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UN: Three People Who Are Making A Difference On Human Rights Day

  • Breffni O'Rourke

Mirzalay outside of her home in October (RFE/RL) UN Human Rights Day will be marked by ceremonies, cultural events, and conferences around the world tomorrow. In celebration of this occasion, RFE/RL profiles three individuals for whom the struggle for human rights is not just an idealistic cause, but a daily -- and sometimes dangerous -- reality.


Prague, 9 December 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Belgrade is not an easy city to live in for someone dedicated to uncovering war crimes committed by Serbs during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s.

For Natasa Kandic, threats against her personal safety are an almost daily occurrence.

Kandic is sometimes described as the most hated woman in the Serbian capital. She works to bring war crimes perpetrators to justice through her organization, called the Humanitarian Law Fund.

Kandic says she and her colleagues are harassed in public: "Those people in the street assail us with offensive words. They have a repertory that is hard to repeat, especially having in mind our culture, with a tradition of using curse words to a greater extent toward a woman than toward a man with whom you disagree."

This is the land where fugitive Bosnian Serb wartime leaders like Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic still find strong popular support, despite being the most prominent indictees at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

But still Kandic persists, and attends every public forum where the issue of war crimes might arise.

Let's now journey to the mountains of Daghestan, the Russian republic in the North Caucasus. We meet there with an 85-year- old woman, Mirzalay, who lives in the village of Keleb in the Shamilsky District.

Mirzalay is a lifelong composer and singer of songs. What is so unusual about that? Well, for a woman to sing in public in Daghestan was for generations considered disgraceful, and more than one woman doing so met her death at the hands of an outraged husband or male relative.


Mirzalay has written and performed songs for most of her life -- and has suffered the consequences.

Mirzalay married before World War II, but when her husband returned, his family demanded he leave Mirzalay because of her singing. He obeyed his father and found another wife. To add to the tragedy, Mirzalay's only child died of starvation.

In each stage of her long and difficult life, she has translated her sorrow into what are called songs of destiny.

Today, the social atmosphere in Daghestan has changed, partly as a result of the persistence of women like Mirzalay. Singing is now popular rather than disgraceful. Younger people visit Mirzalay in her mountain hut and sing their own compositions to her, or show how they have interpreted her works.

She now dedicates her songs to the new generation of Daghestani women, and considers them the most valuable things she could give them.

For our final example of how one individual can impact their human rights environment, let's return to Europe, to the
independence-seeking Serbian province of Kosovo.

Seventeen-year-old Fatmire Feka is a member of Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanian community. As a child, she knew the horrors of the war with the Serbs: "I survived the war. I survived many difficult things. I've seen corpses and people getting killed. As children, we did not know what was going on, but mother used to say, they are asleep. It was a very difficult situation, not only for me, but for everybody. Our biggest pain is [the loss] of my sister and brother. It is like your heart being cut in half."

Feka says that at the age of 11, she had no idea of the meaning of the word peace. Then she met Canadian peace activist Rudi Scalert from World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization. She was deeply moved by what he said, and she resolved to help.

First, she had to overcome the mind-set created by war: "It was very difficult for me and my parents because of our own experience during the war. We couldn't say 'yes' to peace. With my engagement, I started to take part in some conferences and meetings, organized within Kosovo. All of them were on peace, but the participants were grown-ups. I was the only child."

In 2002, when she was 14, Feka began a project to develop Children For Peace clubs. By the following year, eight clubs were running in five Kosovo districts. Today, more than 350 children of different ethnic origins are members. There are also another four clubs called Youth For Peace.

No wonder Feka had the distinction of being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

(This report was compiled by RFE/RL's Breffni O'Rourke with the assistance of Milos Teodorovic and Bekim Bislimi of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service, and Patimat Gitinova of RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service.)

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