QUB Law Sakharov Prize Strasbourg 17-19 December 2019
Postgraduate student Anna Dickinson shares her experience of the Sakharov Prize Trip
In mid December, under the supervision of Professor Mallinder and Dr Lawther a group of LLM students were given the opportunity to attend the highly acclaimed Sakharov Prize at the European Parliament, Strasbourg.
Upon arriving at the European Parliament Conor McArdle, Megan Edwards and Philippa Jordan introduced, to other students from a variety of countries, Queen’s and the value of human rights in Northern Ireland, marking the start of what would soon become a memorable day.
MEP Maria Arena of the Parti Socialiste (Belgium) and David McAllister of the Christian Democratic Union of Germany, spoke greatly of the importance of human rights both within the European and global scale, highlighting the work the EU aims to achieve. This offered the opportunity to understand, first-hand, how the EU takes human rights into consideration with regards to legislation and policy.
A harrowing speech and presentation given by Jewher Ilham, daughter of the Sakharov Prize winner, Iham Tohti followed. This focused on her work fighting for the release of her father, from the unknown prison in China in which he is currently incarcerated, but also the burden that accompanies such work. Hearing her speak of how it was never her dream to become a human rights advocate, a frequently glorified role, was eye-opening and thought-provoking to the students who had spent the semester discussing such topics during the Human Rights in Practice module. The sacrifice which Jewher spoke of reinforced the importance of human rights and the countless cases around the world in which people’s voices are suppressed.
Following the impactful words of Jeweher, students were given the opportunity to hear from MEP Phil Bennion (Liberal Democrats) and Heidi Hautala (Green League), Vice-President of the European Parliament, who spoke about the selection, nomination and awarding process of the behind the scenes of the Sakharov Prize. They spoke not only about the process of nominating and then awarding Ilham Tohti the award but their message also echoed that of Maria, David and most importantly Jewher calling for the protection of human rights to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Attending the Sakharov Prize ceremony and hearing the words of Jeweher echo through the Chamber marked the highlight of the trip for many of the students. Sitting in the gallery, students were able to watch live debates occur on developing LGBTQ+ policy and legislation as well as hear the President of the European Parliament, David Sassoli, speak of both the Prize and of the work of the Parliament.
The following and final day, students were able to visit the European Court of Human Rights were they were granted the unique opportunity to hear from Caoimhe Smyth, a former Queen’s student, who spoke of the work of both her duties within, and the mission of the Court. Hearing her views on the work of the Court helped cement in the minds of students, the value of its work, and its impact not only on States but on individuals, and the value that such work carries.
Attending the Prize ceremony, hearing from MEPs, and Jewher was a unique experience which has left the students with memories they will cherish for life; but more importantly, it has cemented in them the value of human rights and human rights law, inspiring them to continue the work of those who spoke to them in the future.