Professor Ove Bring has been a member of RWI’s Board of Trustees since 2008. We recently met with him to talk about soft diplomacy, international politics, and the challenges of working with human rights – both on a personal and professional level.
“The interest in human rights was interwoven in both a personal and professional level,” he says, believing that his work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs became the gateway to his long commitment to human rights.
At the Ministry, Bring worked with humanitarian intervention, which can be described as armed interference by the international community in cases where human rights are violated. Later he became a professor of law and has worked at Uppsala and Stockholm University. In academia, he got the opportunity to talk about human rights in a broader sense, as it previously mainly had been about the use of violence. At the university, he could indulge more in issues concerning the UN, the EU, and the Declaration of Human Rights, with a focus on a historical perspective.
He was working as a professor at the Swedish Defence University in 2008 when he was asked to be a member on the Board. He said yes immediately. “It felt like a natural step for me,” he says.
Now he is retired, as well as a professor emeritus of international law. But his interest in human rights is still alive. Bring is active both through his consulting firm where he writes articles and books, and as a member of the RWI Board of Trustees.
He says that on an intellectual, legal and empathic level, it’s not a challenge to work with human rights, but rather an interest that he caters to. “Human rights is something I want to devote myself to and spend my time on. The challenge lies on the international political level,” he says.
He says we are now in a very problematic situation for human rights and humanitarian law, more negative and problematic than in many years. “We see how this development is going backwards. With the war in Syria and civil wars emerging on the international stage, but also with the attitude to sexual minorities in Russia, Uganda, and other African countries. This regression must be stopped,” he says.
“How to attack these problems is a question of political will from the democracies committed to human rights. But how to intervene is also a problematic issue, since criticism of states that do not engage in human rights in several cases has proved to be a counter-productive approach,” he says.
“Right now we are in a problematic time, and there are many questions about how to bring about change. RWI does not act confrontational, but aims to work cooperatively in the countries where we are represented. We want to see greater respect for human rights by acting from below in the quiet in order to strengthen human rights through education, both with the courses in Lund and seminars and other work abroad,” he says.
He thinks this model perhaps has the greatest chance of working right now, in a time where confrontational approaches can lead to aggression from other countries. “We want diplomatic cooperation. RWI has a gentle approach that others maybe should try,” he says.