It was the summer of 2007 when I first met Razan Zaitouneh in Damascus. I was researching the topic of Arab authoritarian state and women's rights in different Arab MENA contexts. Given her background as a female lawyer defending victims of Syrian government's human rights violations, meeting her was necessary.
After spending more than two hours interviewing her, I knew that she belonged to a different caliber of young human rights activists. She was not there for the hype and show. She actually believed in what she was doing.
She is a humanist who believes that change can be achieved through peaceful but relentless work. And she was and still is willing to pay the price for her principles. She would be attacked, beaten, hit, defamed, and summoned time after time for interrogation.
Yet she would not stop. People loved her because of her ability to work across sectarian and religious lines. In her eyes, these 'divisions' did not matter: she was defending a person entitled to his or her universal basic human rights. Full stop.
When the Syrian uprising started in 2011, she belonged to the Syrian civil society, which persistently insisted on the peacefulness of the uprising. And when the revolt turned to an outright bloody civil war she stayed when others, understandably, left.
She stayed and created in April 2011 the Center for the Documentation of Human Rights Violations in Syria (VDC) and took it upon herself and her team of 30 young activists to document the human rights violations committed by the two sides of the conflict, the government and the rebels. She knew that in times of war, the fate of individual human beings loses its significance and she was determined to bring in their voices and show their faces to the world.
You do not make friends by taking the side of the victims in peaceful times. Imagine doing that in a war, where sheer horror became a daily routine.
The international awards she got in 2011 and 2013 for her actions and courage, while expected, did not achieve what she wanted. Her voice has been echoing the message: "stop watching us, do something for these civilians."
Razan Zaitouneh was snatched with four other renowned activists from their organization's office in Douma on December 9 2013. Kidnapped!
Masked men in an area controlled by 'rebels' kidnapped them. She and her organization have been receiving threats from both sides of the conflict. But two months before her kidnapping, Razan received serious threats from a well-known fighting battalion in Gouta telling her to leave the area. The inaction of the 'rebels' in tracking down the perpetrators reinforced the impression that she was kidnapped by the very groups, who are supposedly fighting for a 'free and democratic' Syria. Her whereabouts is still unknown.
Razan Zaitouneh stands to represent everything that can go right in Syria. She stands for a peaceful democratic united Syria, one that transcends sectarian and religious identities, and establishes the rule of law and rights for all. She was and still is the living proof that this Syria is capable of existing. The sectarian fighters on both sides do not want her Syria to prevail. Kidnapping her was meant to silence her voice. It is up to us to keep her voice alive in this mayhem. Do not give up on her Syria