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Interview with Assistant Professor Katerina Tsampi

Date:26 January 2022
Dr. Katerina Tsampi
Dr. Katerina Tsampi

Katerina Tsampi is an Assistant Professor of Public International Law at the Faculty of Law, and teaches in both our English taught LLB and LLM programmes. We've asked her a few questions below to learn more about her academic profile and perspectives on the courses and programmes that she teaches within the Faculty.

What is your specific academic background, and what are your research interests? Do you currently work on any specific research projects?

There is a formal and a less formal answer to this question. The formal one would be that I specialise in international human rights law with an emphasis on the law of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The less formal answer would be that I am a relentless romantic of the ECHR system. This explains why the vast majority of my research projects revolve around this system, even though my non-academic experience in the human rights field covered the entire spectrum of international human rights law. While focusing on the ECHR would sound like a very narrow niche, in reality it is anything but that. The ECHR "cosmos" opens up research opportunities on pretty much any human rights issue and widely challenges your legal reflexes, as it invites you to globally and systemically understand human rights. Over the past years, for example, I have also worked on more specific topics like the misuse of power, the role of civil society in a democracy, or tobacco control and human rights. Lately, I have started exploring the question of human rights on islands, an underexplored research/academic space.

What courses do you teach within the Faculty? 

The courses I teach generally relate to my background as described above. I am the coordinator of the Public International Law LLM course Seminar International Law in Practice, which is exactly about what its title reflects; it revolves around international law projects assigned to our students by different entities/organisations that work in the field. International law, in general, was the focus of many of the courses that I used to teach at the Faculty until recently. Nowadays, though, most of the courses I am involved in, to a varied degree, are human rights-related, namely the LLM courses Seminar on Human RightsEuropean Human Rights Law, and International Health Law. I am also involved in the LLB Research Seminar. The LLB Research Colloquium and the respective LLM Thesis course are two more courses where one can bump into me. Even though all these courses are not specialised in the ECHR as such - I hope someday we will get to have a course specialised on this very system -  the ECHR is very pertinent to their content. 

What do you enjoy teaching about these courses?

Teaching is a sharing experience and the courses I teach offer me the opportunity to share many of my practical experiences and research findings with the students. This cross-fertilisation between research and teaching is certainly appealing. The UG is encouraging a compelling educational approach where students are not passive recipients of knowledge, but active entities in its development. This exchange with the young generation of our discipline is a privilege. When both students and lecturers fully grasp this, then the result is magic.

When it comes to human rights law, this privilege comes with a great responsibility too. This is not only about the general responsibility of the teacher but also the task to provide students with the necessary legal tools to become useful players in the development/protection of human rights and useful citizens altogether. There are many misconceptions and controversies about human rights law. The fact that you can address them in class with the future lawyers (in the broad sense) implies great content. Human rights are in pressing need of good lawyers. I invite my students not to become any kind of human rights lawyer but good human rights lawyers; this is the way for human rights law to thrive. With respect to the ECHR in particular, it is very comforting to know that the new generation of lawyers are exploring its allures. The ECHR has redefined our legal civilisation (well, I told you I am a romantic). Our students are routinely exposed to the ECHR case-law but what I enjoy a lot in class is to help them also discover that such a thriving system is not always to be taken for granted. 

How are the programmes you teach in unique compared to similar programmes elsewhere? 

Our programmes are unique in many ways and I am thus afraid I cannot present an exhaustive list here without abusing the space I am given hereby. All our colleagues in the TLS Department and in the International Law team can be proud of their work. I will focus on two points. First, what we offer is student-centric. Second, our choices are pragmatic. The academic space does not develop in isolation from the non-academic one. We have to prepare our students for the realities they are going to face in their professional environment without, however, prematurely depriving them from the security the academic-educational environment needs to provide. Our programmes thus strategically bridge the academic with the post/extra-academic habitat. To offer some examples: As noted above, the LLM course Seminar International Law in Practice offers to each and every LLM student of the programme, the opportunity to collaborate with real organisations on real-life international law problems. While working within the safe academic environment, our students are exposed to the challenges of professional life. Our international law issues are no longer academic and theoretical narratives but real-life problems that our students need to address through a collaborative scheme. They, thus, not only put their knowledge of international law to the test, but also train their general (soft) skills necessary for the professional space. Many other courses also integrate this pragmatic approach. For example, in both the LLM course Seminar on Human Rights and the LLB course Research Seminar International and European Law, we make sure to integrate assignments based on real-life procedures, like the third-party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights. 

What career prospects do you think there could be for students who pursue careers in your specific legal field of expertise?

The career prospects in human rights are versatile. I incite my students to look for these prospects not only in the usual spaces but also in those less expected. Likewise, they can also create prospects themselves. The proliferation of human rights in the professional space is not static. There are spaces that do not even know that they are in need of a human rights lawyer. This is part of being a good lawyer too; to open new gateways yourself and convince people that they need you (because they indeed do!).

Some options include: International organisations (IOs); Public agencies; National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) and other independent authorities; Law firms; Professional associations; Legal consultancies; International non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and networks; Nation/Region-wide organizations/Non-governmental organizations (NGOs); Civil society organisations (CSOs) and networks; Businesses.

Has the Covid-19 situation or any other recent international events affected the way in which experts in your field practise/operate their professions?

No field has been immune to the unprecedented effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. With human rights practice, the exposure is even more brutal given the exposure of human rights themselves to the challenges of this crisis. There are extensive reports that do justice to these challenges in a more coherent way than any attempt of mine could possibly do in these lines. Human rights defenders have been facing immense pressures under this critical context. Human rights themselves are under a historic challenge that will inevitably change the way every human rights lawyer, including those of us who work in academia, operates. There are, and there will be, changes in the way we understand human rights. The controversy between “derogations or limitations” to human rights during the outbreak of the pandemic and the fears for “bad jurisprudence” marked only the beginning of these challenges. In our practice, we cannot close our eyes to these.

If I am to close this answer in a less pessimistic note, I could refer to some of the opportunities that managed to emerge for the academic practice in this otherwise unfortunate conjecture. The pandemic fully banalised the use of technology in everyday professional life. We have all experienced the dire consequences of the isolation the pandemic implied. However, the use of technology, if seen in isolation, also had a positive effect to the extent that it created new synergies and opportunities for collaborations that would have otherwise been impossible or allowed for them in a more environmentally friendly/non-discriminatory/private life-friendly way.

Do you have any advice for students interested in pursuing your same field of legal expertise?

While giving advice to our students is inevitably part of our task, admittedly this is the first time I have to do so in a written form. I thought that a list might be more accessible. Even more so if it can get a name. The one I came up with comes handy as it seems to fit the name of the Ancient Greek philosopher Themista, "the female Solon" (Solon is known as the great legislator of Ancient Athens). However, no matter how appealing the form any advice may take, here is the ultimate disclaimer: feel free to disrespect any piece of advice and make your own mistakes!

Travel: Travel for any kind of reason and in general … move around. Experience new things and discover the natural habitat of the phenomena/institutions you are working on. Get to know the human rights issues that interest you first hand; go to the Hague to attend one of the audiences of the International Court of Justice etc.

Harmonise: No matter what you do, this needs to be in harmony with who you are and what you desire. Tailor everything to your strengths and needs. Do not simply do what the others do. Do not simply choose a topic/profession that is à la mode.

Enjoy: Unless you enjoy what you do, you might need to consider stopping it. This is not to say that everything is about fun. Human rights is a demanding field and human rights monitoring in particular is a hard task. Its about being enthusiastic about the things you have to do.

Make mistakes: Young people are sometimes afraid of failure. This is normal because what they do not know is that failures make them who they really are. Just like successes shape us, failures also show us the right direction. Do not be afraid to make mistakes. Just make sure you make your own mistakes!

Interact: In the academic community, there are many people/institutions you may interact with. Students might focus more on the interactions with their professors or with organisations they want to intern for etc. This is very legitimate. Do not forget your own peers though! Interact with your own colleagues; build relations. Do not compete with each other as if you have something to share. Embrace each other and prepare your future networks. Your colleagues might even be the reason you get a job in the field. With respect to human rights in particular, interacting with them will give you the opportunity to already start claiming more safeguards for them.

Study: Well, this does not come unexpectedly from a university lecturer. Yet, my advice is wider than simply studying for our courses. Your university years are years of exploration so study everything and anything! See what fits better for you. But also get to know something well. As I always say to my students: the most determinative ECHR case-law I ever studied was the one I explored during my student years. Becoming a good lawyer requires effective study. However, do not get overstressed with grades. On occasion, this might hinder rather than facilitate your learning experience.

Try: Do not be afraid of trying new things; they might positively surprise you. The students' years are years in which you get a very good idea of what it is that you like. This process of course is always ongoing in life, but student years give you the time and opportunities you need for this.

Act: As students you have more strength and power than you might think. Use it in good faith and act to make already now a change to better understand and/or promote human rights. Each one of you can act in different ways; some participate in student organisations; some in extracurricular research activities; some in civil society organsiations etc. Think of other ways too. Human rights is a space for pioneering.  

- Interview by: Dr. Chris Brennan, Marketing Advisor, Faculty of Law


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