Boualaphiane Sisouk teaches international law and human rights at the National University of Laos. She is one of the fellows who is spending the fall in Lund, working on her research project on current attitudes of ASEAN countries towards universal human rights.
Boualaphiane, or Phiane as she is also called, has been working with human rights since she graduated in 2005. “From the beginning I was interested in international law, but it’s very broad, and human rights became the main issue I chose to focus on. Since I started working with human rights, my interest has just been growing,” Phiane says.
The research project
Phiane has been working on the development of the ASEAN human rights process, and her research is a part of that and also linked to her PhD. While in Lund, she’s researching current attitudes of ASEAN countries towards universal human rights. ”In a human rights perspective, South East Asia is still very young compared to other regions,” Phiane says. ”To be able to understand the development of human rights in Laos and South East Asia, and to understand people’s present attitudes towards this, one has to include history. That’s why I find this so interesting,” she continues.
The challenges of working with human rights in Laos
There is a lot happening in the area of human rights is Laos, not least in education. ”We’re at a starting point. My university just approved a new curriculum, and put human rights as a subject in there 2012,” Phiane says.
Phiane says one big problem is that people don’t know about their own rights. ”Everybody should have the right to education. That might sound like a small thing but it’s very important, for everybody. I’m proud to be a teacher, as I get to provide my students with knowledge and make them aware of their rights,” she says. She says there are no massive human rights violations in Laos, but one challenge is the limitations in access to information. “Laos has not fully opened up to the modern society. In the cities, people can easily access Internet and even social media, but in the rural areas there are still limitations. We need more development on this issue,” Phiane says.
Another issue Phiane highlights is that there is not much written about human rights in Lao. ”We have some legal conventions translated, but we don’t really have a hand book or other material written in our language. People have started to study English, and just a few days ago a new Lao TV channel, all in English, was launched. But since the education level is low in some rural areas, reading human rights material in English is still far away for many. Here I hope I could be of help in the future, if I could translate material into Lao,” she says.
The fellowship program
Phiane hopes the work she will be doing during her three months at the Institute in Lund will be of help not only in Laos, but in South East Asia. “In general I will use this time to find new themes for my lectures, and I really hope that my experiences here at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute will be good both for me but also benefit my students and institution in Laos,” she says. And Phiane’s main goal is simple: people should know more about human rights.
An increasing interest
The interest for human rights is increasing in Laos, and Phiane says she can see this interest grow more and more among students, and her faculty has created a “Human Rights Group” for students who are interested in human rights studies. “The recently opened international public law master program is one step in the right direction since human rights and humanitarian law is a part of that,” Phiane says. There are sometimes seminars and trainings in human rights being held at the University, where human rights material is also handed out. Phiane attended these activities herself when she was a student. “I remember when I got the two books. It was the human rights declaration, all translated into Lao. I still have them in my bookshelf, and their blue backs with the small symbol of the United Nations is always the first thing I see when I step into my house,” Phiane says.
Boualaphiane Sisouk with students from elementary and secondary school after she held a presentation about education rights in Laos.