Human Rights Week in Maastricht

Pamela Habibović underlines importance of human rights

Once a refugee, she is now rector magnificus of Maastricht University. Both roles underline the importance of human rights and that’s why Pamela Habibović spoke at the opening of Maastricht Human Rights Week on 22 May.

Pamela Habibović represented Maastricht University at the opening of Human Rights Week. Within the university, human rights are an important theme in various places. From research within the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights to teaching within various programmes. "But we also pursue an active refugee policy. For example, our Taskforce Refugees is committed to helping refugees from Ukraine, amongst others, find a place in education. We have also participated for several years in the Shelter City project, which offers human rights defenders a period of safe stay in the Netherlands. And the Refugee Project Maastricht, which stems from our student chaplaincy, works to connect refugees in the city with its other residents, which can sometimes be complicated."

Habibovic refers to the "gut feeling" from which people sometimes react to newcomers. "People who have to toil to survive in the Netherlands, who depend on the food bank, sometimes look at refugees coming to the Netherlands with skewed eyes, or from a gut feeling. And somewhere that is also understandable. I think these people and these opinions should also be heard and discussed. Because when a social problem is given a face, the debate softens. Then human rights are once again experienced as they are meant to be: for everyone, equally important, wherever you come from." 

Daily topic

Human rights are not a daily theme for most Dutch people. "While they are intertwined with our daily lives. Think of the privatisation of healthcare, or the cuts to it. At its core, that revolves around human rights: the right to life and the right to health. In the Netherlands, people feel free to demonstrate against the government, they know they won't be locked up without trial, or that their phones won't be tapped just like that." At the base, things are largely fine in the Netherlands, the rector wants to say. "But when you see how the victims of the allowance affair are faring, or how refugees in Ter Apel have to sleep outdoors, or that there are children who go to school without food, you realise that there is still work to be done here too. By definition, human rights are inclusive, universal, or whatever you want to call it. That means that everyone can claim them equally.”

Self-evident freedom

This inclusiveness also applies pre-eminently at a university. Everyone has the right to an education, regardless of their background. "Thanks to our academic freedom, we are allowed to determine the content of our educational programmes ourselves. We hire whoever we think is suitable. Again, that all sounds obvious, but when you look even within Europe at countries like Hungary and Turkey, you realise again what a great asset that freedom is. And how precious." The latter brings her to her personal history, which unwittingly became part of international history. She grew up in Srebrenica, at a time when it was still a relatively unknown town. "It was nice living there. Until the war started, which is why everyone now knows the name Srebrenica. Together with my mother and sister, I fled to the Netherlands in 1992, where we lived in an asylum seekers' centre for a year. We never saw my father again, who for all sorts of reasons felt he had to stay there. He was one of 'the eight thousand Muslims' who did not survive the fall of Srebrenica. Human rights were not an issue in that place, at that time. It makes it extra important to me that this theme takes centre stage this week, here in Maastricht."

Human Rights Week

Text: Femke Kools

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