In Belarus, the regime silences and sanctions most human rights debates. Over the last 12 years, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute has aspired to engage individuals and communities on human rights issues to enable positive change gradually through dialogue instead of isolation and to transfer human rights knowledge across society in more accessible ways.
Our achievements are the result of long-term engagement and partnership building. As the RWI’s Director of the Europe Office, Zuzana Zalanova notes, “this is perhaps the biggest lesson we have learnt in Belarus that can be beneficial for similar activities elsewhere. We believe our continuous engagement with Belarus was a meaningful and crucial contribution to human rights knowledge-transfer among thousands of Belarusians.”
“During the protests of last year, many of our local experts and partners spoke out in favour of respect for human rights. Some faced detention, forced resignation or expulsion from their universities — as a result of expressing their opinions.” Zalanova says.
“The political situation remains extremely challenging for many actors across society and those affiliated with the RWI programme. Indeed, it challenges the local continuation of our initiated activities. We are humbled by the continuous commitment of our partners to cooperation on human rights education and knowledge-transfer, which has enabled us to achieve and sustain many of the impressive results despite these difficulties.”
Last years’ experience demonstrates the long-lasting results of over a decade’s work in Belarus. It also highlights the need for continuing support for local academics on human rights. In light of global patterns which repress academic freedom, devalue academic knowledge and politically repress students and academics. Support to academia is now important more than ever.
The programme has successfully worked to:
(1) Increase the capacity of Belarusian academics to produce human rights education and research, and to engage with other actors. Help provide more opportunities for academics and students to interact with their international peers through events held in Belarus and abroad:
• Over 4000 copies of human rights and gender publications were distributed to Belarusian teachers and students. In addition, over 1000 online resources are now available through the LibGuide, an open-source human rights database, and Gender Catalogue at the Fundamental Library of the Belarusian State University.
(2) Establish the Human Rights Centre at the Belarus State University in Minsk. The Centre has become a platform for academics from across Belarus to produce research on human rights and gender equality.
• At the Centre over 60 researchers applied human rights principles to research across seventeen disciplines, including: law, medicine, tourism and technology.
(3) Provide more opportunities for academics and students to interact with international peers through events held in Belarus and abroad.
• International expertise on human rights and gender equality has been brought to over 1000 students at universities across Belarus. Lectures and seminars provided by RWI visiting lecturers were, in many cases, the very first occasion for universities to host an international professor.
(4) Contribute to the creation of a sound and diverse community of academics promoting human rights and gender equality. This community enables knowledge-sharing and best practices. In addition to mutual support across universities and professions — be it deans, teachers, researchers, legal clinicians, students or librarians. Nowadays, it is also a strong solidarity network, given the external factors hindering further collaboration on human rights in Belarus.