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Interview with Dr. iur. Roberta Arnold by Luciana Vazquez

Interview with Dr. iur. Roberta Arnold by Luciana Vazquez

Interview with Dr. iur. Roberta Arnold


Dr. iur. Roberta Arnold is specialized in International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and Counterterrorism. She is a lecturer at the University of Zurich and she has previously taught at the University of Lucerne. From writing for a local newspaper as a summer intern during her school days to a dream of reporting international crimes, Dr. iur. Arnold is tackling the biggest questions of conflict resolution today. It was a very enriching and thoughtful conversation I was able to have with her and I learned so much about her opinion on political and social matters.


Luciana: To begin with, we would like to know a little about yourself and your beginnings. Would you be able to tell us a little about your background, what did you study and where?


Dr. iur. Arnold: I was born in Lugano and finished my compulsory studies here, then moved to Bern to study law. I had the initial interest of becoming a journalist, but after I interned with some local newspapers, I realized that I would rather “contribute to the facts, than reporting about the facts.” I moved to the Swiss capital, Bern where one of the top  universities for law is located. During my undergraduate studies,  I took an Erasmus year in the UK (University of Sheffield). One of the best decisions I must admit! I fell in love with the people and the study environment, and I returned to the UK for a master's program at the University of Nottingham. Later, I returned to Bern for my PhD. However, after leaving the UK, I became very interested in the conflicts in the Middle East and so I went to study this subject in Israel (University of Tel Aviv, Lowy School for Overseas Students) for a summer term.


Luciana: I see that moving to the UK impacted your life very much. Having said that what is one remarkable experience from your student days that you cherish until today?


Dr. iur. Arnold: I think the exposure to the international community in the UK, with all its religious, cultural, language, political, and economic backgrounds. Like at FUS, one felt like the member of a big family and there was no prejudice. It was really nice to meet people without thinking they are different; people were just eager to learn about each other and enrich themselves with the cosmopolitan environment.


Luciana: If you could go back and learn anything you are currently interested in, what would it be?


Dr. iur. Arnold: Languages and Art. Due to my interest in the MiddleEast, Arabic and Hebrew for sure (in fact, I took some courses at the Faculty of Islamic Studies in Bern, as an undergraduate)! Anything associated with culture, for a more positive perspective on life!


Luciana: Arts and languages contribute a different perspective of life, indeed! What was your path after you left the university?


Dr.iur. Arnold: I was very lucky because I got an offer for my first job as a Research Assistant from the University of Bern (Departments of International Public Law and Criminal Law). This opportunity was incredible as it opened several doors for me and gave me the chance to continue doing research for my PhD. I looked at the International Criminal Court as an instrument for repressing terrorism. I really liked the fact that the subject of my PHD was interdisciplinary, and I got to explore different rules of the law.


Luciana: You were part of the military, if I am not mistaken, what was your role there?


Dr. iur. : I was in the military as an examining magistrate of the Swiss Military Justice. This is the person that conducts criminal investigations. I got enrolled pretty late because as a young girl, in those years, one was not necessarily aware of this possibility. Following to my studies and my interest in it, later I also realized that it would be good to get involved with the military because of the law perspective I had chosen. Since I was mainly interested in the laws of armed conflict, joining the military opened my mind to a different perspective.


Luciana: What was a life lesson you learned very early on in your career?


Dr.iur. Arnold: Definitely enjoy your student years, especially at such a diverse place like Franklin! When I was a student in the UK, I felt part of a big family, your professors cared about you. However, as soon as you leave the academic environment, you enter a very competitive world, in which you may have to “fight” alone.  The “real world”, as a professional, and the “academic world”, as a student, are very different.


Luciana: I am trying to connect all the dots and find out how you ended up with what you are currently doing. So, initially, what prompted your passion for humanitarian law in general?


Dr. iur. Arnold: International Humanitarian Law accepts and tries to put some limits to the fact that “Violence is part of the human being”: I wanted to explore that. To be honest, I must thank my PhD supervisor in Bern, Prof. Dr. Walter Kälin. He really transferred his passion and dedication to international law on to me. Similarly, Michael Cimino, the film director of “The Deer Hunter” influenced my interest in the status and treatment of prisoners of war (POW). I actually had the chance to meet him at the Locarno film festival a few years ago before he passed away. After all these exposures, I wanted to explore how to improve the conditions of POWs and from there on, how to disseminate IHL.


Luciana: What is a key realization you had while working in your field?


Dr. iur. Arnold: Something that I wasn’t too aware of as a young student, when dealing with international law, was the role and impact of international  politics. Therefore, it is important to have a multidisciplinary view of the world and an open mind. When studying international law, it is also important to have some background or interest in international relations and politics, but also in history, subjects that are taught at FUS.


Luciana: You are part of the group of Consulting Scholars of the Taylor Institute of FUS. What is your relationship with the Taylor Institute, how did you get involved?


Dr. iur. Arnold: I was introduced to Franklin through the Human Rights Film Festivals that are usually held here! Then, I became very close friends with Professor Morris Mottale and later I was invited to join as a visiting scholar. Now, with the idea of starting a Legal Studies minor, I am working closer and closer with faculty and staff.


Luciana: My last question would be, what do you hope to see from the Taylor Institute in the future?


Prof. Arnold: I would recommend that if FUS is going to offer a minor in Legal Studies, TI should provide the opportunity for further research in this area and become a hub for specific areas and subjects. I hope they will succeed and offer new opportunities with the platforms that they are creating.


Luciana Vazquez