Campaigners from Russia and Zambia have begun a three-month fellowship at the University of Dundee designed to support those at risk for their work in protecting human rights around the world.
Konstantin Baranov and Laura Miti will spend a semester at the University as part of the Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship initiative, combining study and research with the chance to build relationships and share expertise with human rights and equality organisations.
The Fellowship is a partnership between the Scottish Government and the University of Dundee, supported by the campaign groups Front Line Defenders and Amnesty International.
Mr Baranov has worked with human rights groups in Russia and other post-Soviet countries for more than 15 years. As well as advocating and campaigning for the protection of human rights and human rights defenders nationally, he has worked with a number of international organisations to promote the adoption of human rights-based policy in foreign relations.
He said, “Human rights defenders around the globe face extreme persecution for their work. In Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe, the authorities enforce legislation that penalises the peaceful and legitimate activities of defenders, block support for their work from abroad, and smear them as ‘enemies of the state’.
“Programmes like the Scottish Human Rights Defenders Fellowship provide a great opportunity for activists to take a break from the pressure they face at home, to refocus, and improve their skills. I urge Scotland and the UK to do all they can to protect and support human rights defenders abroad. I am glad to have this opportunity to discuss what Scottish leaders are doing already and contribute to strategies for how they can further develop this work.”
Ms Miti has worked with Zambian and South African civil society for more than 25 years in various roles and initiatives to strengthen governance systems. She is Executive Director for the Alliance for Community Action (ACA), an organisation that campaigns for accountability, equality and transparency in Zambia.
“I welcome the opportunity to participate in this fellowship and meet with Scottish leaders to explore new ways we can ask the Zambian Government for accountability,” she said. “This opportunity to network with organisations, academics and advocates in Scotland and London is extremely valuable. I am looking forward to working with the Scottish Government, among others, to develop new strategies in my work to demand transparency and accountability in public spending and debt in Zambia.”
The Fellows travelled to Edinburgh to meet with Christina McKelvie MSP, Minister for Older People and Equalities at the Scottish Government, who said, “It was inspiring and informative to hear from Konstantin and Laura about the important work they do to help ensure human rights are respected and protected.
“In Scotland we recognise the need for every country to play its part in promoting and defending human rights, democracy and the rule of law. That is why these values are at the heart of our own policies. Everyone in our society should be able to live with dignity and enjoy their rights in full.
“The Fellowship is just one of the ways we can show solidarity with, and give practical support to, those who share that global commitment to implementing internationally recognised human rights, for the benefit of all.”