Human Rights

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.

Since I believe that we would all gain from reflecting more on our place in the world, as well as the inequalities faced globally, I had an idea. We all know by now that I love food and cooking. We also know that I am a human rights nerd. By cooking my way through the world, mostly together with my sweetheart Ranu, I would be able to get to know more aspects of different regions. Not only would I be able to taste the flavours of different groups and areas, but also to look into the human rights issues faced in a specific context. So, without ever claiming to know anything, I hope you want to join me on the journey to at least know a little more.

Picture chosen based on the fact that this Swede is missing fika.

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.

Pea soup (meatless version)

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!

Link to the recipe.

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.

Reference: Macdonald, Sharon. Difficult Heritage: Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond. London: Routledge, 2009.

Vietnam || This spring, it was time to try cooking Vietnamese food. We decided to try a lemongrass tofu, grilled corn with scallion oil, a stir fry and rice paper rolls. Vietnamese food is amazing, but looking beyond the cuisine it is also interesting to view the current situation in Vietnam regarding human rights.

The Communist Party has monopoly of power, meaning that no one is allowed to challenge their position. Several human rights are thus also continuously violated, such as freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion. Human rights organisations, as well as independent labour unions, are also prohibited.

Freedom of expression is heavily restricted in Vietnam, as you can understand. During 2019, voicing opinions on issues such as corruption, the environment, politics, and human rights lead to the sentencing of at least 14 individuals to five to nine years in prison.

Furthermore, the Vietnamese state paints a false image of the human rights situation in the country. At the UN Universal Periodic Review in 2014, Vietnam received 182 recommendations. During the more recent Universal Periodic Review, they claimed to have fully implemented 159 and partially 16 of them. How accurate this is can be questioned.

References: Amnesty International, Viet Nam 2019. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2020: Vietnam.

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.

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.

Historically, the Sámis were denied not only their rights, but also human dignity. As the story with many forms of racism and making of the "other", the Sámis were described as erratic and unsafe in Sweden. Thus, the colonisation of Sápmi began and can be argued to have continued ever since.

Sweden has (especially after WWII) made itself out to be a defender of human rights - but also as a country without a significant colonial past. This, despite the history with the Sámis, which is still present today regarding their land. The extraction of natural resources in Sápmi has lead to conflict between the Sámis, the companies involved, as well as the states - which have a responsibility to protect the rights of indigenous groups.

Last year, the news came that the Swedish government is initiating a truth commission to investigate and document the violations committed by the Swedish state against the Sámis. As mentioned by Amnesty Sweden, such an initiative is crucial, and it is of importance that the Swedish state acknowledges their wrongdoings and faces their actions in both the past and present.

Recipe for the bread can be found here.

References: Forum för levande historia ; McEachrane, Michael. Universal HUman Rights and the Coloniality of Race in Sweden. Human Rights Rev, 2018 ; Sametinget ; Sameradion & SVT Sápmi. "Amnesty välkomnar regeringens besked att etablera en samisk sanningskommission. 2019-08-19.

Budapest || Yesterday, on 27 August, it was Raoul Wallenberg's day. Wallenberg is known for saving tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Holocaust.

He arrived in Budapest in July 1944, working as the Secretary to the Swedish Legation. At the time, many Hungarian Jews had already been deported. Wallenberg, together with Per Anger, started to issue protective passports ("Schutzpass") which identified the Jews receiving them as Swedish citizens.

Wallenberg also set up 32 "safe-houses" in Budapest, protected by diplomatic immunity. Claiming them to be Swedish libraries, research institutes and the like, he managed to house around 10 000 people in them.

In January 1945 Wallenberg disappeared, on his way to the Soviet military headquarters. Exactly what happened to him is still uncertain, even if it is believed that he died from "cardiac infarction" (which was sometimes used as explanation for an unnatural death) while in captivity.

August 27 is often said to be a day for reflection. We still witness religious groups being discriminated against, persecuted and killed - and that is definitely something to reflect upon.