A study trip to the Regional Office of UNDP Bratislava

On 25th June 2012, the LL.M International Legal Studies group of 2011/2012 at the University of Vienna undertook a day trip to the Regional office of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Bratislava. The LL.M class was joined by students from the Doctoral College Empowerment through Human Rights. The study trip enabled students to gain a practical insight into the projects of the UNDP and observe the efforts taken to strengthen and foster the inclusion of marginalized communities into economic, social and political life and empower communities by promoting governance and human rights. Students were provided with the unique opportunity to actively participate in a number of thematic discussions on the rule of law, disability and minorities, and HIV Aids. In addition, students were also introduced to the last Regional Development Report which is dedicated to social inclusion.

The day commenced with an introductory briefing session on the work and origin of the UNDP Regional Office and its current activity, with an emphasis on the legal issues and challenges that have been faced by the UNDP which set the scene for what was to be discussed on how the UNDP contributes to a human rights and social inclusion agenda in the region. The highlight of the visit was the presentation given by A.H. Monjurul Kabir, Policy Advisor and Project Manager for Human Rights, Justice and Legal Empowerment which addressed the challenges faced by marginalized and vulnerable communities from human rights and justice perspectives. This allowed students to become familiar with constituent documents of the organization in relation to this issue. Professor Manfred Nowak (Professor of International Law and Human Rights at Vienna University, Co-Director of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights and Former U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture) led the trip and provided valuable insight throughout.

After a generous and enjoyable lunch, courtesy of the UNDP, students were warmly welcomed by Professor Manfred Nowak who gave an interesting lecture on the topic of criminal justice sector reform, prison conditions and torture highlighting the recent trends and challenges in the region. The lecture presented an exciting opportunity for an in-depth discussion and insight into prison conditions in a number of states where on-site visits took place. Professor Nowak briefed the participants on the work carried out for the United Nations, including his many on-site visits in a number of countries where torture is suspected to take place. As a result, students became well accustomed to the abuses of human rights in prisons around the world.

The final visit of the day was undertaken to the Austrian Embassy in Bratislava where students met with the Austrian Ambassador, Josef-Markus Wuketich who presented a lively overview into Austrian-Slovak relations.

Overall, the study trip was a success in providing students with the unique and thrilling prospect of engaging in a dialogue with legal experts on a number of key thematic issues but also, the trip was both personally and academically conducive as it allowed for students to broaden their understanding and knowledge of the work of the UNDP and its projects. The trip served as a reminder for students that human rights are not a mere theoretical possibility and as such, students were able to combine both practical and theoretical aspects derived from the study of international human rights law, which left students with a greater appreciation for the field of human rights and how these shape contemporary international society.

Sophie Zacharia (LL.M Program 2011-12)