European Humanities University (EHU) Lecturer Liudmila Ulyashyna has successfully defended her dissertation International Legal Standards in the Field of Human Rights and Their Implementation: Doctrinal and Practical Study at Vilnius University. She works as a lawyer and manages the "International Law in Advocacy" program at the Oslo-based Human Rights House Network. In this interview with EHU she discusses her work and the development of human rights law.
You spent many years working on this monograph. Tell us about the need for this kind of scientific research in a field of international human rights law.
I am a lawyer and I like my profession very much, but I had a problem after the collapse of the Soviet Union when Belarus’s national legal system became isolated. I was lucky to have a chance to learn more about human rights protection in Germany. Germany pays a lot of attention to international standards and at the same time has in mind a national approach. After that I moved to Norway, where I had the opportunity to pursue master studies in international law. Thanks to these studies I received a clear understanding and I started to develop a project called "International Law in Advocacy" together with colleagues from Norway, Lithuania, Poland, and Belarus. I am very happy that this concept is very successful even in such countries as Belarus.
In 2007 I started my research project at EHU where I had the honor to have Professor Liudmila Pavlova as a mentor and supervisor. She is the supreme expert in the field of international law in Belarus. As a result of this research in 2013 my monograph was published by EHU. This book was the basis for my dissertation. I am thankful to EHU for the intellectual, research, and financial support.
What is the theoretical value of your scientific research?
The basic theoretical issue of my dissertation is first of all “international human rights standards” as a new term, a new notion in international human rights law. Secondly, I discuss implementation of these “standards” as de facto implementation of international human rights law. Third, I discuss the status and mandate of individuals in international human rights law. All these theoretical issues are analyzed by case studies drawn from the Belarusian legal system. This analysis was possible because of research done at EHU.
Together with my colleagues from the Human Rights House Network, particularly the Barys Zvozskau Human Rights House in Vilnius, as well as EHU students, we collected more than 100 decisions of national courts of the Republic of Belarus and then analyzed them on the basis of how they apply international standards. I was surprised to see how Belarusian lawyers and judges understand international human rights law and how they apply it at the national level. It was also a contribution to academic research. One can see how a new approach to international law can impact national legal systems, despite self-isolation, problems with division of powers, and lack of real judicial independence. In that respect, I believe that all legal systems can benefit from the international human rights legal framework. It serves as a very good source for application in practice for lawyers, including lawyers in Lithuania.
How might the results of your scientific research be applied in practice?
The traditional attitude has been that international law is only for diplomats. International human rights law changed this attitude, because international law is based on the principal of universality. The main human rights treaties posit that the state must provide institutions to which individuals may apply to defend their human rights at the earliest possible stage. This is why it is important for the state to understand that international human rights law as an applicable law will be applied in practice by lawyers and individuals. States must contribute to this process if they wish to move their legal systems towards the realization of human rights-related legal principals and to reduce complaints by international organizations about violations of human rights at the national level.
So, by taking into account what is discussed in my dissertation, individuals (and their lawyers) will become a driving force in national implementation of international human rights law and national legal systems can see how to avoid negative reactions or criticism from international organizations and other countries that point out how some measures are not really being implemented at the national level and that there is a need for additional attention from the international community. And states concerned about their national sovereignty will be stronger because they will avoid mistakes and improve compliance with their international obligations. It can help establish a balance between the universality of human rights and the national traditions of each country. By ignoring international standards, national governments do a disservice to their citizens and to their own sovereignty, because they don’t play an active role and they don’t provide for real implementation of international human rights standards for citizens.
What are your plans for future?
I think EHU is a great project for Belarusian society. I know that it contributed significantly to civil society. Alumni of EHU work in different regions and constitute a driving force for Belarus. It is important for EHU to continue its work. Personally and professionally I am very grateful to EHU, which is a part of our projects since 2007. EHU gave us know-how through the distance learning process and gave me the opportunity to learn from experts in this field. My colleagues and I believe that EHU should offer opportunities to lawyers from post-Soviet countries that are transitioning to democracy. These countries need lawyers with different perspectives who understand are able to think about things in terms of human rights. Decisions made that are based only on state interest and not on the interests of humanity can be very dangerous.