Junior Professor of European Law in the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Institute of European Studies and International Relations. Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences, Comenius University Bratislava.
We all heard the expression: “Human Rights”. In general human rights are fundamental freedoms common to all people, regardless of their political, economic and cultural systems. But what rights are we talking about? The right for freedom, or maybe the right to life? The definitions of what we call the “Human Rights” is changing. And it’s important to have the clear understanding of what Human Rights are and how to implement this understanding to new policies.
Lucia Mokrá (PhD) from the Faculty of Social and Economic Sciences at Comenius University in Bratislava will share her views and ideas on this fascinating topic.
Lucia: Hello, my name is Lucia Mokrá, I’m from Comenius University in Bratislava in the faculty of social and economic sciences where I’ve been serving since 2014 as Dean. Originally I’m from the Institute of European Studies and International Relations where I’m teaching and doing research in the area of International and European law with a special focus on human rights protection.
Nerina: What are you passionate about?
Lucia: My passion is human rights; teaching and understanding it. It’s a living mechanism, we understand the concrete rights differently- for example, in 1950 the understanding of the right to life or family life is totally different to today’s understanding. When the UN Charter of Human Rights and the declaration was adopted we weren’t thinking about the rights of environmental protection or right to peace or development, so it means that I’m looking forward at how our world and societies will develop and how we can understand that the rights are there to be implemented and exercised for the benefit of all of us.
Nerina: Could you tell me more about your studies?
Lucia: My research is always connected with the human rights protection. Since 2004 when we became members of the European Union I’ve been dealing with the issues of EU citizenship and the European agenda in the area of human rights and the adoption of the EU charter on fundamental rights. Right now I’m dealing mainly with the protection of migrants rights or the humanitarian management of the European Union, so it means that I’ve moved from the institutional point of human rights protection to the protection of human rights in the EU foreign policy.
Nerina: How did you get into this topic?
Lucia: I was always interested in human rights, and since my Ph.D., I’ve been dealing with the protection of human rights.
Nerina: What was the result of your Ph.D.?
Lucia: At the beginning, it was mainly connected with the electoral rights and first-time voters; I learned that young people have a really great power to contribute to and influence decisions about the government for the following period of time. They also have the enthusiasm to ask many questions and require a lot of explanations before making decisions about their potential future. Of course, young people have to be educated about the principles which govern the current society, this means that education, public awareness, and information on human rights are really important for them, but also for the rest of society.
Nerina: What are you busy with at the moment?
Lucia: For the last 2 years I’ve been working with the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, I have worked with the Slovak Foreign Policy Association project connected with the Schengen border between Slovakia and Ukraine, and the implementation of the Schengen agreement. I worked on this and analysed the national legislation on human rights protection, as well as training the foreign policy officers on the necessity of always considering the principals of human rights protection in their field of work, which is really important not only for those people but for the following administrative procedures, their asylum proceeding and so on.
Nerina: What have you learned during the last 2 years?
Lucia: There were many examples and many cases the foreign policy officers dealt with on the Schengen border. The lesson learned was about the individual approach and the principal of the human rights protection that every case is individual, and how although we have guidelines and legal regulations we have to approximate it to the current situation. Of course, human dignity and protection of people didn’t finish by filing the asylum application; there are many connected issues like the behavior and conduct in refugee camps, the necessity to provide them legal advice, the protection, and education of minors while they are waiting for the decision of their asylum application. Of course from the other side, society should be aware of the position of the asylum seekers and should consider that they are not coming because they have voluntarily left their country but they are forced to move because their lives have been threatened.
Nerina: How do you find a balance between the claims of the people coming to the country and the people living in the country?
Lucia: It’s quite hard but there are two points of view; the first one is that every individual and every state that signed the UN Convention on refugees are obliged to provide the necessary help, so we have the responsibility of the human rights and dignity of those people who are looking for the protection. On the other side, because they are coming and they are probably coming temporarily it means that we always have to consider the human rights of the people who are permanently living in the territory – citizens or inhabitants of the country. When we are talking about human rights protection it’s always about looking for the balance between the rights of individuals and of the community, between the rights of migrants and rights of permanent residents. It means that it’s about how we think, how we are educated, and the promotion of human rights. It’s not only about protection of the human rights because those regulations can be enforced in practice, but it’s also about the promotion of the rights and understanding that people have to be aware of the situation in the migrants home country until it is settled.
Nerina: What is needed now, in your opinion?
Lucia: It depends, some of the countries have already implemented many policies and changes. Generally, there are several policies that have to be changed; the first one is, of course, that the migration policy should not only set the unified standard but the enforcement and implementation should also be efficient. It’s connected with another policy which is education – we are missing experts that have enough experience in the area of migration policy, psychologists who can help people who have had to leave their homes, and medical staff able to deal with different foreign illnesses which are not common to the European continent. Furthering on this point is the education about the history and understanding international relations in the different continents- in Africa, in the Middle East- from which the flows are coming. It means that many times the small changes in our education and social policy, medical policy, healthcare policy, can help to the overall understanding of the complexity of the migration. It is, of course, an individual policy but it is still connected with the other areas. What I see as the biggest problem is not only some kind of missing political will or a problems and obstacles on the European Union level or the financial issues connected with this, but that we are missing people who are able to be experts and help build capacities and train the staff in the congruent countries to understand and deal with the people who are coming from a different historical regions with a different culture, a different language, and total different understandings of a society as we have in continental Europe.
Nerina: What can we do?
Lucia: I suppose that some guidelines from the European level; not forced legislation but guidelines which can be shared and elaborate on good practice or good examples can help, and of course amendment of the educational policy to get back more information about world development and more about international relations which are normally taught at universities but not at high schools or primary schools where students are aware of just the basics of the existence of the continents and some key dates and years of historical and human development but are not aware of the complexity of the developmental influences of some concrete historical occasions connected to the present and so on. It means that this kind of awareness, critical thinking and understanding that each situation has to be considered from both sides, the existence of different perspectives and that we are all living in one world which means this awareness is important to be implemented to the policies and education, also to people in state administration in the public administration who are dealing with the implementation of these policies.
Nerina: This means that the education and awareness are key, but what have you personally learned?
Lucia: I personally learned that we are different but we can live together, there was a quote – I’m not sure whether it was originally by the UN – but, “diversified within the unity”, which means that we can still live peacefully while we respect each other, it means that we will not try to implement and exercise our rights in a way that will interfere with the rights of others. We should help if we are able to and have capacities for other people who are in need. Our university is contributing to settlement of the situation; we have students who came to the country as refugees- it took a long time to find documents from their high school which entitled them to study at the university- but now some of them have already graduated and become an integral part of the labour market, however there are very few of them, a tiny percentage, but their destiny was changed and they can be used as a positive example that it is possible if they are interested to change their lives and we are able to help them to do so.
Nerina: What is it like to be a researcher?
Lucia: I’m really happy where I am, I do research in an area I really like and I am not only able to formulate the legislation and paragraphs, but also to concrete policies and projects with my students and colleagues which are another way of implementing the legislation into practice.
Nerina: Why is it relevant?
Lucia: It’s always something nice when I can do something to not only find circumstances to understand the current situation, but also to formulate the recommendations and influence daily life. For me as a researcher, it means that every new situation is a new challenge as we don’t have any identical situations- we cannot compare flows from Africa to flows from the Middle East if we are talking about migration we cannot somehow compare the rights of women to the rights of children. It means that the situation is always developing and the society has to reflect it, not only in daily life but in the elaboration of practices, policies, and legislation. Society needs the researchers to give them data and justification of their future steps.
Nerina: Do you have a dream?
Lucia: I have several of them! Some are personal and some are from the point of research. I would like to help our country become efficient from the point of human rights protection, with a proper settlement of the many crises which we are facing right now that are connected with societal development, and that we can contribute to saving the world in which we are living together for our children.
Nerina: If possible, what would you change tomorrow?
Lucia: I would like to change how European people understand refugees because the negative experiences have resulted in a negative experience for those looking for protection. They are first pushed from their home country and then by the society which they are fleeing to for protection.
Nerina: Thank you so much for this conversation.