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Interview with Professor Dr. Roberta Arnold by Luciana Vazquez
Roberta Arnold is currently a legal consultant on International Humanitarian Law, IHL and Counterterrorism. From writing for a local newspaper as a summer intern during her school days to a dream of reporting crimes against humanity, Prof. 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?
Prof 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 the biggest university for law is located.
After I finished my bachelors, I took an Erasmus year in the UK. 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. 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 in Israel for another short period.
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?
Prof 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?
Prof. Arnold: Languages and Art. Or maybe, Arabic and Hebrew for sure! 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?
Prof Arnold: I was very lucky because I got an offer for my first job as a Research Assistant from the University of Bern.
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 it 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?
Prof Arnold: I was in the military as an examining magistrate. This is the person that conducts criminal investigations. I got enrolled pretty late because of my studies, but I also realized that I would need to get involved with the military because of the law perspective I had chosen. Since I was mainly interested in humanitarian law, joining the military opened my mind to a different perspective.
Luciana: What was a life lesson you learned very early on in your career?
Prof. 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 care about you. However, as soon as you leave the academic environment you are like in a battlefield. Your working environment can really leave you alone. The “real world” and the “academic world” 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?
Prof. Arnold: “Violence is part of the human being”, and I want to explore that. To be honest, I must thank my professor in Bern, Prof. Dr. Walter Kälin. He really transferred his curiosity on to me. Similarly, Michael Cimino, the film director of “The Deer Hunter” influenced my passion for human rights. 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 prisoners of war.
Luciana: What is a key realization you had while working in your field?
Prof Arnold: Something that I wasn’t too aware of, especially when dealing with international law, was that I had to choose a different approach every time when analyzing cases regarding the application of international law. In every situation politics play a role. Since all politics are made by human beings, one must be well aware of this. Therefore, it is important to have a multidisciplinary view of the world and an open mind.
Luciana: You are part of the board of Consulting Scholars of the Taylor Institute. What is your relationship with the Taylor Institute, how did you get involved?
Prof Arnold: I was introduced to Franklin through the Human Rights Film Festivals that are usually organized here! Then, I became very close friends with Professor 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.