On the 15 December 2015, 25 students representing five universities from Ireland, travelled to Strasbourg for the award ceremony of the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. The students came from NUIG, Trinity, UCD, UCC, and Maynooth University and Aine Prendergast, our University College Cork and US Ambassador, was one of them. In this blog she tells us about her incredible experience…
In 1988, The European Parliament established the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought as an annual award to honour those individuals and groups which dedicate their lives to protecting human rights and more specifically, freedom of thought.
The Sakharov Prize and its six deserving nominees of 2015 were mentioned on my first day of classes at UCC. This presented an exciting, mid-semester focal point—one which I had to contain myself to fully explore until the time (and formal assignment) came. Luckily, my studies kept me quite busy! Being granted the opportunity to travel to Strasbourg is a memory I will cherish forever. Organised by UCC lecturer, Alan Desmond, the journey took flight in mid-December.
I will never, ever down play the importance of learning and challenging our perceived limits of intelligence—but there is, without a doubt, something to be said for getting into the practical and evolving environment of one’s area of study.
I trekked alongside fellow classmates and students from various other universities in Ireland (NUI Galway, Maynooth University, Trinity College Dublin, UCD), all of whom extensively researched and debated the Sakharov candidates. Having already travelled between our five universities to hear the nominees presented and debated, European Parliament Member, Francis Jacobs warmly welcomed us to Strasbourg and generously assisted in our tour of the Parliament. In closure of our semester, we were all made aware that the 2015 Sakharov Prize would be awarded to Raif Badawi (Saudi blogger and human rights activist; yet we also learned that it would be formally accepted by his wife due to his continued imprisonment).
- Check out this infographic to find out more about how the winner of the Sakharov Prize is chosen [pdf, 300kb]
One of the neatest parts of this trip was being able to connect with other students who share specific interest in International Human Rights Law.
Funny enough, in coming together through this common thread of academia, it shined brightly at the most unlikely of times—as we boarded public transportation, as we waited in line for bathrooms or as we picked our “roommates” for the stay. By this, I mean familiar and pressing topics within human rights discourse like ‘cultural relativism’ and ‘Brexit’ (Britain’s potential exit of the EU) slipped into casual, informal conversation.
In my opinion, not shutting off such topics behind classroom doors displays a thirst for growing, a passion for expanding the mind with new perspectives. It was effortlessly a highly evident theme amongst our group.
To rewind, in about October (when the trip planning commenced), I didn’t see myself in attendance. I envisioned myself posted up in the library with my nose in my books, in vigorous study mode. I will never, ever down play the importance of learning and challenging our perceived limits of intelligence- but there is, without a doubt, something to be said for getting into the practical and evolving environment of one’s area of study.
In my opinion, not shutting off such topics behind classroom doors displays a thirst for growing, a passion for expanding the mind with new perspectives.
Hearing Dr. Síofra O’Leary’s take on how she is finding her appointment as judge of the European Court of Human Rights—her responsibilities, the functionality of the court and how she approaches reoccurring issues was beyond imaginable. I feel both proud and gracious to be in my Master’s program and although there are hurdles, I wouldn’t have it any other way. As one PhD student (in reflection of her own time spent doing her LLM), said to me over tea: “if anyone were to try to interrupt my study or try to take it away from me, I would have done everything within my power to overcome them”.
Also, as an aside, Strasbourg has killer food and Christmas markets!! I definitely recommend it for anyone interested… don’t miss the rose-shaped hazelnut and pistachio gelato!