Interview with Naomi Van Den Broeck and Charles Antoine Leboeuf, European Master in Human Rights and Democratisation, EMA 2020/2021 Student Representatives
The Press Office for the Global Campus of Human Rights had the opportunity to ask Naomi Van den Broeck and Charles-Antoine Leboeuf, European Master in Human Rights and Democratisation, EMA 2020/2021 Student Representatives, about her views on possible sustainable futures for Venice.
Could you tell us more about yourself and your roles as EMA students representatives? Could you describe the experience of studying in Venice during the first semester of the Master? What could be a possible future for the city in terms of hospitality of foreign students, academic offers, quality of living and ways to improve the current conditions you had experienced? Do you think there is a way for Venice to become more efficient, innovative, attractive and well-prepared to host important events and course studies? What will students like you could need?
First things first: thank you for allowing us to be part of this issue. We, Charles-Antoine Leboeuf and Naomi Van den Broeck, are the student-representatives of the current group of students of the European programme of the Global Campus of Human Rights. We are the bridge between the student body and the Global Campus/EMA staff and represent our fellow students in the EMA meetings with the Executive Committee and the Council. We support our fellow students by organising multiple activities such as thesis advice sessions and study sessions. Despite the COVID-19 measures, we had a wonderful time in Venice as we had the city almost for us alone during the pandemic, we felt very privileged to spend a semester in La Serenissima. This challenging time brought us even closer as we depended on each other and we often had the feeling we were the only ‘young’ people on the Lido. Venice is now mostly focused on short-term tourists and therefore international students feel sometimes forgotten. We would need more places to study, such as co-working spaces, and more student housing. We also suggest introducing special student prices regardless of their age for the public transport in and outside Venice as well as for cultural events and museum visits. Furthermore, putting more garbage cans in the city, promoting local shops and making tourists aware of the surrounding nature and citizens of Venice through social media could help as well. We also applaud the decision of the Italian authorities to approve a ban on cruise ships entering the historic centre of Venice.
Which topics could be interesting to address and related to your human rights and democracy education during and after this covid19 emergency? What will the most important challenges be in relation to promoting human rights and democracy in the years to come?
The COVID-19 pandemic poses extremely important challenges to human rights and democracy. This topic has been integrated in a transversal way in the curriculum of our studies in Venice this year, but it will remain there for several more years. There are several issues to be addressed: how to balance public health with other human rights, such as freedom of movement or the right to work? What are the limits that a democratic government can impose? How can we ensure the inclusion of the most vulnerable groups in the response to the pandemic? Even when we are out of the public health crisis, we will not be done with the economic crisis, let alone the climate crisis. The long-term effects of this pandemic may damage the human rights sector, for example through budget cuts by pro-austerity governments. It is likely that we will see more isolationism and less cooperation or solidarity. COVID-19 is taking over the agenda of governments, leaving little room or interest for other serious human rights issues far from our borders, such as the current situation in Myanmar where a fellow student of Asia-Pacific campus, Saw Lin, got arrested by the military and has become a subject of enforced disappearance. As human rights students and future practitioners, we are part of the solution to counter misinformation, hate, fear, and violence and help make the world a better place.
With its 1600-year anniversary coming up, how do you envisage the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) being integrated into the sustainable future of the city of Venice and the Region of Veneto? Do you have any specific concrete ideas? How might EMA students continue to help at the local level in the possible sustainable future scenarios?
Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals is to make cities and communities human-scale, and this can be achieved through greater resilience and sustainability. The city of Venice has gone from one extreme to the other in the last year. By early 2020, it was awash with tourists, arriving by the thousands in cruise ships with disastrous impacts on the environment and threatening the very survival of the city and the well-being of its inhabitants. When we arrived in Venice in September 2020 as international or Italian students, we discovered a city completely deserted by tourists, with chain closures of local businesses and a down economy. Sustainable development is about finding a balance between economic development at all costs and the preservation of the environment for the well-being and quality of life of the people. The pandemic has opened an incredible window of opportunity to rethink Venice. The city can now develop a new, more sustainable tourism offer, with visitors who stay longer and truly enjoy and respect the beauty and mysteries of Venice. This includes international students! We stay several months in Venice, we contribute to the local economy, we enjoy the unique chance to live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Students in our master’s degree programme, EMA, can help make a difference for the future of Venice. Many would be interested in volunteering with local organisations that work to preserve the environment, for example. Also, we would definitely be interested in trying new local and sustainable tourism tours, such as visits to artisans, culinary tours, or a boat tour to appreciate and learn about the biodiversity of the lagoon. Investing in sustainability will allow Venice to revive after the crisis and enter a new phase of its millennial history.
Could you share a message with the Global Campus of Human Rights Community (professors, experts, alumni, staff) and to their students in particular?
As we were walking on the wooden platforms during high tide, although Venice has built a dam system, we realised once again the effects of the climate crisis. We should rethink the way we deal with climate change as this affects the most vulnerable countries and citizens first, just like the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore, defending human rights and addressing the climate crisis should go hand in hand. We cannot do this alone. All countries and citizens should cooperate. The Global Campus could take more action on the problem of climate change, such as creating a MOOC on sustainability rights and raising awareness.