People protesting in Belarus

“The Work That We Do Is Often in Countries With Shrinking Democratic Space”

By: Morten Kjaerum,

Sida has decided to freeze the remaining aid in Belarus due to the recent political development, which has led to actors leaving the country. It is still significant to continue the work in countries with shrinking democratic space. The democracy development in undemocratic countries is dependent on states like Sweden. If those partnerships cease, then Belarus will become more exposed and dependent on support from other, more doubtful states.

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute, RWI, has worked internationally with human rights education and research for more than 30 years along with academic institutions. The purpose is to secure human rights through education and accelerate democratic processes. The work that RWI does is often in countries with shrinking democratic space. Universities are important actors in the democratic development, and education within human rights is the key to other fundamental rights.

RWI have worked in Belarus since 2008 with foremost academic institutions, among them state universities.

The work is about strengthening and educating individuals – students, teachers, researchers – and give them knowledge about fundamental human rights and democratic principles.

The training methods are interactive and practical, and are developed on experimental learning – so called participation methods. The training opportunities are based on dialogue, interaction, participation and engagement between students and teachers but also other actors, such as civil society organisations. Programme Officers and researchers from the Raoul Wallenberg Institute lead the work.

An example of such an activity is that RWI supports and participates in so-called legal clinics, where students get the opportunity to work in real juridical service settings. The students can practice law, perform legal science, write reports, create legal documents and interview clients. They get to encounter concrete, legal and daily problems that can appear in their future work life. In addition, there are debates, case studies and group discussions.

Part of the work is also to relieve and support the academia in building networks outside of the scholarly world, such as with civil society organisations. These meetings can occur in roundtable discussions. The opportunity for students to participate in dialogues and to have contact with democratic countries is now being diminished. The reason is that the projects with human rights education in Belarus have been stopped.

RWI advocates that education is one of the best ways to achieve long-term change for human rights.

People who have received education with international human rights standards have a better possibility to make an impact. The chance is also greater that they will feel safe to put pressure on their society.

The academic freedom is a human right by itself and plays a vital role in strengthening a democratic society that protects human rights.

RWI considers human rights education as a silent form of activism that usually does not get any media attention, but can be an effective and sustainable method based on knowledge. RWI is about creating local ownership and uniting international human rights standards, as well as conveying knowledge, building trust between important actors and strengthening local partners.

The knowledge regarding human rights is elevated in a society through long-term engagement with the public.

In the end, this leads to a democratic evolvement. The Raoul Wallenberg Institute strives to make a difference through constructing knowledge among individuals. If RWI and other actors, in this decisive time of rapidly shrinking democratic space, desert the young people, the chance of democratic reform in the country gets even smaller.

Best regards,
Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute

Read the op-ed in Sydsvenskan (Swedish version) here.

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