Where are you from, and why there?
I was born and grew up in Milan, Italy, in an Italian/Israeli family – although I have never learned Hebrew and I am much more Italian than Israeli. A few generations back, my family comes from places that are today in Austria, Germany, Italy, Poland and Ukraine.
Which issue(s) do you work on/care about, and why?
I deeply care about and have devoted my career to human rights. There are a few reasons for this. Some have to do with my earlier family history, difficult and in many ways tragic, like that of many others with a Jewish and European background. Other, more recent events that deeply affected me were the political upheavals of the early nineties in Europe, and in particular the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia. I was in high school when the wars in Croatia, and then Bosnia and Herzegovina, started. Learning that such atrocities could still happen, in fact not so far from where I lived, had a strong impact on me. Finally, like many others who work in the human rights field, I have a mixed or minority background, something that probably makes me feel closer to those who are in the same situation.
This is what got me interested in and active on human rights. Twenty years down the line, I have learned that human rights are not only about abstract ideals and principles. Today I see them as a concrete tool providing the normative framework, and sometimes the practical solutions, to make our world a much better, freer, and more just place.
How did you get involved?
My first real job in human rights, which was also my first real job, was with Amnesty International, an organization that gave me incredible opportunities to learn. Having not worked on human rights before, how did I get this job? Much of it was sheer luck. The recruiting panel was looking for someone to cover parts of the former Yugoslavia, who could also speak Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian. I had learned the languages during my postgraduate studies, and this was probably the decisive factor in starting my career in human rights. From that moment on, I continued much more naturally with other positions at Amnesty International and at the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE/ODIHR), where I am currently ending my assignment as head of the Human Rights Department.
What’s the biggest challenge for the issue(s) today?
The gradual erosion of the idea that advancing human rights is good and necessary. Earlier, there seemed to be a more shared agreement that better human rights protection is a worthy goal of policies and their implementation – with many discussions being about how to get there. Today, human rights are more often perceived as a luxury, a tool of the elites to protect their cozy existence or feel better about it. One can see this in the media, in the politics of many countries, and also in the international political order, where human rights and the values underpinning them are increasingly and more openly questioned.
Who are your most frequent allies? Any surprises?
Like-minded people, and they do very different things depending on the context and what we are trying to achieve. I think everyone can act as a human rights defender, in their free time, in their private life, or as part of their job.
What drives you?
What drives me today is firstly the example of many people who go at very great lengths, and make huge sacrifices for human rights. In my day-to-day work I have also been lucky to work with committed and inspiring colleagues, who share a strong motivation to advance human rights.
Beyond this, and the satisfaction of seeing sometimes positive changes resulting from my contribution (among many), I feel very lucky as my work satisfies my curiosity. Meeting interesting people and learning so much as part of your job is a great privilege.
What do you want your career/advocacy to stand for?
I hope I am making my small contribution to advancing human rights. In this, I am doing my best to strike the right balance between doing what is possible – sometimes we cannot do everything we feel would be necessary – and what is meaningful and impactful.