“We all must defend our friends in Ukraine and in that defend our own values.”

On 23 May 2023, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI) hosted a roundtable “Academia’s Role to Uphold Human Rights in Ukraine” –  centered around the role of Ukrainian law schools in upholding human rights in times of a humanitarian crisis. The event had diverse participants, all involved in human rights or academia through their work. Among them were representatives from Lund University, from Taras Shevchenko University in Kyiv, and the Mayor of Lund. The discussions were moderated by Morten Kjaerum, Director of RWI, and Zuzana Zalanova, Director of Europe Office at RWI.

“Human Rights are ingrained in the skeleton of Lund University” according to Erik Renström, Vice Chancellor of Lund University. He mentioned the University’s international character, with students of 130 different nationalities, many of which come from countries where human rights are respected only in theory. According to him, it is important that we not only show sympathy towards the people of Ukraine, but also support academia so that it can continue thriving and spreading important knowledge on human rights.

“We all must defend our friends in Ukraine and in that defend our own values.” – Robert Resnick, Member of Board of Trustees, Lund University Foundation

As the first human rights city in Sweden, Lund City has undertaken several initiatives aimed at supporting Ukraine. These consisted of re-establishing the volunteer support they had during the pandemic, which focused on supporting refugees in and around Lund. This roundtable hence formed an important part of the discussion on what it means for Lund to be the first human rights city, according to the mayor, Anders Almgren.

Andrii Plakhotniuk, the Ambassador of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden, contributed with a video-address. Here, he stressed the importance of academia in protecting human rights in times of war. He also mentioned that the current scope of challenges requires more experts who are trained in human rights protection.

A central part of the discussions was also the study on Ukrainian Universities (Ukraine Mapping Report) done by Arsen Markiv, student of International Human Rights Law at Lund University. His research focused on three main aspects; namely academia and human rights research, challenges posed by the war, and the specific role of Ukrainian law schools. Thanks to his study, he was able to identify key areas where cooperation is needed. The study also confirmed how important the role of academia is in supporting students and providing a safe space for them.

“Without functioning universities and educational institutions, it would be much harder to recover from the conflict”. – Henrik Norberg, Head of Ukraine Recovery and Reconstruction Secretariat, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Kseniia Smyrnova, Vice-Rector for Education from the Taras Shevchenko University, confirmed that academia plays an imperative role in how the war should be assessed. By carrying out human rights research and analysis, universities can provide assistance to officials. According to Kseniia, universities should engage both from the educational and scientific perspectives. As part of the former, they should make their programmes more accessible, organise various roundtables and discussions, and include more practical education such as moot courts. From the latter perspective, they should strive to make their research reports accessible and to engage in more joint projects.

“Human rights play a unique and important role in such a turbulent time of war.” – Kseniia Smyrnova

Jessica Almqvist, Director of the Programme on International Human Rights Law from Lund University, agreed that it is important for institutions to provide platforms and scholarships to students as a form of support. She believes that the culture in Lund is very human rights-oriented and ideal for promoting the kind of collaborations within academia that are needed.

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