Furthering Human Rights in the 21st Century


In an ever-changing world, it is vital that academia’s commitment to support and advance human rights continues to evolve. With that in mind, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute recently organised a partnership study visit, along with Belarusian academics, in Latvia, Estonia and Finland. Together, over 20 representatives of Belarusian universities tackled a number of topics concerning human rights in the 21st century.

We often come across a question of whether human rights are still relevant and to what extent they can be applied to the context of Belarus.

Zuzana Zalanova, who represented RWI in facilitating this exchange of knowledge, points out. Luckily, this study visit has shown human rights are as relevant as ever. In this new age, understanding the intersection between digitalization and human rights offers new arenas for human rights to be argued, and ultimately, championed.

The proximity of Belarus to the hosting institutions was not a matter of coincidence. Zalanova identifies that historical similarities between the Baltic states and Belarus helped establish context. Further, Finland’s Nordic background lent yet another important perspective.

Keeping Up With The Times

Estonia’s progress towards e-governance and Finland touting the most advanced educational system in the world were particularly inspiring draws. Participants highlighted the exposure to these topics as the most thought-provoking part of the visit.

As Belarus increasingly introduces IT technologies, questions of freedom of expression and privacy need to be considered. These are human rights matters that cannot be separated from the topic of technological advancement. This idea inspired many participants during the collaborative study visit, who found the complexity of this issue to be a wellspring of intellectual stimulation.

Academia in Society

Beyond digitalization, academia’s increasing role as a societal actor in the 21st century was also considered a signifigant topic.

Research from Belarusian institutions is abundant and thorough. The challenge is a matter of outreach.

Moving outside of academia and interacting with other sectors to promote human rights is part of that societal role, says Zalanova.

Achieving this requires shifting to a new way of thinking; one, which diverges from the more traditional view of academia as a silo.

Interdisciplinary Approaches

This also brings up the question of interdisciplinary approaches. An example of this was seen in Estonia when participants visited the Tallinn University of Technology. There, they met at the institution’s Department of Law.

This department was set up when issues connected to technology brought on countless questions regarding legality and human rights. These included the consideration of digital and intellectual property rights, artificial intelligence and whether human rights should drive change or protect us from it. These answers cannot simply be achieved by lawyers or technological specialists alone.

The important conversations of the 21st century occur when the boundaries of each field are crossed. Zalanova encourages:

To understand and to be understood you need to have this collaboration between disciplines.