Many may not know Souhayir Belhassen given the long ban of the Tunisian Human Rights League during Ben Ali’s rule. Yet, Souhayir Belhessen could be one of the most known figures in the international human rights activism field as she’s the heading the International Federation for Human Rights. She is the first Arab-Muslim and first woman to lead the international NGO after her election in 2007.
Souhayir Belhassen was born in Gabes in 1943. She has mixed Tunisian-Indonesian origins. She studied law in the University of Tunis and then the institute of political studies in Paris, one of France’s most prestigious political sciences schools. She then became a journalist in the 70′s where she worked for the French language Tunisian magazine “Jeune Afrique”. She also worked for the “Reuters” news agency.
In the 1980′s Souhayir Belhassen became one of the prominent figures of the Tunisian Human Rights League, still new at that time. She closely covered the bread riots f 1984. Historians depict these riots as close to those of 2010-2011 only that the regime managed to tame them down and take over control of the situation. In such chaotic time, many youngsters were detained and convicted by the government to be executed. Souhayir Belhassen was one amongst other human rights activists who was known to have stood up for the rights of these young detainees. She later found herself expelled from Tunisia for 5 years.
In the 2000′s Belhassen was the vice president of Tunisian Human Rights League. She also was the vice-president of the International Human Rights Federation one of the most influential NGO’s in the world. In 2007 she became its president with the support of the former president of the Federation. As reports relate, he was keen to have a woman and Arab-Muslim one in the lead of such important organization.
After the petition to help the emancipation of Algerian women was pushed by the federation, Belhassen then launched a new campaign which she named “Africa is for the Rights of Women”. The campaign is about urging African states to abolish all discriminatory laws against women and to insist that these countries to adopt the 1987 Geneva Convention that should eliminate all discriminatory laws against women.
In a video in which Belhassen appears after the Tunisian revolution, she takes the same stand vis-a-vis the situation of women in Tunisia after the revolution. According to Belhassen, women who participated in the revolution are expecting more democracy, secularism and more liberties in every single domain and not only professionally. Women still suffer from “marginalization” and that it is compulsory for women to regain some of their lost-to-be-found dignity. Belhassen also stands clear and what she calls “equality of inheritance” between men and women in Tunisia which stills follows the Shari’a Rule.
Recently, Souhayir Belhassen was also present in the 6th congress of the Tunisian Human Rights League. She has given her candidacy as a potential president of the organization.