Look and listen – see the people behind the product

Laura Barreto is in her second semester of studying for the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights at FAU. (Image: FAU/Rebecca Kleine Möllhoff)

Raising awareness of human rights with the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights at FAU

Whether it’s a new pair of jeans or coffee from Nicaragua, workers in clothing factories or on coffee plantations in far away countries are often victims of human rights violations. For Laura Barreto and Paula Mejia, the decision to study the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights at FAU was motivated by a wish to help people in situations such as these and reinforce the protection of their human rights.

Benefiting from the knowledge of others

Before Laura Barreto came to FAU in the winter semester of 2018/19, she worked as a lawyer for a Colombian NGO. ‘The Comisión Colombiana de Juristas, or CCJ, is an organisation specialising in national and international court cases involving members of state institutions or paramilitary groups who are involved in serious violations of human rights,’ says the student from Villavicencio.. Laura Barreto was looking for a degree programme tailored specifically to the field of human rights and offering more than just the basics in law. She found it in the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights at FAU. ‘The interdisciplinary nature of this programme is what made it stand out,’ she says. Law, philosophy and political science are the three mainstays of the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights. ‘To understand the concept of human rights, it’s essential to look not only at legal issues, but also at the political and philosophical aspects involved,’ explains Barreto.

These fundamental aspects are covered in the first semester before students decide on a specialisation in the second semester. ‘We have a total of eight different modules to choose from, for example, Human Rights of Refugees, Business and Human Rights or Rights of Persons with Disabilities,’ she reports. ‘I have chosen to specialise in transitional justice, and international criminal law. These are topics I was dealing with in my home country and I would now like to investigate them in greater depth.’ This could well pave the way for a career in an international court of justice or at the United Nations. Until then, however, Barreto is completing a three month internship at the Peace Institute in Slovenia, where she is involved in a research project on the topic of migration and populism.

The Human Rights degree programme at FAU is taught in English and aimed at anyone who has set themselves the goal of promoting and protecting human rights. One special feature of the degree programme is the diversity of its students. They come from as far afield as Cameroon, Brazil or Indonesia, and have a wealth of experience of different cultures as well as professional experience gained from working in international organisations and NGOs or areas such as policy consulting or media which allows them to make a valuable contribution to discussions on human rights. ‘Students on the course have previously worked in a number of different areas such as medicine or social work, to name just a few,’ explains Barreto. ‘Coming from different backgrounds such as these, they all tend to have different attitudes and approaches, which leads to interesting and valuable discussions.’ Laura Barreto has already realised that this can prove rather challenging at times. ‘We have to learn to argue our point and, even more importantly, to listen to others,’ she explains. ‘At the end of the day, people are at the centre of any discussion of human rights, and we can only get an accurate picture of the situation if we listen to the experiences and opinions of others.’

A willingness to stand up for others

Paula Mejia at a coffee plantation

For her Master’s thesis, FAU alumna Paula Mejia visited several coffee plantations in Columbia and spoke to farmers about their difficult living conditions. (Image: Libardo Mejia)

Paula Mejia, who studied at FAU from 2017 to 2019, has realised that turning a blind eye is not an option. ‘Before I came to FAU I worked at a Columbian clothing company. I tried to improve social and environmental standards in the supply chain,’ explains the alumna. ‘When we buy jeans or a shirt in the shops, we only see the products, not the people who have produced them.’ In what conditions do these people work? Do they earn fair salaries which let them provide for their families? These and other questions were what motivated Paula Mejia to move from Medellín to take the degree programme in Human Rights at FAU.

‘Specifically, I wanted to focus on the situation regarding human rights in the raw materials sector,’ she says. ‘This is a sector where human rights violations are commonplace in Columbia.’ Bearing this in mind, the FAU alumna decided to write her Master’s thesis on the question of how sustainable supply chains in agriculture could guarantee human rights and reduce poverty in developing countries. Today she works in a German company which markets sustainable coffee, and is now in a position to use her knowledge to improve the standard of living for farmers. ‘We have subsidiaries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and are drawing up a strategy they can use to improve the financial situation of smallholders in their countries and provide them with the expertise they need to grow coffee sustainably,’ explains Paula Mejia. ‘There are a lot of different ways to advocate and raise awareness of human rights. We just need people who are willing to stand up for others.’


Have a look at what students have to say about the Master’s degree programme in Human Rights in the following video:

Further information on the Master’s degree programme and how to apply is available on the degree programme’s website.

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