For Immediate Release
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) mourns the loss of Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, Palestinian human rights defender and respected psychiatrist, who died Wednesday at the age of 70. El-Sarraj received PHR’s first human rights award in 1997 for his exceptional work in Gaza, advocating for the rights and dignity of Palestinians while calling attention to important mental health impacts of the violence in the conflict – especially affecting youth.
El-Sarraj devoted more than 30 years to human rights, medicine, and peace, trying to understand victimhood and victimization on both sides of the conflict in Israel and Palestine as well as the tensions and violence among Palestinian factions He was considered a pioneer in Gaza for his recognition of the important correlation between human rights violations and mental health.
“He cared deeply about the ongoing traumas and indignities experienced by Palestinians, particularly the terribly stressed youth in Gaza,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships. “He was thoughtful, eloquent, passionate, and committed, and his passing represents a huge loss for both the medical and human rights communities. Eyad provided critical insights to our understanding and reporting of the psychological impacts of the first and second Palestinian Intifadas in the 1980s and ‘90s when PHR sent investigative teams to the region. His center offered understanding and a dream of a different future to a great many young people in Gaza.”
El-Sarraj was a Palestinian psychiatrist and commissioner-general of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens’ Rights. He was the first psychiatrist to practice in Gaza, where he had been a refugee since the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In 1990, he founded the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (GCMHP), a non-governmental organization that provides clinical mental health services and trainings and engages in advocacy around mental health and human rights issues. El-Sarraj remained medical director of GCMHP until his death.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.