Shaima al-Shawa


Shaima al-Shawa and five other Bertha Justice Fellows based at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights used an Educational Exchange Fund grant to undertake an international educational exchange, bolstering their knowledge about international humanitarian and criminal law.

Shaima al-Shawa, Bertha Justice Alumnx based at the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), grew up and resides in Gaza, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Her experiences with Israeli forces’ illegal and abhorrent actions galvanized Shaima’s determination to support her community through different legal channels and motivated her to join PCHR.

PCHR promotes the power of coming together when confronted with challenges, and of learning from each other’s experiences. To this end, Shaima and five other Bertha Justice Fellows based at the organization used an Educational Exchange Fund grant to undertake an international educational exchange for two weeks near the end of 2018. The goal: to help develop a practical and clear understanding of international humanitarian law and international criminal law in practice. The exchange took place across three European cities and included intensive meetings, workshops and training.

The exchange journey began in the Hague, where Shaima and her colleagues attended hearings at the International Criminal Court, followed by a visit to the Institute for International Criminal Investigations. There, they learned about the procedures of criminal investigation in an international context in a joint workshop with experts.

Shaima and the Fellows then went on to Geneva, where they had an investigative meeting with the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2018 protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which called for the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes lost in 1967. During her Fellowship, Shaima had documented human rights violations committed against protesters at the Great March of Return and Breaking the Siege. At the investigative meeting the Fellows also discussed legal complaints that had been recorded by PCHR and reviewed the violations that have occurred in Palestinian territories since 1967. While at the UN office in Geneva, the Fellows also deliberated the disastrous implications of the Israeli- imposed closure on Gaza, which came into effect in 2001, and the daily attacks by Israeli forces on properties of Palestinian citizens, which constitute a flagrant violation of international law.

The exchange ended with a training on international law and legislation in Berlin with Bertha Justice Partner the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). At this training, Shaima, her colleagues and ECCHR staff shared their experiences of working towards social justice and human rights in different contexts and explored areas of collaboration on future cases.

“It was one of the most important professional developments I gained during my Fellowship, to directly engage with the international mechanisms to protect people’s rights under occupation.”
Shaima al-Shawa,. PCHR

This international educational exchange provided the opportunity for Shaima and her fellow colleagues at PCHR to put theory into practice, adding another dimension to their professional experience. Today, Shaima reports she holds strongly to her commitment to defend Palestinian rights through her continued work in PCHR’s Legal Unit. Despite daily struggles, she feels fortified by the solidarity she experienced during the exchange and holds firm to her dream of an independent and free Palestine.


Photo 1: Shaima al-Shawa and Bertha Justice Fellows in front of the International Court of Justice. Image courtesy of Shaima al-Shawa

Photo 2: Bertha Justice Fellows and PCHR staff in front of the Palace of Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Image courtesy of Shaima al-Shawa

Author: Cinderella Alhomsi

Editorial Consultant: Karen Frances Eng

This story was originally published in the Bertha Fellows book and some of the information in this story may have changed since it was first published.