Hanne Hagtvedt Vik (left) is interviewed by Meredith Blake, Belfer Center communications intern.
"Hanne Hagtvedt Vik Studies Human Rights and Implementation of Protective Laws"
Author: Meredith Blake
Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security
Hanne Hagtvedt Vik, a professor of international history at the University of Oslo and Belfer Center research fellow, has spent much of her career studying human rights and the implementation of international laws and treaties to protect oppressed and indigenous peoples. Vik said the driving force behind her work is the exact opposite of the racism that motivated a fellow Norwegian citizen to carry out the terrorist attacks in Oslo on July 22 this year.
“It was a tremendous shock to everyone when the bomb went off,” Vik said in a recent interview. “Most thought it was Muslim extremists who were behind it, so it was kind of a relief when we got to know it was a white, middle-class male in Oslo who was behind everything.”
Norway has not always been the peaceful utopia some journalists describe. Vik traces her own interest in international history and politics back to a surge of neo-Nazism during her teens.
“It was a small group, but they were so frightening in their ideas,” Vik said. “I believed it was really important for everyone to stand up against racism and such ideas, and my interest eventually evolved into more international issues with foreign aid, security politics, and human rights.”
Her roles as a student activist, government officer, and now researcher have given Vik a myriad of angles through which to view her postdoctoral work, most specifically on the struggle of the Sami people, the most prominent group of indigenous peoples living in Norway. This research led to a recent paper, which explores how constitutional law severely limits the United States when it comes to ratifying human rights treaties. “
One thing that’s very important to remember when we talk about ratification of human rights treaties is that we must not conflate ratification with practice,” Vik said, “Many states that are parties to human rights treaties never had any intention of changing their domestic laws and practices to better live up to the ideals of the human rights treaties.” She lists the U.S. among those who have not ratified many human rights treaties, but have used national and state law to show a commitment to protecting human rights.
Vik’s unique work has found a welcome home at the Belfer Center and she has enjoyed interacting with other fellows and colleagues.
“The Belfer Center in the Kennedy School is doing a wonderful job of bringing people together from different sectors of society,” she said. “They come from literally all over the world, so it’s a place where you can come and meet others who have had very different experiences in their lives that color their views on important issues.”
At the end of her fellowship, Vik will return to her teaching post at the University of Oslo and continue her work in the fields of human and indigenous rights and the history of international organizations.
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