A woman of courage, a tireless Jordanian lawyer
By Yusur Al Bahrani
It was the season of hibernation in Amman. If there are warnings about cold weather, people often prefer to stay indoors. Coming from Toronto, the warnings seemed to be a joke for me. But soon, I realized they were serious. There are several steep slopes in Amman. Driving up and down hills could be dangerous, since most drivers don’t change their tires for winter.
“Are we still meeting tomorrow,” I asked Eva Abu Halaweh.
“Yes,” she answered. “But let me check if we can meet today instead.”
“Yes, please. Lets meet today,” I told Halaweh.
We agreed to meet, while the sky was pouring. This gave me an opportunity to avoid meeting the next day when it was snowing. Since several people warned me about leaving home in that weather, I thought Halaweh’s office would be empty. But to the contrary of my assumptions, it wasn’t. She was busy answering calls and scheduling meetings while discussing cases and helping clients.
Halaweh, born in 1974, is lawyer and human rights activist based in Jordan. Currently, she is the Director of Mizan Law Group for Human Rights in Amman. The group was initially founded with the help of the feminist lawyer Asma Khader. Halaweh joined the Arab Organization for Human Rights in 1993 where she met Khader and was inspired by her work and activism. She graduated in 1995 and received training at Khader’s office. Halaweh spent the bulk of her career time volunteering to defend vulnerable clients who need help. She has been an active member in several human rights organizations and causes in the Arab region.
Mizan provides legal aid to people who need that. Many of the cases involve victims of human rights abuses and in several instances, vulnerable women who are at risk. “Not all women are marginalized. Our service is to women who happened to be victims of discrimination and violence,” said Halaweh. “The goal of Mizan is to reinforce human rights and democracy in Jordan.” The organization also defends victims of torture and the lawyers get involved in such cases when required.
Throughout her work, Halaweh noticed that many people are not aware of their legal rights. In addition to that, the laws are not necessary sufficient to reach justice and achieve rights. Therefore, she began working on campaigns to propose reforms on laws and to establish international human rights standards in Jordan. One of the tactics would be having the official newspapers publishing the international human rights laws for the public to read. “There is a need to have awareness campaigns in which people get to know their rights,” said Halaweh. “There should be a shield against violation that prevents it to happen.”
In 2003, Halaweh graduated with Master’s in Diplomacy and was hired by the United Nations High Commissions for Refugees. However, later, she returned to Mizan, which is a home to her despite the several challenges she has been facing. “Ask me about the most beautiful memories,” said Halaweh while heading the conversation towards her optimistic and positive vision. “In 22 years of work, I met not less than 25,000 people… those are clients and people involved in the cases,” mentioned Halaweh.
One time, Halaweh decided to celebrate the International Women’s Day with female prisoners. She met three categories of women in prison: women who are sentenced, those who had allegedly committed crimes waiting for sentences and other women who were in administrative custody. Women in administrative custody didn’t commit crimes, but spent their time in prison, which was claimed to be safer to them than being with their families. This imprisonment is also known as protective custody. “I met women who were in prison for 15 years… she wouldn’t be even in contact with the outside world because her family would be threating her,” said Halaweh. “Unlike others, women in administrative custody aren’t able to plan for their lives,” told Halaweh. Their destiny seemed, vague not knowing what would happen to them if released. In 2006, Halaweh decided to help those women to live their lives peacefully and freely. She called upon her colleagues, human rights activists and organizations to create a coalition to help the women in administrative custody. The coalition was created and program was organized to train women and help them live in safe space. Currently, other organizations are helping women in administrative custody, but Halaweh is proud to have taken the initiative back in 2006. Administrative custody is often used to reportedly protect women from what’s known as “honour crimes”. This measure means that the woman, a victim, is in prison for days or years.
Halaweh received the US Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award in 2011 for “dedicating her career to advocating for the vulnerable people of Jordan, including women at risk of becoming victims of ‘honor crimes’.”
Halaweh would not only volunteer to take cases, but, at times, would also pay the costs of court, transportation and anything related to that. With a smile she remembered a time in which a young man called her. She helped his father years ago. “My father was able to perform pilgrimage and on the holy day, he mentioned you in his prayers,” the young man told Halaweh.
“This is the greatest reward I could receive,” said Halaweh. “Knowing that I am having a great positive impact on people’s lives gives me a reason to continue in this path,” concluded Halaweh reinforcing why, after 22 years, she would still be tirelessly helping people who need her.
This Project was carried out with the aid of a grant from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa, Canada.