Voices: Monitoring human rights amid escalating instability

"Every day I must be prepared for any eventuality, as the environment I work in is not entirely stable." - Fiona Caldwell, Human Rights Monitor, Baghdad, Iraq


​1. What sort of competing priorities do you have to juggle in your daily job?

I am a Human Rights Monitor in Baghdad and I work with internationally protected persons. On a daily basis, I am confronted with having to complete in-depth and detailed reports. On top of this, I am on the receiving end of a 24/7 phone hotline, through which I respond to resident issues and liaise with the government. I must then collate, verify and draft a report reflecting the residents' daily issues.  It is important to me to have as much correct and viable information as possible to draft a cohesive report –that is my priority.

2. What is the hardest part of your work? What is the most rewarding?

The most challenging part of my work is building a relationship of trust and mutual understanding with our beneficiaries. Many of the residents I currently work with have been traumatised and consider themselves to be victims of the regime and find it difficult to trust people in positions of authority. Working in extreme heat and under constant pressure of a possible security situation escalating or an evacuation looming is, in my view, the most demanding aspect of my job.

I suppose the most rewarding part of my job is knowing that myself and my team have effectively achieved a good rapport with the residents and our government counterparts and that effective and positive communication has been established.

3. What first motivated you to work in humanitarian aid?

When I was 17, I visited the eastern part of Croatia, known as eastern Slavonia, and met people who were deeply affected by the recent war in the Balkans. I witnessed the aftermath of a bloody and traumatic conflict that caused the population to suffer the effects, without the necessary economic or political support to help the victims of such situations. This impacted my choice of career and the path I decided to take toward the human rights and humanitarian aid sphere. I am passionate about my work and fully committed to the job at hand.

4. What is the most surprising/unexpected thing you have come across during a field visit?

In my daily work, it is routine to visit the camp and the residents who live there. Every day I must be prepared for any eventuality, as the environment I work in is not entirely stable and a conflict could arise at any given moment. I would have to say that the most surprising incident I have come across in my line of work in Iraq is the dynamically run and fully operational bakery in Camp Hurriya. The bakery delivers bread and baked goods to over 2,000 residents. I believe this facility is not only a provider of self-sufficiency, but also a great morale booster that brings a sense of normality and organisation.

5. What do you think humanitarian workers and organizations need to do better to further improve the lives of people in need?

All organisations, be it governmental or non-governmental, should create projects that can be implemented at both the grassroots and political levels. They should aim to have a sustainable budget in place and to work towards a deadline within the frameworks of the project itself. Listening to staff in the field and their views and thoughts on how to better implement projects and/or policies would be incredibly useful to supervisors and policy makers. This would help them better understand the challenges when trying to sustain and continue a project.