I have officially finished my master's degree in human rights. This means that after five years of studying, what I would argue is the most interesting field of them all, I know a little bit more than I did in 2015. However, I still know just a fraction of what there is to know. If I ever claim to *know* human rights, I want you to find the thickest book on human rights conventions and hit me in the head with it. Not only because it would be false, but also because we want to avoid the phenomenon of saviour complex to spread more than it already has. Particularly, because human rights is a concept grown from an unequal starting-point (made up by the most influential states globally). We do not need yet another privileged person to claim expertise on human rights.
Nuremberg || I recently went to the memorial for the Nuremberg trials. It was here, between 1945-1946, that individuals involved in the genocide and other war crimes in Nazi Germany were prosecuted (and executed in an adjoint building).
The Nuremberg trials hold a special place in the history of human rights, seeing that they became the first international criminal trials for extensive human rights violations. The Tokyo trials are not as well known, but also served a similar purpose regarding the atrocities committed by Japanese officers and soldiers.
The trials have had a great influence on international criminal law (which differs from human rights law, even if there are connections between the two). Around the same time, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, which is also a great marker in an aim for some form of 'global justice'.
The drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is often framed as being the necessary response to what happened in Nazi Germany. What is often not mentioned is that many other states also were responsible for inhuman treatment of individuals and groups; Jim Crow and the racial segregation laws in the US, UK and its colonies and so on. Instead, Germany was blamed (they did, however, admit to their wrong doings compared to others).
So even though it's interesting to visit these places in Nuremberg, it's also important to acknowledge that the perpetrators are not one, but many. Human rights abuses did not stop after the Nuremberg trials. They are, however, more recognised today.
References: Posner, Eric. The Twilight of Human Rights Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014 ; Macdonald, Sharon. Difficult Heritage: Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond. London: Routledge, 2009 ; Orend, Brian. Human Rights: Concept and Context. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002.
Sweden || Sweden, not only my motherland, but also the country which faces challenges regarding issues such as gender based violence, racism and fulfilling the rights of vulnerable EU-citizens (mainly from Romania and Bulgaria).
When I'm asked to describe Swedish cuisine, I usually reply that 'everything which is dried, pickled, salted (and thus can be stored during the cold winter months) is quintessentially Swedish.' Then I proceed to serve them a pea soup ('ärtsoppa') made from dried split yellow peas. Not very exciting, but oh lord it is Swedish.
500 grams of dried yellow peas
1-2 tbsp fresh ginger
2 yellow onions
1-2 tsp thyme
1-2 tsp marjoram
1 litre of vegetable bouillon
Salt and pepper to taste
Serve with mustard and carrots for decorations, if you want.
Soak the peas for 24 hours and change the water a couple of times during those hours. Proceed to boil them with salted water and remove the foam which come to the surface. Chop the onions and prepare the ginger. Add it to the soup together with the herbs, pepper and bouillon. Boil the peas until they are soft (really soft!). This can take several hours, so please have patience. When the soup taste well, the peas has soften and it has the overall right consistency it is done. Serve together with mustard!
Groningen, Netherlands || At the end of Folkingestraat in Groningen, facing the synagogue, there is a door without a handle. Not because there is nothing there to see, but because the ones who were able to show us were forced away.
Nuremberg || Two months in Germany have passed by. I have been able to visit several places with a strong connection to the emergence of the human rights movement we see today. Last Saturday I went to the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rallying Grounds, located in the north wing of the remains of the (unfinished) Congress Hall.
Nuremberg is historically closely associated with nazism. This heritage has understandingly been difficult to manage. The human rights movement in Nuremberg is, however, strong and the city has nowadays also the reputation of being the city of peace and human rights. Dokumentation centres, a human rights award, film festival and a municipal human rights office (the only one in Germany) are ways of establishing this new image.
Nuremberg's complicated past is mirrored in present time, with both a strong human rights movement contrasting the extreme-right wing actors romanticising the city's history. As Sharon Macdonald writes: "what was once seen as a sign of a country's achievement may later come to be understood as a reason for regret." How to deal with such a past is without doubt challenging.
Eisenach || I went to visit Wartburg in Eisenach this summer; the place where Martin Luther translated the New Testament to German. Swipe to see the Luther Room.
Just like the Protestant Reformation was a manifestation of differences of opinions, there are many other conflicts still present regarding religion. There are aspects of religious practices were there is no consensus on how to approach them. The European Court of Human Rights grants a wide margin of appreciation regarding the understanding of freedom or religion, for precisely this reason.
South Korea || While Poland decided to restrict the right to abortion recently, South Korea proposed a less strict abortion legislation than they currently have. That is really something, even if it still does not mean a complete decriminalisation. The current law criminalises not only providing abortions, but also having abortions. Risk going to prison for trying to access your human rights does not sound fair, does it?
Sámi/Sápmi || This spring, Ranu and I made this Sámi flatbread called gáhkku (link to recipe). The Sámis, as you might know, are the indigenous people of Sápmi - which covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Murmansk region in Russia.
West Bengal || This Spring, while the world was fearing COVID-19, West Bengal in Eastern India (together with Bangladesh) also faced the worst cyclone since 1999. This was not covered the way one could expect in news papers - at least in Sweden. Not only did more than 100 people lose their lives, homes destroyed, and overall extensive damage. We miss out on a lot of things due to lack of reporting, don't we? I, for one, did not even know enough about West Bengal (or its food for that matter) until actively trying to access the information.
Lovely Ranu made this wonderful Bengali dish called tetor daal. It has several ingredients which are not too common to find in Europe, such as bitter gourd, bottle gourd and panchphoron.
80 grams moong daal
80 grams chana daal
2 bitter gourds (korola)
250 grams bottle gourd (lau)
1 tsp panchphoron
2 tbsp fresh ginger paste
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 green chilis
1 tbsp sugar
An interesting feature of a Bengali meal is that it starts with something bitter to enhance one's appetite and end something sweet. The vegetable bitter gourd is thus often used in the starting dish.
On to the instructions for the recipe. First, cut the bitter gourds into very thin slices. Fry them in mustard oil until they are crisp and set them aside. Secondly, peel the bottle gourd, cut it into two centimetre cubes and blanche them in salted hot water until they are half done. Drain the water and set the bottle gourd cubes aside. Then wash the lentils and boil them in a cooking pot. Add turmeric powder and chilis while boiling. When the lentils are 80 per cent done, heat the remaining mustard oil in a separate pan. Temper the panchphoron in the oil, add the ginger paste and transfer them to the pot with lentils. Add salt, sugar, half-done bottle gourd, fried bitter gourd slices and let them boil for a few more minutes until it is done. Add ghee and serve with rice.
Weimar, Germany || During my time in Germany this summer, I also managed to visit several beautiful locations. The Duchess Anna Amalia Library was one of them. Not only the workplace for Goethe between 1797 to 1832, but also a part of what is called Classical Weimar. The library holds significant value related to European cultural and literary history. Unfortunately there was a fire in 2004, which destroyed parts of the collection.