Lund University Brings Human Rights Discussion to Culver City’s Wende Museum

What better location to host a night dedicated to human rights than the Wende Museum?

The venue’s collection of Cold War artifacts includes many reminders of oppression in Soviet Bloc countries. It was fitting, then, that it opened its doors Dec. 4 to members of the Lund University Foundation, a U.S.-based fundraising organization for Sweden’s Lund University. But the impetus for the event was a discussion about human rights and the inspirational story of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who is believed to have saved tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

After exploring the museum’s impressive holdings of Soviet art, posters, clothing and records, guests were presented with a documentary and discussion by Lund University’s Raoul Wallenberg Institute, which works closely with global governments to solve humanitarian problems. Sweden retained neutral relations with Germany during World War II, and Wallenberg used his diplomatic powers to grant Swedish citizenship to as many Hungarian Jews as he could. He rescued many just as they were boarding trains headed for Nazi death camps, handing them Swedish protective passports that had no real legal basis, but were enough to keep them out of the camps. Monies from the U.S. War Refugee Board funded Wallenberg’s efforts; President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Wallenberg the Congressional Gold Medal this past July.

Working with judges, politicians, law enforcement agencies and other policymakers, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute works to change culture where injustices are tolerated. One would be hard-pressed to find a better person to head such a organization: Institute Director Marie Tuma, a former Hague prosecutor with extensive experience investigating Bosnian war crimes. She was one of the prosecutors of former Bosnian President Slobodan Milosevic, and served as a judge presiding over cases regarding several Bosnian death camps.

“I lived and worked in Sarajevo. I’ve met a lot of war crimes victims,” she said. “You can’t turn your head away. You hear them, and then there’s no turning back.”

This year, Tuma was in Indonesia investigating reports of abuse in female prisons.

“We’re trying to advocate for prison rights so that females, instead of being crammed into one small cell, there are four to a cell,” she said. “They can see their children every day, which wasn’t possible before. They can grow plants. They get food and are well treated. We check on that, but we don’t point fingers.”

The absence of finger-pointing is a distinctive feature of the institute’s advocacy – their mission is based in dialogue, even with oppressive regimes. The idea is to leave off criticizing and explain the importance of upholding human rights, and how it can benefit the countries they’re working with. It’s especially important when they work with students who are preparing for legal or government positions; what they learn, they take with them to the higher branches of government.

The institute now has field offices in Beijing, Jakarta, Amman, Nairobi and Istanbul.

For more information:

The Raoul Wallenberg Institute: http://rwi.lu.se/

Lund University: http://www.lunduniversity.lu.se/

The Wende Museum: http://www.wendemuseum.org/

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