Chronicle: ”Human rights are to become interdisciplinary”

A new interdisciplinary research environment for human rights will soon be launched in Lund.
“Interdisciplinarity and innovative thinking are required if our work on human rights is to remain relevant to society”, writes Morten Kjaerum, director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

Morten Kjaerum

Morten Kjaerum, director and adjunct professor Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

The head of the human rights office at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs came in to the conference room with a big smile. The first thing she said to me was how much her two years in Lund in the mid-90s had meant to her.

And she is but one example of how the Master’s programme in International Human Rights has, without a doubt, made a difference. The programme, which turns 25 this year, is offered in collaboration between the Faculty of Law and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (RWI). It has provided knowledge to top civil servants, judges, diplomats, researchers and activists all over the world and put Lund on the map in the field of human rights.

During the jubilee year, a further significant step has been taken: researchers from all the faculties and from the RWI met for a day in early spring and, within three hours, they had created one of Europe’s largest interdisciplinary human rights environments: the Lund Human Rights Research Hub.

In December, the new environment will be launched with more than 60 researchers – from medicine to history. Here, it will be possible to find collaboration partners and research projects, advertise seminars, conferences and more.

Over the last 25 years, human rights work has been one of the most important driving forces for global change. It has mainly been conducted by legal scholars, who will continue to play an important role. But in order for human rights to remain strongly relevant to society, we have to broaden our approach and secure other ways of accessing the research field, from science and engineering to humanities. The Lund Human Rights Research Hub is a unique opportunity to contribute to such a development.

Interdisciplinarity and innovative thinking are needed because the wind is not blowing in the same positive direction as it was 25 years ago. We are currently witnessing a global paradigm shift characterised by authoritarian tendencies, populism and nationalism intertwined with a growing mistrust of democratic structures. How can we understand these changes? How can we understand society in its new diversity and global complexity? Finding the answers to these questions requires a broad investigation.

The challenges are considerable but, fortunately, new agents have joined the efforts to safeguard human rights. The private sector increasingly takes its responsibilities seriously. Many companies work in a focused manner on understanding their role in the locations where their presence affects the local community. All over the world, special human rights cities are being created, determined to assume their responsibility for safeguarding the human rights of their inhabitants. How do we create an inclusive city? How do we ensure that nobody suffers discrimination within public healthcare? In the autumn, the City of Lund decided to take the first steps towards becoming such a human rights city.

A friend said the other day: “Lund is the continental Oxford when it comes to education and research on human rights”. Perhaps we are not quite there yet, but it doesn’t hurt to aim high. And with a world-class Master’s programme, a strong new interdisciplinary environment and a city pulling in the same direction – indeed the framework and the agenda for the next 25 years are already in place.

Morten Kjaerum, director and adjunct professor, Raoul Wallenberg Institute.