or arbitrary way. Also, when I was seventeen years old; I still remember that day, it really influenced me. When the Arab-Israeli war took place in June 1967, the Palestinians who were forced by the Israeli occupation forces to leave their homes in the West Bank were displaced in a public school near our house. I used to hear a woman's voiceevery night from the school screaming and cursing the Israelis because they killed her children and demolished her home and she wanted to return to Palestine. She was screaming and screaming and hitting her chest all night hysterically. I was thinking of the situation of this woman and she was actually a "sample" of the reality of many Palestinians, and I asked myself how can I help them? Then a few days later I went to one of the volunteering offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Amman to help with emergency work. That woman really did not leave my mind!

 •       Q. GNRD representative:  Dr. Sweiss, now we know the event that influenced you; what about any person or people that encouraged you to be an Activist?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: Actually; I did not forget the indirect effect that Mr. Haseeb Ben Ammar, the former President of the Arab Institute for Human Rights (Tunisia) had on me. He was a model for the Arab human rights activist who sticks to his beliefs and defends them. I got to know him closely through numerous visits to Tunisia and by interviewing him in 1995 in the "Human Rights" page that I released in one of the Jordanian newspapers. As well, I think that Amnesty International had a significant impact also on my involvement in the human rights movement.

 •       Q. GNRD representative:   From your answer on the previous question, Can you please tell GNRD what was your experience with Amnesty International?

 1.             Dr. Sweiss: I started to recognize the activities of this organization in the 1980’s. Those of us in the “Defence of Democratic Freedoms Committees” met one of its officials who was on an annual visit to Jordan and he taught us about the principles of the organization and its activities. We started providing them with information about Jordan for their annual reports. When I was arrested, Amnesty International adopted me as ‘prisoner of conscience’, and launched a campaign asking for my release. This campaign played an important role in securing my release, in addition to other factors.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Dr. Sweiss; you mentioned in the previous answers also that you presented a Human Rights ‘page’ … can you tell GNRD more about this page and about your experience in the media?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: Actually; I presented this page in the "Voice of the People" newspaper from 1991 to 1995; this page aimed to increase awareness about Human Rights issues, the human rights International conventions and declarations related to human rights.  We also did interviews with Human Rights Activists, just as you are interviewing me now. And from 1992 to 1996 I also presented a weekly program under the title “Human Rights” for 20 minutes for the Jordanian Radio channel, which aimed to increase awareness about Human Rights on a large scale.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Some people believe that if they want to be activists they should devote themselves to this work; so can you tell us how do you balance your personal life and Human Rights activities?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: At a certain point, involvement in Human Rights activities was taking most of my time, which was at the expense of my family. In mid-1997; I experienced medical problems due to exhaustion. After that, I learned the precious lesson that I need to achieve a balance between time for the defence of human rights activities and the time for family and rest. Taking into consideration that I was also doing work in order to secure a living for my family and that the defence of human rights has been and remains voluntary. I always tried to keep an interactive relationship between my private life and activities for human rights. I talk about these activities with my wife and we exchange ideas. I think I have left a positive, indirect impact on my daughter and my son without even talking to them about human rights.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Dr. Sweiss, what you think the most important Human Right is?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: The right to life, certainly; if you do not respect this right, how can a person enjoy the other rights? This leads us to talk about the abolition of the death penalty. When we know that the number of countries that have abolished the death penalty or ceased it has reached 137 countries, and this number is increasing. Is this not a cause that brings hope for the future?

 •       Q. GNRD representative: According to you; if you could change one thing about your community or in the world; what would it be?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: I hope that this region will enjoy peace based on justice. Peace is very necessary because it is the protector of all other human rights, which people could not enjoy with the constantly armed conflicts and wars.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: Can you think of an experience or statistic that gives you hope that the world will become a better place?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: Of course, there are many individual and collective examples. I am thinking of the accomplishment achieved by the Tunisian people; who voted only a few months ago in favour of an advanced constitution, which is the first of its kind in the Arab world; laying the foundations for the establishment of a genuine democracy and recognising the full equality between men and women. The Tunisian experience, which is based on the struggle for decades for human rights and democracy, proves that the Arab people are able and even eager to establish democratic regimes that reflect free will. Further, they want to achieve progress, development and optimum utilization of their resources.

 •       Q. GNRD representative: How do you link development with human rights, and when is development helping to improve the human rights situation?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: There is a close relationship between human rights and development, which means that if the human rights evolve, this will necessarily lead to development. Further, if there is initiatives for developmental programs in the sector of; women, work, education…etc; this necessarily leads to an improvement in the status of human rights, so human rights cannot be separated from development.

 •      Q. GNRD representative: Dr. Sweiss, GNRD would like to know what the “Jordanian Society for Human Rights" aims to achieve since you were one of its founders and you are still working there now?

 1.    Dr. Sweiss: The “Jordanian Society for Human Rights" (JSHR) main activity is to advocate for citizens’ rights, monitor the human rights situation in the country, intervene on public issues of human rights, such as freedom of expression, raise awareness about human rights through media and education, review laws in accordance with Jordan's commitment to the international conventions, as well as training new members on defending human rights. The JSHR organises conferences, seminars, workshops, either alone or in cooperation with other NGOs in order to develop awareness on human rights amongst Jordanian citizens. It also issues annual reports on different aspects of human rights in Jordan, including the economic, social and cultural rights. It presents "alternative reports" on those rights to the UN committees issued by the main international conventions. It has also launched programs such as "Education on human rights", "Cultural rights" or "Awareness about labour and trade-union rights", which have been implemented by JSHR alone or in cooperation with other Jordanian organizations over the past few years.
At the end of the interview, GNRD thanked Dr. Suleiman Sweiss for his time and expressed its interest in the opportunity to cooperate with the “Jordanian Society for Human Rights" in order to achieve human rights and development.

Interviewed by: Majida AlShoubaki, GNRD Researcher –Amman Office (January 25, 2015)