woensdag, mei 4, 2022

Bringing Home Human Rights - Tracing a Human Rights Culture in The Hague, The Netherlands

College and university students from The Hague touch upon human rights during Initiatives of Change’s Faith in Human Rights (FiHR) project—sometimes quite literally, as Dermatology students would have it. What do human rights mean for these soon-to-be professionals? And how can they help us bring local human rights to the forefront? Together with Initiatives of Change The Netherlands (IofC NL), they are searching the city for answers. In this article, we will give an overview of their initial findings. Undoubtedly, more insights into The Hague’s human rights culture will follow during this 3-year program.

Several institutions for higher education, including the Hague University of Applied Sciences and Hogeschool InHolland, both UNESCO Associated Schools, are actively involved in shaping this human rights project. Through this project, they aim to strengthen their connection with UNESCO. Together with IofC, The Hague University will organise a Faith in Human Rights festival on 8 December 2022. Their Research Group Global Citizenship has reserved funds and human resources for this special occasion.

Modern Slavery

Students from Leiden University Campus have researched tools for identifying and making visible a human rights culture. They found that visual language appeals to people more powerfully and therefore they advised us to work with images. Social Work students have already put this advice to good use by rendering beautifully made posters that show how human rights can help improve the quality of life of their future clients.

Other students took to the streets of The Hague to interview the general public on their views on modern slavery. The interviews resulted in an impressive documentary, which was featured in an exhibition about modern slavery. This is an issue that hits closer to home than one might think. CoMensha, the national Coordination Centre against Human Trafficking, reported in 2021 an increase in labour exploitation in The Hague.

A Right to Beauty?

When we are discussing human rights, one might not immediately think of a right to beauty. To our surprise, however, Dermatology students proposed to investigate whether we should have a right to beauty, which implies that a lack of beauty is a human rights issue. Is there such a thing as ‘lookism’?

According to the students, lookism is indeed a real phenomenon: discrimination based on appearance, affecting both men and women worldwide. Based on their research, the students found that those who are considered ‘unattractive’ are less successful in the marriage and labour market. This form of discrimination is an innovative and thought-provoking contribution to the human rights dialogue and lends itself to further analysis. With these excellent insights, the students have scratched below the surface, showing that beauty might be skin-deep, but human rights certainly are not.

Mapping Human Rights

With FiHR, we aim to trace a local human rights culture through a bottom-up approach. We do so by bringing together culturally and economically diverse groups, who in turn search and analyse particular, areas, environments, or attitudes. We refer to this method as ‘mapping’. During this project, we have already seen local citizens in collaboration with refugees map their area in terms of access to public green spaces. In another case, we have seen entrepreneurs map the general public’s attitude towards their enterprises. Currently, as part of a minor in Peace, Justice, and Human Rights, several students have made artworks that communicate an international perspective on human rights. This exhibition was recently put on display (see pictures below). 

Sacha Felix-Kiestra, Beleidsmedewerker BSD-Internationaal Gemeente Den Haag - door Uyên LuWillem Jansen, programma coördinator IofCMarc Hann, Time for Your Future - door Uyên Lu Mi Jung van der Velde, Senior lecturer International Public Management - Bestuurskunde & Overheidsmanagement, De Haagse Hogeschool - door Uyên Lu 



Human Rights Surrounding the Train Station

The Hague’s (in)famous train station, Holland Spoor, is perhaps the best place to trace local human rights. At this figuratively and symbolically transitional area, people of all walks of life come together, crossing the boundaries that usually keep them separated. Using the mapping method, students have analysed the area from a human rights angle, investigating among other things whether there is sufficient access to public green spaces, affordable housing, and facilities for waste disposal. Most notably the students observed shocking instances of cat-calling and sexual harassment surrounding the area. In these cases, human rights such as safety, autonomy, and women’s rights are at stake.





Human Rights Surrounding the Peace Palace 

The same students who mapped the area surrounding the train station conducted the same experiment on the other side of the city. This bustling neighbourhood, home to many expats, is known for its luxurious shops, impressive embassy buildings, and famous museums. It also houses IofC NL’s office as well as the Peace Palace, the ultimate symbol of human rights. Here, the students found that there was plenty of access to public green spaces, living spaces, and facilities for waste disposal. They did not observe any instances of sexual harassment.

This international expat community, which employs about 20,000 human rights professionals, looks quite different from the multicultural and diverse community on the other side of the city. This observation sheds a different light on The Hague as an international city of Peace and Justice. The students do wonder: What does this stark contrast within one cosmopolitan city say about our local human rights culture?
















Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The same students will continue the mapping exercise with 100 hours of community service training. Under the guidance of the organisation Time for Your Future and in collaboration with IofC NL, they will broaden their exploration of human rights on a local level. They will also investigate the local, national and international right to affordable housing.

This project will also tackle local human rights creatively and playfully. A few students are currently working on a human rights board game, which serves to make residents of The Hague aware of their rights and responsibilities. Students from the Royal Conservatoire will also contribute by setting human rights to music, bridging the gap between local communities in terms of access to art and culture.  These artworks, and more, will come together during various exhibitions, traveling along with IofC NL across the city in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights. We will begin this celebration with a festival at The Hague University of Applied Sciences on 8 December 2021, concluding with a Faith in Human Rights festival at the Peace Palace in 2023.

By Willem Jansen.
Translated by Shereen Siwpersad.