Widad Akreyi (also known as Dr Widad and Widad Akrawi) (born 1969) is a Danish health expert and human rights activist of Kurdish ancestry. In 2007, she co-founded the Norway-based human rights organization Defend International and since then has been the organization's president. She is the author of several books about both health issues and human rights.
Akreyi holds a master's degree in genetics and a PhD in international health and epidemiology. Violations of human rights that occurred during the Iraqi government offensive against the Kurds in 1974, as well as during the Al-Anfal Campaign are thought to have shaped her life. It is said that by focusing on the end goals and holding on to her principles she could overcome the hardships she had endured.
She has been listed as one of the winners of the Fellowship of Reconciliation peace awards, where she was called "outspoken peace activist" and the "first young woman of Middle Eastern descent" to engage in advocacy relating to illicit trade of small arms and light weapons, gender-based violence, chemical and biological disarmament, conventional disarmament and international security.
In 2013, Akreyi was awarded the "Special Prize for bridging the gap between civilisations" by the National Organisation for Future Generations for making valuable contributions to humanity through the creation of a culture of coexistence. When she received the International Pfeffer Peace Award in 2014, she dedicated it to the residents of Kobane and Sinjar and the persecuted Christians in the Middle East
Akreyi was born into a secular family in Aqrah, Kurdistan region, Iraq, in 1969. In 1974 Akreyi and her family fled to Mosul to avoid the Iraqi government offensive against the Kurds. In 1975, her family returned to Aqrah, and she started school in September of that year. In her early and her teenage years, she resisted every effort made by members of the Baath Party to induce her to gain her trust and become a member, which caused her to be blacklisted for a period of time.
In 1986, when Akreyi was 16 years old, she moved to Erbil where she studied civil engineering with a focus on designing roads and bridges at the Salahaddin University. In 1988 she was secretly involved in documenting torture and other violations of human rights throughout Iraq. The following year, she became politically involved in various struggles for human rights, peace, social justice, democratic governance and ethnic reconciliation. Her advocacy of anti-authoritarianism and her criticism of the use of excessive force against civilians were not without risk and threat to her life and the lives of her family members. Her involvement in these issues became more intense after the Al-Anfal Campaign, also known as the Kurdish Genocide. Despite difficult times, she managed to complete her B.Sc. in 1990.
After the first Gulf War, when the Iraqi regime regained control of the Kurdistan region through an offensive in spring 1991, she was forced to leave her country. Because of her peace activism and political affiliations, she sought political asylum in Denmark and lived in Copenhagen.
In Denmark, Akreyi graduated from Language School in Nykøbing Falster in 1992 and enrolled at Naestved High School, where she continued studying Danish language and literature. In 1993, she enrolled at the Roskilde Language School, where she passed "Danish Test 2" with a respectable high score. In the following years, she earned a master's degree in genetics and genomics and a PhD degree in global health and cancer epidemiology. She has served as a clinical geneticist at the Royal Hospital in Copenhagen, researching inherited diseases.
Dr Akreyi is currently leading Defend International, a Norway-based NGO whose mission is "to respond to grave violations of human rights and of International Humanitarian Law, monitor the implementation of preventive measures that are designed to end impunity for the perpetrators of these crimes, conduct medical research that may either directly or indirectly improve the health standard of communities, and to promote peace and democracy through cultural relations and diplomacy."
Dedication to human rights
Akreyi's passion for human rights started many years ago when she advocated for her classmates at her school. As she grew up, she helped to establish a secret working group against torture in Iraq, dedicated to collecting evidence of torture and other human rights abuses. In 1987, she was secretly interviewing the victims and their families. She raised awareness about the impacts of torture and other violations of human rights on civilians. In 1990, she was engaged in advocating for gender equality and women’s empowerment in the Middle East and North Africa region. She then co-founded a regional Women’s Working Group and organised programs to enhance women’s participation in peace-building and post-conflict reconstruction.
In Denmark, Akreyi launched campaigns, wrote articles for Danish, Arabic and Kurdish newspapers and spoke in panel discussions on human rights, international conventions and peace. In 2005, she was elected, among Arabic-speaking bloggers from around the world, as the MENA region’s most prominent blogger. She was awarded the prestigious title of "Queen Blogger" for two years until she resigned. Her first involvement with Amnesty International was in 1994, when she started to do volunteer work. In March 2006, the International Secretariat of Amnesty International thanked her for her efforts in support of Amnesty’s campaigns, especially her effective use of the internet as a tool for human rights education and mobilisation. In February 2006, she was appointed as "Stop Torture" ambassador for Amnesty’s Danish section. She was elected in the executive committee of Amnesty International Denmark in April 2006.
In June 2006, Akreyi co-chaired the first regional conference on control arms held in Cairo and was part of a delegation of high-profile activists who met with policy-makers at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Egyptian Parliament. In June 2007, she quit Amnesty International and co-founded Defend International. Same year, she was elected as a co-chair of the Women’s Working Group on MENA Region.
It is observed that Akreyi has created partner agreements with leading NGOs like the International Action Network on Small Arms, Cluster Munition Coalition and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. She has launched campaigns to defend the rights of writers, civil society activists, children (child/forced marriages), girls, women's rights defenders, students, professors, prisoners on death row and prisoners on hunger strikes. She has over 20 years of experiences in the areas of human rights, gender equality, women's empowerment, grassroots organising, intercultural communication, strategic planning, international security, peace and international conventions.
Pfeffer Peace Prize
Dr. Akreyi has been awarded the 2014 International Pfeffer Peace Award for "creating momentum in favor of a UN resolution on a strong and an effective Arms Trade Treaty to prevent the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons that might be used for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or terrorism," as well as for lobbying for the "UN Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and the UN Resolution 2117 dedicated to halting illicit transfer, destabilizing accumulation, and misuse of small arms and light weapons" around the world.
Following the announcement by the US Fellowship of Reconciliation on 18 September 2014, the award was presented to her on 13 October 2014 by Rev. Lucas Johnson, International Coordinator for the International Fellowship of Reconciliation at an event arranged at the Oslo Peace House. Dr. Akreyi dedicated the award to the 50 million refugees who have been displaced as a direct result of conflict, persecution or the irresponsible transfer of conventional arms, and particularly mentioned the Yazidis, Christians, and all residents of Kobanê region.
Humanitarian initiatives and peace and security efforts
Arms Trade Treaty
In 2005, Akreyi began advocating for a UN resolution on a strong and an effective Arms Trade Treaty to prevent the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons that might be used for acts of genocide, crimes against humanity, or terrorism. The Clarion Project has pointed out that she has helped pioneer the global arms-control treaty, and in 2008 Dr. Akreyi was "hand-picked to be part of the prestigious UN Group of Governmental Experts to examine the feasibility, scope and draft parameters of an Arms Trade Treaty."
Prohibition Against Torture
In 2005, she joined a Danish campaign to require a prohibition against torture in the Danish Criminal Code. She has served as ambassador of Amnesty International’s "Stop Torture" campaign.
Created Bridges to Arabic Speaking Audiences
Since 2005 she has been engaged in online discussions, blogging and other interactive techniques through which she was able to create online bridges to Arabic speaking audiences by becoming part of online dialogue and debate. In 2006, the International Secretariat of Amnesty International praised her activities in support of Amnesty’s campaigns, noting that her involvement boosted Amnesty's "chances of success."
In 2008, Akreyi joined an international campaign against Eid aerial firing.
In March 2008, she joined the international campaign to end gender-based violence at gunpoint.
In a press release published in February 2013, Akreyi called on UN negotiators of the Arms Trade Treaty to include a legally-binding provision to prevent armed gender-based violence, noting the importance of maintaining the "momentum created over the last seven years" in favor of a strong and an effective Arms Trade Treaty. "We aim to provide new directions to assist in developing policy measures that counter the harmful impacts that illicit trade in small arms and light weapons have on vulnerable populations, especially on women and children" said Akreyi.
In December 2014, Dr Akreyi joined the Everywoman Everywhere Coalition at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. This "highly diverse coalition is driven by survivors and practitioners, with more than 50 active working group members from more than 44 countries including every continent and major geographic area" and has "come together with a singular goal: Mobilization and execution of a global, grassroots-up campaign for a universal legal tool, such as a UN Convention or Additional Protocol, that empowers every woman and girl access to legal remedy should her rights to personal security be violated." In her statement released by the EEC, she had pointed out that "violence against females is a worldwide pandemic that devastates victims, threatens families, intensifies inequality, weakens societies and undermines global efforts to combat poverty through sustainable development," and she was listed as a policy advisor.
In June 2010, she addressed the UN Fourth Biennial Meeting of States, in New York to consider the implementation of the Programme of Action to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects. She shared her views on the importance of investing in a "Culture of Peace," expressing her concerns about the proliferation of illicit trade in SALW around the world, which has significantly "intensified armed conflicts and made the proliferation of peace difficult" to achieve.
In a press release published in March 2013, she welcomed the Kurdish leader's call for cease-fire; she urged the Turkish authorities not to waste a historic opportunity and called on Scandinavian countries to take the lead in negotiating a peace deal in Turkey. In a statement released two days after the 2015 Ankara bombings, she asked President Barack Obama to urge the Turkish Prime Minister to show respect for the victims of the peace rally and declare a ceasefire with the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which had already declared a unilateral ceasefire. She also asked Federica Mogherini to help end the armed violence between Turkey and the Kurds.
When the Syrian crisis first erupted, she decided to advocate for a peaceful solution to the conflict. In an interview conducted in October 2013, she emphasised the massive human cost of the prevailing crisis in Syria and underlined that the conflict has radically influenced regional security and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, making any global attempt to regulate the illicit trade in conventional weapons out of reach. She characterised the crisis as a "humanitarian tragedy of historic proportions," before urging the international community to do whatever possible to bring the crisis to an end in a peaceful and diplomatic manner.
Global Refugee Crisis
On the occasion of the World Refugee Day 2013, she underscored the significant contributions of resettled refugees to their new communities while expressing concern about the safety and well-being of all displaced populations. "Their challenges are many, but common for all refuges, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons is that they have either limited or no control over their own lives... Although the world is possibly facing the worst economic crisis in its history, we must not forget the plight of refugees around the world. The international community has a responsibility to protect the rights of vulnerable asylum seekers, refugees, and returnees. We call on Member States, humanitarian agencies, and other stakeholders involved in refugee protection to ensure high standards of protection for displaced persons in neighboring countries," said Akreyi.
On 4 September 2015, Dr. Akreyi organized moments of silence or prayer to honor the victims of the global refugee crisis unfolding on the shores of Europe and elsewhere. People worldwide paid tribute in memory of Alan Kurdi, his brother, his mother, their loved-ones, thousands of children who had lost their lives fleeing armed conflicts and over 2,500 refugees who had died in summer 2015 attempting to cross the Mediterranean to Europe. During a beach memorial, Dr. Akreyi expressed condolences to the families and friends of victims and called on the international community to share equitably the responsibility for protecting, assisting and hosting refugees in accordance with principles of international solidarity and human rights. She thanked volunteers and humanitarian workers for their efforts in aiding refugees.
Toxic Remnants of War
In July 2014, Dr Akreyi joined a global civil society initiative launched by Toxic Remnants of War Project to help strengthen protection for the environment and those who depend on it during and after conflict. In the preface she wrote for the publication "Pollution Politics: power, accountability and toxic remnants of war" she pointed out that toxic remnants of war may likely be "associated with the risk of birth defects, the risk of developing certain forms of cancer, or may adversely affect the neurological development of children and the reproductive processes of humans and animals. They may also impair the function of the respiratory and immune systems, thereby compromising the ability to respond to pathogens and other harmful organisms."
Defending Victims of ISIL
In September 2014, Dr Akreyi launched a worldwide campaign entitled "Save The Yazidis: The World Has To Act Now" to raise awareness about the tragedy of the Yazidis in Northern Iraq and the humanitarian emergency that continued to unfold. "The plight of the Yazidis is a humanitarian tragedy, and we want to make sure that the victims are not forgotten, protected legally, fully assisted and compensated fairly," said Akreyi. She paid tribute to all countries that had supported any minorities during the Iraqi crisis and reiterated her call for the International community to urgently intervene. Dr. Akreyi was quoted in the 2015 Annual Report of The US Commission on International Religious Freedom about the persecution of religious communities in Iraq, Syria and the surrounding region.
In October 2014, she dedicated her International Pfeffer Peace Award to the Yazidis, Christians and all residents of Kobane because, she said, facts on the ground demonstrate that these peaceful people are not safe in their enclaves, partly because of their ethnic origin and/or religion and they are therefore in urgent need for immediate attention from the global community.
On 4 November 2014, Dr. Akreyi said that "the international community should define what’s happening to the Yezidis as a crime against humanity, crime against cultural heritage of the region and ethnic cleansing," adding that Yazidi females are being "subjected to as systematic gender-based violence and the use of slavery and rape as a weapon of war."
When the horrifying "price list" for Yazidi and Christian females was issued by ISIS on 3 August 2015, Dr. Akreyi and her team were the first to verify the document's authenticity and publish a translation. The document was later confirmed to be genuine by UN official Zainab Bangura.
In 2014, she joined an international campaign launched by Child Rights International Network to end all executions of juvenile offenders and to protect the rights of child domestic workers.
In 2008, she joined the project "Stop Trafficking Worldwide", a campaign to stop human trafficking worldwide.
Status and membership
- She is the first Scandinavian citizen and the first Kurd to be listed as International Pfeffer Peace Prize laureate.
- She has been awarded the 2013 ‘Special Prize’ by the National Organisation for Future Generations for being a passionate advocate of bridging the gap between civilisations and cultures, and making valuable contributions to humanity through the creation of a culture of coexistence and harmony.
- Supports the Universal Citizenship Passport initiative of the Organisation for Universal Citizenship
- President, Defend International (since 2007).
- Defend International representative to the UN Fourth Biennial Meeting of States, held in New York to review the implementation of the Programme of Action to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (14–18 June 2010).
- Defend International representative to the General Assembly Interactive Hearings with Non-governmental organizations, Civil society organizations and the Private sector. (UN Headquarters in NY, 14–15 June 2010).
- Defend International representative to the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly (October 2009).
- Defend International representative to the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) of the United Nations General Assembly (October 2008).
- Defend International representative to the UN Third Biennial Meeting of States, held in New York to consider the implementation of the Programme of Action to prevent, combat, and eradicate the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (July 2008).
- Defend International representative to the 52nd session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women held at United Nations Headquarters in New York (February to March 2008).
- Defend International representative to the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) of the UN General Assembly (October 2007).
- Defend International representative to Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
- Amnesty International lobbyist to the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security Committee) of the UN General Assembly (October 2006).
- Advisor, Everywoman Everywhere Coalition, Harvard Kennedy School, USA (December 2014).
- Member of the board, Women of Europe Award, Denmark (2003-Now).
- Member of the board, International Women Steering Committee.
- Member of the IANSA Women's Network Working Group.
- Member of Cluster Munition Coalition.
- Member of the board, Amnesty International Denmark (30 April 2006 – 18 June 2007).
- Ambassador for Amnesty International's Stop Torture campaign, Denmark (9 February 2006 – 18 June 2007).
- Member of jury board, Amnesty International's Arabic Short Novel Competition (April 2006-June 2007).
- Establishment of a special blog for Amnesty's Control Arms Campaign (June 2006)
- "Support from public figures: Holding a Universal Citizenship Passport". Organisation for Universal Citizenship. Retrieved 2014-06-02.
- "Contact us - Dr. Widad Akreyi". Retrieved 22 November 2013.
- "WIDAD AKRAWI, of Defend International said that peace lay at the core of the Programme of Action". General Assembly. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
- "President of Defend International Widad attended the General Assembly meetings as an observer". Defend International. Retrieved 24 June 2010.
- "List of approved observers to the Informal Interactive Hearings of the General Assembly with Non-governmental organizations, Civil society organizations and the Private sector" (PDF). The United Nations. Retrieved 29 June 2013.
- "DI joins other NGOs in the 1st Committee of the 64th Session of the UNGA". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "NY: NGO Presentation to the UN First Committee 2008". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "Defend International was accredited to participate in the UN Third Biennial Meeting of States". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "Defend International participated in the 52nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "UNODAupdate: International Women's Day and Disarmament". Retrieved 2014-05-27.
- "NY: DI President Dr. Widad at the UN 62nd General Assembly". Retrieved 2013-11-22.
- "Dr. Akreyi's Biography". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "Widad Akrawi lobbying for an Arms Trade Treaty at UN First Committee". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- "Velkommen til Europas Kvinders Pris i Danmark". Retrieved 2013-11-02.
- ^ Dr. Akrawi's Publication on Cervical Cancer at Amazon.com. ISBN 365650752X.
- "Amnesty's new executive committee (Amnestys nye bestyrelse)". Retrieved 22 November 2013.
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