CZARINA, FINDING A SAFE AND INSPIRING SPACE Written by: Diane Lemieux Edited by: Olivia Ayes
Czarina Musni, a human rights lawyer in the Philippines, reflects on her three months with Shelter City in Rotterdam. At home in the Philippines, Czarina Musni’s life is at risk because of her work defending the rights of indigenous people and rural farmers in the province of Mindanao. Under President Duterte’s administration, vigilante killings and arbitrary detentions of human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists have increased dramatically. ‘WHEN YOU CALL FOR AN END TO ARMED CONFLICT, WHEN YOU CALL FOR PEACE TALKS, WHEN YOU CALL FOR ACCOUNTABILITY, WHEN YOU DEMAND BASIC RIGHTS, YOU’RE LABELLED A TERRORIST.’
Restoring inner balance The daily strain of her work is intense. So, during her first month with Shelter City in Rotterdam, therapy sessions helped Czarina manage her anxieties. ‘This feeling that I have, this guilt that I’m here, relatively
comfortable compared to my colleagues back home, is like survivor’s guilt. I was helped in recognising that it’s ok to rest, it’s ok to stop and breathe, and maybe just let it go for a while. The world will not end if you don’t work today.’ It was vital, she says, during her first weeks in the Netherlands to let the dust settle and re-learn to relax. Only then could she begin to take in the many opportunities for networking and learning offered through the programme.
Expanding an international network ‘Justice and Peace introduced me directly to international organisations, and that opened doors much more efficiently than if I’d just written [to them] myself.’ The network she created not only enabled her to share the conditions and difficulties she and her colleagues face, but also opened new avenues for support. Simply having the opportunity to meet other human rights defenders from around the world gave her inspiration to continue her work. ‘It’s been a pleasure for me to know all these people from Burundi, from Colombia, from the Congo, Egypt, Uganda, Venezuela, and Russia... It just goes to show that human