Long-time Zambian human rights defender, Laura Miti, has joined a Russian human rights activist, Konstantin Baranov, for a three-month fellowship at the University of Dundee. It's intended to give fellows a break from constant work at the forefront of human rights struggles. Instead, they take time-out for research, reflection on what they have been doing and interaction with students and staff of the university as well as government officials and members of Scottish civil society.
Photo left to right, Konstantin Baranov, Scottish Minister Christina McKelvie, Laura Miti
The fellowships awarded to Laura Miti and Konstantin Baranov are the result of a partnership between the Scottish government and the University of Dundee. They are also supported by Front Line Defenders and Amnesty International.
According to the university, its school of social sciences will host the fellowship, which it described as a major new initiative aimed at supporting human rights defenders from around the world. In particular, fellows are supported by giving them ‘a short period of respite and protection in Scotland while they conduct research and interact with students, staff, civil society and government across Scotland.’
After Miti and Baranov arrived in Scotland, they travelled to Edinburgh for discussions with Scottish government officials including Christina McKelvie, Minister for Older People and Equalities (she is regarded as the minister for human rights), who said it had been ‘inspiring’ to meet with the two fellows and discuss with them the ‘important work they do to help ensure human rights are respected and protected.’
Miti is the executive director of the Alliance for Community Action, which works at encouraging the people of Zambia to demand accountability for public resources. Her work over more than 25 years has ensured she knows the inside of Zamibia’s prisons reasonably well, but for the next few months at least, she will experience rather warmer hospitality as a guest of the University of Dundee.
She said she welcomed the opportunity to participate in the fellowship and meet with Scottish leaders to explore 'new ways we can ask the Zambian government for accountability.'
The chance 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.'
Her new colleague, Baranov, said that human rights defenders all over the world faced extreme persecution for their work. 'In Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe, the authorities enforce legislation thta penalises the peaceful and legitimate activities of defenders, block support for their work from abroad, and smear them as "enemies of the state".'
He said that programmes such as the fellowship he had been awarded '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.'
This is the second year of the fellowship. One of the first group fellows, who spent three months in Scotland last year, was Tumeliwa Mphepo, who works with the Association of People with Albinism in Malawi.
* For inquiries about the fellowship, contact Jaclyn Scott, Scottish Human Rights Defender Fellowship, HumanRightsDefenders@dundee.ac.uk