A scholarly sort of activist

Maria Green has a long and varied background within human rights, and came in 2012 to Lund and the Institute full of experience from the NGO sector and academia. But however deep-rooted her understanding and passion is for human rights, her career started in a completely different place.

– I was actually first a Sanskritist, and did doctoral work in comparative Indo-European in the early 90´s, she explains. Human rights were very much in the air at the time, and I had superheroes such as Aung San Suu Kyi  in Burma and Vaclav Havel in then-Czechoslovakia, who were leading non-violent social change. One day I met someone who was directly engaged in human rights work and started to wonder whether that was something I could do also. Is it possible to be a scholar and also make a difference in the world?

Being a thorough person, and a true academic, Maria did her research and concluded that she had to take a law degree if she wanted to work properly with human rights in the future.

So off she went from Sanskrit studies to Harvard Law School.  

– I was not at all interested in the corporate side of law, and I used all my time as a student either studying human rights-related topics, or bringing speakers to campus, or working as an intern to get some practical experience, remembers Maria. There was a tiny little career-services office at the law school that specialized in the public interest side of things. They had a binder of profiles of alums who worked in different fields, and one bio of a human rights lawyer that I used as almost the principal model for the kind of career I wanted was named Gudmundur Alfredsson. As it turns out, he is a former director of the Institute, so that is an unusual coincidence.

Three years and a law degree later, she was working  for NGOs, one of which she started herself. After a few years as a NGO person and occasional UN consultant, she found her human rights work taking an academic cast.

– My area of interest was economic, social and cultural rights, which were largely under-developed at the time. I would do research, teach workshops, advocate around developing standards or practices. At some point, when I looked at what I was doing, whether with grassroots NGOs or with the UN system, I realized that I had ended up being a fairly scholarly sort of activist. So I thought that perhaps I should do all of this within the framework of a university.   

Said and done. Consultant and NGO activist Maria Green became Professor Maria Green. And for the following eight years she was a member of the core faculty in the Graduate programs on Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University, where she taught Right-Based Approaches to Development, international law, children’s rights and other topics. After that she became a visiting scholar in the Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy at Northeastern University School of Law.

– My main focus is human rights, poverty and development, she explains. I’m interested in making international law clear enough, and practical enough, so that people in the field can use it to make things better for individuals and communities. One project, for instance, was commissioned by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Right to Development. Together with an economist, Susan Randolph, I proposed a series of definitions and indicators that we hope will help make it a major tool for practical change in development policies.

So far for Maria the Lund experience has been invigorating.

– I’ve loved talking with so many colleagues doing human rights work internationally and here in Sweden. And almost one of the first things I did was teach in the MA program in international human rights. How great to teach excellent students who are focusing directly on human right law itself. Between the Institute,  Juridicum and the Swedish Fulbright Commission – who make sure that I experience many aspects of Swedish culture! – this has been an incredibly stimulating few months already.

And being a linguist from the beginning, surely enough, Maria is taking Swedish classes.

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