Olga Bezbozhna is a Programme Officer at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Jakarta. Originally from Ukraine, she lived in Sweden for five years before recently relocating to Jakarta, Indonesia, with her family.
While living in Sweden, she worked on RWI’s cooperation in Belarus. Today, she works to integrate a gender perspective into the Regional Asia Programme. Bezbozhna has a Master of Laws in International Human Rights Law and Intellectual Property Rights Law at Lund University, Sweden and a Master of Law at Donetsk State University of Management, Ukraine
Can you tell me about your background?
I was born in Donetsk City, which was a part of the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic at the time. However, Ukraine gained independence when I was very young, so I grew up living in independent Ukraine.
Living in the “Time of Changes” had a deep influence on me. I was very interested in history when I was growing up, trying to understand how it is possible to go to bed living in one country (for me Ukraine the Soviet Socialist Republic) and waking up in a different one (independent Ukraine). This really made me reflect on the concept of ‘states’. Later on, I developed an interest in Law, because I witnessed that the most important and noticeable changes to people’s lives were done through the use of laws, whether these changes are good or bad. This led me to undertake a Master’s programme in Law.
What triggered your interest in human rights and how did you come to work with them?
My path to work with human rights was not a straight forward one. My first job was at a large company working with intellectual property rights. Guided by this interest, I found an international Master programme in Lund University that offered a specialization in Intellectual Property Rights Law and Human Rights Law.
Ironically, I joined the programme with an interest in intellectual property rights, and graduated with a strong dedication to human rights. However, there was no overnight trigger that caused this switch. I was often faced with exploring conflicts between human rights and intellectual property rights. This highlighted that, for me, impacting people’s lives is important, and that working with human rights would allow me to engage directly with people and their needs. Consequently, as a lawyer, I am constantly aware of how law can be used to benefit everyone, a challenging task.
I believe that it doesn’t matter how you start working with human rights. The main task is to drive societies to a better place. Even though intellectual property rights are important, working with human rights enables me to work directly with people in need and contribute to a long lasting change for a better life. This is why human rights are important to me.
What is the most exciting project you are working on at the moment?
I am currently based in Jakarta, and working to integrate a gender perspective to the Regional Asia Programme. This programme has a focus on the links between human rights, the environment and gender equality, each impacting the others significantly. For example, throughout the region we see a vast degradation of water sources due to pollution, climate change, extensive exploitation, etc. Men and women are struggling to make a living, feed their families and enjoy minimal hygiene and education in these conditions. By understanding local gender norms, we can make sure that those who are most vulnerable are not left behind and ensure that suggested solutions take it into account different needs and forms of vulnerability.
What’s your take on where human rights are heading right now?
The human rights field needs to catch up with a swiftly developing world, and the emerging challenges this world poses. This includes everything from globalization to advancements in science and technology (e.g. biomedicine, robotics, etc.) Unfortunately, too often International Human Rights Law is too slow to see and address emerging issues.
In order to stay relevant and useful, human rights and International Human Rights law needs to be continuously advanced to keep up with new challenges. Otherwise, I am afraid that it will come to be considered obsolete, says Olga Bezbozhna
What do you find challenging about the work that you do?
A personal challenge that I face is to avoid “over-professionalization”. It is very easy to over-professionalize human rights work by creating intellectual and analytical silos, and overemphasizing only one aspect of work.
When working with human rights, one has a cause that is much greater than one’s own professional success. For example, as a professional, I might be excellent with drafting indicators, monitoring and evaluation frameworks. But if I lose a sight of the bigger picture – why I am doing what I am doing – my efforts will be vain. Because of this, I must constantly remind myself that nations and borders are very fluid concepts; but the fact that we all live on one planet, Earth, and the lives of every single person and creature, are two very concrete things. My task is to contribute for a greater good of life on the planet as a whole.
Why did you choose to work at RWI and what do you want to get out of the experience of working at RWI?
RWI recognizes the value of education, collaboration and networking. I share those values. I believe in person-to-person contact and influence. It is people who are drafting laws and running countries. If I am able to influence even some of these people to promote respect for human rights, I will be satisfied with my impact.
Education: Master of Laws in International Human Rights Law and Intellectual Property Rights Law at Lund University, Sweden; Master of Law at Donetsk State University of Management, Ukraine
Work experience: Before joining RWI, Bezbozhna worked at various Institutes and organizations including: the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Constitutional Court of Ukraine and CJSC Konti Production
Place of birth: Donetsk, Ukraine
Office: Jakarta office, Indonesia
Current reading: Our Posthuman Future by Francis Fukuyama