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The continuing struggle for rights through street art

The continuing struggle for rights through street art 

By Sally Sami

Earlier this month I was walking down Mohamed Mahmoud Street which at the time seemed like an open gallery for the amazing street art that reflected a historical moment in Egypt. The beauty of the art, expressing the pain of loss and the desire for upholding the rights of those who had been killed during and after the revolution was breathtaking. As I contemplated the faces of our martyrs, perfectly drawn on the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street, deep inside I prayed the images always remain; a reminder to us and a reminder to the state

Last week, the graffiti was painted over with dull white paint, one swift, thoughtless act that wiped away the many hours that young Egyptians spent to immortalise those who sacrificed their lives so that we could survive and live in dignity. The backlash was immediate and scores of youth went down to repaint the walls, now with angry slogans against the president in particular and the Muslim Brotherhood in general.

I walked down the street one evening recently, speculating on this beautiful act of peaceful resistance. It hit me then that Mohamed Mahmoud Street – the street that stood witness to the excessive use of force by the Ministry of Interior and on which many young Egyptians lost their eyes and their lives – will continue to stand witness to the struggle to keep the revolution alive and bring justice to those who have fallen victim to state violations.

In international human rights law, there is an important concept that we tend to misconceive. This concept is “reparation.” Here it must be clear that when redressing human rights violations, compensation and prosecution are not sufficient. Reparation is a much more comprehensive concept and involves several actions. Reparation is a basic human right enshrined in all international human rights treaties and has been recognised in several international human rights tribunals.

Legally speaking, reparation is the obligation of the wrongdoers to rectify the harm caused to the injured party. As much as possible, reparation must not only eradicate all the consequences of the illegal act but establish a situation that if it had originally existed, such violations would not have been committed, such as institutional reforms to act as deterrents against further such acts. For reparation to be complete, four components must be fulfilled: restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, and satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.

Restitution is the act of restoring the situation that existed prior to the violation itself. In most cases this is impossible to achieve directly as it is difficult to eradicate the harm done to someone who has been tortured, detained unlawfully, injured, or killed. Usually it is easily implemented when someone is still in detention for example and the immediate restitution of the act is by the immediate release. However, this alone is not sufficient.

Compensation must be paid. International human rights law has developed guidelines for compensation. The United Nations Draft Principles and Guidelines on the Right to Reparation for Victims states, “compensation should be provided for any economically assessable damage resulting from violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, such as: (a) Physical or mental harm, including pain suffering and emotional distress; (b) Lost opportunities, including education; (c) Material damages and loss of earnings, including loss of earning potential; (d) Harm to reputation or dignity; and (e) Costs required for legal expert assistance, medicines and medical services, and psychological social services.”

Rehabilitation is providing medical, psychological, social assistance and support to the victim. This must be considered the responsibility of the state and must be provided not only to victims but the families of victims as well.

Finally, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition, this is the adoption of longer term measures and policies. Examples are several and for the Egyptian situation one can think of acts such as the public recognition of the violation, an end to the continuing violation, judicial and administrative sanctions, commemoration and tributes to the victims, prevention of the recurrence of the violation through more civilian control of military and security forces and restriction of the jurisdiction of military tribunals.

Since Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011, it feels like nothing much has been done by the state to meet its obligation of full reparation.

While the state continues to avoid meeting its obligations, the walls of Mohamed Mahmoud Street will continue to stand witness to the struggle between the Egyptian youth, justly demanding their rights, particularly for those who have lost their lives, and the state, which naively believes that by covering over the art work of the youth it will erase the collective memory of gross violations committed not only before 25 January 2011 but continuing to the present day.

 Sally Sami is a human rights defender and political activist. Ccontact her at sallysami@gmail.com


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