Just a few more days to the annual Human Rights Weekend. Brand new Director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) the Netherlands Katrien van de Linde, who is responsible for Development and Outreach, speaks out on the pressing human rights issues of our time.
First of all, congratulations on your new position. How did you end up at HRW? And why did you decide to take on the job?
I worked for HRW ten years ago as a part of my master’s degree International Relations and European studies at the University of Amsterdam. I started working in the arts scene afterwards, but I came back after gaining experience in London and New York. What I think is so unique about working for HRW is the fact that you are able to bring change at the policy level. We first thoroughly investigate and conduct many interviews with people being affected. Afterwards we speak with government leaders, the UN and the EU. We present our findings and are able to change their views. That’s why I wanted to work for HRW Netherlands, to actually being able to bring about change.
This year’s theme is “Where Do I Stand?” Why do you think it is important for individuals to take stance in human rights?
As a consumer of products you can be more aware of how your consumerism affects people elsewhere and thereby contributing your fair share to human rights. A prime example is the well-known human rights abuses in the clothing industry. HRW has been investigating what kind of brands respect new policies for better working conditions in huge factories. There are a few brands that I will not buy from anymore, because I know they don’t respect human rights. But it can be quite hard as an individual to obtain all the right information. It is great if you take the time to investigate, but it would be better if companies and governments provide reliable information. We need clear laws on production processes, in order for consumers to make good choices. It might seem impossible that you as an individual can make a change. But look at the recent ‘kinderpardon’ in the Netherlands. A lot of people supported this initiative and then change can happen quickly.
What are you plans for HRW The Netherlands the coming years?
I want to make sure that the Dutch government keeps on focusing on human rights issues, in its internal and external policy. I also want to engage more with the young philanthropists of the future. We are trying to get these young entrepreneurs involved, because it is important for the younger generation to care about human rights and also let them know people listen to their cares and needs.
Thirdly we also want to organize more events throughout the year. The Human Rights Weekend is the most important event of the year, but I I’d like to be more on top of current affairs. We’d like to broaden our scope outside of Amsterdam and The Hague and address audiences in Rotterdam and Eindhoven for example.
Human rights seem to be more under threat than ever more. Which human rights scandal from the past year didn’t get enough attention from the international community?
An interesting example is from our women’s rights division. Not many people knew about this topic, but we worked together with the US government in order to increase the legal age to get married in Florida and thereby banning child marriage. We as HRW played a big part in the negations and lobbying. This is something that should have received a bit more attention in the media, so that people can see that what we do has positive effects in countries everywhere.
Which programmes are you personally looking forward to this weekend?
First of all, we have our executive director Kenneth Roth, De Balie director Yoeri Albrecht and Minister Sigrid Kaag during the opening night. After the opening speeches we will watch a film about the Nuremberg Trial called Prosecuting Evil, which tells the story of Ben Ferencz as a 27 year old prosecutor in a trial that convicted 20 Nazis.
I am also looking forward to the screening of Afghan Cycles, about the national Afghan women cycling team. For Afghan women cycling was prohibited for a long time, so for them this is an expression of freedom. There is so much more behind the story then them cycling. And I’m excited about Frozan Rasooli, the Afghan cyclist from the documentary, who will attend the screening!