Vital Voices, a U.S.-based international non-governmental organization that trains and mentors women leaders around the world in the areas of political participation, economic development and human rights, recently awarded its Global Trailblazer Award to Syrian human rights defender Razan Zaitouneh. Her sister, Rana, accepted the award on her behalf at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
Ms. Zaitouneh is a thirty-seven year-old lawyer who represented Syrian political prisoners across sectarian lines for years. In 2007, she created Syria’s first human rights information bank to document violations and publish them to the world.
A supporter of peaceful democratic reform and non-violent civil resistance, she elected to stay in Syria and continue her work in 2011 even after fighting erupted and the regime officially denounced her. Razan Zaitouneh detailed the abuses and the atrocities occurring in Syria and also founded the Violations Documentation Center.
In December 2013, Ms. Zaitouneh was abducted, along with her husband and two colleagues, reportedly from the office of the Violations Documentation Center in Douma, near Damascus. Her whereabouts remain unknown, and no individual or group has claimed responsibility for her disappearance.
During a speech in London at the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke of Razan Zaitouneh:
“Razan has risked her life inside Syria to care for political prisoners and call attention to human rights violations, including against women. We stand in awe of her leadership and heroism.”
Secretary of State Kerry once again called for the release of Razan Zaitouneh, as well as the release of thousands of detained and disappeared human rights defenders in Syria and around the globe.
“We need to stand up and stand by them,” said Mr. Kerry. “Their voices must not be silenced.”