On Wednesday, 9 December 2015, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in cooperation with the Ministry of Education in Gaza (MoE), and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) organized a ceremony to honor the winners of a student human rights contest for 2015. The competition brought together painting contestants from UNRWA and governmental schools, including those privately owned.
The students celebrated with almost 400 attendees in total, including Mr. Issam Younis, Al Mezan’s director; Mrs. Shirin Ash-Shobaki, training and mass communication unit coordinator at Al Mezan; Ziyad Thabet, Under Secretary of MoE; Mr. Bo Schack, Director of Operations of UNRWA in Gaza; a group of directors and observers of UNRWA programs; human rights teachers; the contest winners and their parents; and several representatives of civil based organizations.
Mrs. Ash-Shobaki opened the ceremony by welcoming the participants and the main speakers. She provided a summary of the contest, which was held for the seventh consecutive year, and thanked those who had contributed for their efforts. Mrs. Ash-Shobaki noted that more than 3,000 paintings were submitted, which addressed the right of children to protection from violence in armed conflicts. She added that the number of winners this year was 37; 3 ranks for each school class. The prizes were a collection of scientific encyclopedias, short stories and honors certificates for every winner in addition to different cash prizes for each winner: $200, $150 and $100 for every first, second and third place winner, respectively.
Mr. Issam Younis thanked the participants, UNRWA, and MoE for their continuous cooperation. He then discussed the importance of this celebration and the role of art in recording crimes against civilians.
Mr. Younis stressed the importance of the message conveyed by the participating painters, which expresses the tragic reality of children’s lives under continuous Israeli violations and siege of the Gaza Strip. Some of the children’s homes were destroyed and remain unbuilt, and some have lost their loved ones and friends; the majority have lived through harsh circumstances throughout the last three wars.
He also noted that the paintings reflected hope and unequivocal love to life portraying a message that says: it’s our right to live as the rest of the children of the world. He asserted that the International Criminal Court (ICC) will be tested, as the State of Palestine has ratified the Rome Status of the ICC. He pointed out that the international community’s obligation in prosecuting Israeli occupation forces (IOF) for the crime they have committed. He concluded by congratulating the winners and asserting that the promotion of human rights culture is a common goal of all the participating bodies.
Mr. Ziyad Thabet, Under Secretary of MoE, thanked Al Mezan for implementing activities such as this contest, which promote human rights among students and raise student awareness of human rights issues. He expressed his happiness to be part of the ceremony to honor the children the day coinciding with the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was a crowning of international community endeavors to establish and solidify values of justice.
Mr. Thabet noted that the failure of international community to uphold its obligations is posing a real danger and threatens in prolonging the suffering of children under escalating IOF violations. He reviewed the crimes committed against civilians in Gaza Strip during the last war and mentioned the suffering of civilians and students. Mr. Thabet hoped to see, in future competitions, paintings that reflect a different reality that respects human rights for children. In conclusion, he thanked educational and human rights organizations for their role in promoting human rights culture.
Mr. Bo Schack, , Director of Operations of UNRWA in Gaza, thanked Al Mezan Center for Human Rights for implementing these activities. He asserted that a picture paints a thousand words and that the children’s paintings expressed essential rights that should be enjoyed by every human being. He added that this celebration coincides with the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that the children are its corner stone.
Mr. Bo Schack stressed that UNRWA should always be committed to teaching and promoting human rights inside its educational institutions. He then talked about the suffering of children, who lived through three wars in the Gaza Strip, and the hardship they endure under the continuing siege and the way in which it affects their lives.
In conclusion, Mr. Bo Schack stated that he is honored to be in the Gaza Strip and be a part of activities that reflect the steadfastness and defiance of Palestinians in face of harsh reality, and hoped to contribute in easing the suffering of the children.
After the speech, Al-Annka group performed a dance from Palestinian folklore and the Shoumaan Brothers performed a music piece.
During the ceremony, honors certificates and prizes were handed out to the 37 winners of the contest. 12 students were awarded first place prizes, another 12 students were awarded second place prizes and 13 students received third place prizes. In addition to honoring students with disabilities for their participation in the contest.
Mrs. Ash-Shobaki announced the opening of a gallery displaying the 37 winning paintings from the contest and more than 60 other commended works. Mrs. Ash-Shobaki concluded the ceremony by congratulating the winners of the contest.