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Polarizing Times? The Role of Human Rights and International  Law

Society and economy

The 2021 edition of the Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice will explore the role of human rights and international law in relation to polarization and its challenges.

22 Feb 2021
09:15 - 12:30
Webinar via Zoom, link will be sent by e-mail by February 21 at the latest. N.B. The time is CET.
Registration deadline
20 February 2021

Sari Kouvo - Assistant professor, Gothenburg University
Habib Nassar - Director of Policy and Research, Impunity Watch
Susan Perry, Professor, American University Paris
Andrew Stroehlein - European Media Director, Human Rights Watch
Ann Wilkens - Ambassador
Emilia Dungel - Chairperson, Association in Memory of Joakim Dungel
Registration is closed.

Fake news, conspiracy theories, and lack of dialogue. Polarization seemed to be the calling card of 2020 almost as much as the Covid-19 pandemic. Are ‘we’ more polarized today than before? How does polarization affect the global system? What role can human rights and international law play? 

The 2021 edition of the Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice will explore the role of human rights and international law in relation to polarization and its challenges. Conducted fully online as a webinar, the seminar will feature interventions centered on three main sessions aiming to answer questions such as:  

  • What is polarization and how is it expressed, both globally and in specific regional or national contexts? 
  • What role can international law and human rights play in mitigating extremes?  

  • Is the role of international law and human rights dependent on universality? If so, how collective are current interpretations?  

  • How can international human rights law be used as a tool for dialogue? 

  • What examples exist of international criminal, humanitarian, and/or human rights, law as successful ways to foster stability? 

  • What are the future challenges? 


Welcome to the Joakim Dungel Lectures 2021, you can choose to take part in the whole programme or participate in selected sessions. 

09:15 - 10:30 Session 1: Polarization and International Law: Government and Legal Perspectives  

Welcome! (Emilia Dungel, The Association in Memory of Joakim Dungel)  

Polarization from a Global Perspective: Viewpoints from Diplomacy (Ann Wilkens, Ambassador) 

Polarization and International Law: Viewpoints from Academia (Sari Kouvo, Associate Professor, Department of Law, Gothenburg University)  

Question and Answers (Emilia Dungel, Chair) 

10:30-10:40 Break  

10:40 - 11:40 Session 2: Working with Human Rights in Polarized Times: Regional and National Perspectives  

Polarization, Human Rights and International Law: Lessons from the Middle East (Habib Nassar, Director of Policy and Research, Impunity Watch) 

Freedom of Media and Expression in Contemporary Europe: Possibilities and Challenges (Andrew Stroehlein, European Media Director, Human Rights Watch) 

Questions and Answers (Emilia Dungel, Chair) 

11:40-11:50 Break  

11:50 - 12:30 Session 3: Future Challenges for Human Rights and International Law in a Polarized World: Concluding Discussion 


Polarization and Human Rights in a Digitalized World: What Can We Expect? (Professor Susan Perry, American University, Paris) 

Questions and Answers and Concluding Remarks (Sari Kouvo, Chair)  


The Joakim Dungel Lectures in International Justice aim to analyze and discuss various challenges through an international law lens. The Lectures were instituted in 2012 to honour the life and work of Joakim Dungel, an alumnus of Gothenburg University who was killed while working as a human rights officer for the UN in Afghanistan in 2011. To continue the work he was not able to, the seminars have tried to understand complex and controversial issues. Previous lectures have dealt with issues such as sexual violence in conflict, weapons of mass destruction, the global arms trade, and contextualizing terrorism. There are not clear-cut solutions to the topics at hand, but the Lectures aim to encourage the discussion as a means towards progress. 2021 will be the tenth edition. 


Speaker Bios 

Sari Kouvo, Gothenburg University  
Sari is assistant professor in international law at Gothenburg University. Sari has previously worked as Co-Director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, Policy Officer for the European External Action Service, Head of Program at the International Centre for Transitional Justice, researcher at Amnesty International and Special Adviser to the EU Special Representative for Afghanistan. She had held visiting scholarships or lectured at several universities, including Birkbeck University, Kent university, Vrije Universiteit Brussels, NATO Defense College in Rome, Australian National University and Åbo Academy. Sari has published extensively on Afghanistan, international law and gender-related subjects. Sari is originally from Finland, but currently based in Brussels in Belgium. 

Habib Nassar, Impunity Watch 
Habib Nassar is a lawyer and activist with more than 15 years of experience working on human rights and transitional justice issues. Before joining Impunity Watch, he worked at PILnet: The Global Network for Public Interest Law where he served as Acting Executive Director and Director for the Middle East and North Africa, a region where he developed the organisation’s programming in the area of strategic litigation and clinical legal education. Prior to PILnet, he developed extensive experience working on transitional justice in a variety of contexts. He advised the UN OHCHR on transitional justice in North Africa. He also worked at the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) where he held several positions, including Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program in the wake of the “Arab Spring”. He has also worked extensively for several grassroots and international human rights groups on matters including enforced disappearance, human rights defenders, and elections. He has taught transitional justice as well as human rights at Hunter College in New York. He has an LL.M. from New York University, a Master's in International Law from Université Paris II and a law degree from Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut. 

Susan Perry, American University Paris 
Professor Susan H. Perry, a specialist in international human rights law and digital technology, teaches law and politics at The American University of Paris and directs several of the University’s graduate programs. Both a scholar and activist, Dr. Perry’s work focuses on vulnerable populations – women, children and communities in conflict – whose rights are being violated by the State, society or industry, often in breach of binding legal conventions. 

Her most recent books analyze the nexus between digital technology, human rights and deliberative democracy: Illusion Pixel in French (Lemieux Editions 2015); Human Rights and Digital Technology (Palgrave 2017); and a third project under way on the digital divide in education. Dr. Perry has collaborated on several projects funded by the European Commission, and her privacy-by-design curriculum, which includes a substantive gender component, was selected by the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) for the 2014 Roadmap for NIS Education Programmes in Europe. She is currently an Advisory Board member of SHERPA, a Horizon 2020 European Commission grant on the ethical use of artificial intelligence in Europe. 

Andrew Stroehlein, Human Rights Watch  
Andrew Stroehlein is European Media Director of Human Rights Watch. Based in Brussels, he oversees media outreach and strategy in Europe, Central Asia and West Africa, and advises on public advocacy via social media across the organization. He previously worked as Communications Director of the International Crisis Group from 2003 to 2013, addressing peace and security issues around the world with a particular focus on leveraging media coverage for concerted action to prevent and resolve deadly conflicts. In this position, in his previous role at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and as a journalist, he has written about violent conflict, post-conflict situations, authoritarian regimes, and post-authoritarian transitions, as well as the role of the media in all of these. Mr. Stroehlein has reported from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, Afghanistan, Kenya, Nigeria, Colombia, Indonesia, and elsewhere, and his commentary articles have appeared in most major newspapers in Europe and North America, and many in Asia and Africa as well. 

Ann Wilkens, Diplomat and Journalist (retired) 
Ann Wilkens has a background in journalism and diplomacy, working mainly in and on Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Between 2003 and 2007, she was posted in Islamabad as Sweden ́s ambassador to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Before that, she was ambassador to Ethiopia/Eritrea (1993-95) and Luxembourg (2000-03). Between 2009 and 2011, she was the president of the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan and between 2011 and 2013 the president of the Swedish section of Transparency International. At present she works as an independent political analyst. Among her writings are a number of studies on the Pakistan/Afghanistan region, including ”Suicide Bombers and Society” and ”Missing the Target: A report on the Swedish Commitment for Women, Peace, and Security in Afghanistan”. She is a member of the Afghanistan Analysts Network Advisory Board. 

Emilia Dungel is the chairperson of the Association in Memory of Joakim Dungel. She works on small arms control, currently for the Small Arms Survey in Geneva and previously for UNDP in Belgrade.