Global Campus Alumni join the Fundamental Rights Forum in Vienna

«Connect. Reflect. Act». A delegation of four Global Campus Alumni recently attended a human rights forum organised by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). The two-day event was held in Vienna and has brought together a diverse range of voices to explore the pressing human rights challenges. Thankful to be a part of it, the Global Campus Alumni shared with us their experience and insights on accounts of their participation.

Key messages and insights gathered at the Forum

Bringing together a variety of human rights actors, including voices from EU institutions and governments to civil society and youth, the Forum provided a unique space for dialogue. Through diverse sessions we had an opportunity to reflect on three overarching themes currently challenging fundamental rights: climate crisis, digitalisation, shrinking of civic space and other threats to democracy in Europe. 

The Forum offered not only high-level panel debates, but also a place for all participants to meet and share ideas at the Marketplace of Connection, as well as to upskill and gain knowledge through masterclasses. Forum sessions were complemented by outstanding artistic performances that emphasized the role and power of art in communication. Last but not least, we enjoyed reuniting with the Global Campus community, which had a great presence at the Forum.

Protecting civic space as to safeguard human rights

The participants of the Forum addressed emerging threats to democracy and civil society ahead of major global elections in 2024, including the European Parliament elections in June. Challenges related to digitalization, such as foreign interference and the spread of disinformation online, as well as the shrinking of civic space, were highlighted in discussions. Reflecting on the government’s responsibilities, participants stressed the important role of a vibrant civil society in protecting human rights and democracy, entailing free and fair elections. In particular, states should protect and empower the work of human rights defenders, who continuously face threats and attacks, including criminal charges, sometimes initiated by the officials.

Climate crisis is a human rights crisis  

The interdependence of climate change and human rights reveals a profound crisis in which the most vulnerable bear the heaviest burden. Despite the pressing urgency, there remains a pervasive lack of appreciation for the severity of the situation. Through the strategic utilization of human rights mechanisms, we can leverage legal avenues to compel governmental action against global warming through climate change litigation. While governments may express apprehension, this approach has demonstrated efficacy as a catalyst for environmental transformation. Neglecting human rights considerations in addressing the climate crisis perpetuates the status quo. Therefore, advocacy efforts must emphasize the importance of protests, freedoms, and litigation, utilizing human rights frameworks to hold states accountable and prompt more impactful measures. 

Digitalisation must be rights-compliant

With the eyes on the future but also on the presence, different panels, marked not only by expertise but also by interdisciplinarity, discussed the emerging challenges of new technologies, particularly Artificial Intelligence. A fundamental right to human decision was one of the first proposals of the day. However, digitalisation was not explored solely as a source of danger, but equally as a driver for new possibilities such as its use for open source monitoring of human rights violations. While also reflecting on the European initiatives to regulate AI, the participants agreed that there is a way forward, if digitalisation is rights-compliant.In particular, the attention needs to be given to awareness, monitoring and assessment of the technologies and methodologies involved.

Although the Forum revolved around three overarching topics, it is needless to say that we are living in times where human rights and freedoms are constantly being challenged. It is important to acknowledge that some participants drew attention to other pressing human rights issues, including global inequalities and worrying conflicts happening around the world, such as the war in Ukraine and killing of civilians in Gaza. 

As much as we are grateful that this opportunity has allowed us to connect with a variety of human rights actors and reflect on emerging issues, we would much rather use it as a call for action to every individual both within the Forum’s confines and beyond. Echoed at the Forum as well, it is important not just to advocate for changes but also to share knowledge about human rights to ensure that everyone understands their significance in shaping the daily lives of every single individual.

Written by Lea Frerichs, Agnes Weigl, Zala Cas and Marta Diogo

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