Luc Walleyn Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

Humanitarian Law: Conversation with Luc Walleyn, Human Rights Lawyer; April 16, 2003, by Harry Kreisler

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Luc, welcome to Berkeley.

Thank you.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Bruges, which is a historical Flemish city, and now I'm living in Brussels.

Looking back, how do you think your parents shaped your perspective on the world?

I'm issued from a very classical Catholic family. My father had a printing factory and the values we had were hard-working, but we also had a large view of the world.

Was there a heavy ethical component in what you learned from your parents and from your teachers as a young person?

There was, indeed. There was a friend who has a very strong Catholic tradition and also a traditional missionary, sending out people to convert others, and maybe [I was influenced by] something of that state, because I'm still interested in what happens in the world, and not sticking to just local issues.

Or contract law.

Or contract law, yes.

Where were you educated?

I had studies of law in the University of Leuven, Louvain. It's one of the main Flemish universities -- also, a very old university.

Where did you do your work before you went to law school? Also in Louvain?

No, I was in Bruges until the age of eighteen, at a Catholic school and later on the university.

How was your education shaped by the events of sixties? You probably were in the university at critical times during the sixties, right?

I entered in the university in '67, and this was indeed a very crucial element. Our generation was confronted with very important changes and we had a very strict, traditional Catholic education. And then we were confronted with this whole movement of '68 that started in Belgium as a contest of strict, local structures of the university, etc., and very quickly moved on to a very large movement of solidarity with the Third World, Vietnam, and all these things came in.

Were you radicalized in that period?

I was. I was like a lot of students at the time. I was indeed very quickly radicalized, also, by that movement.

Did that radicalization contribute to your wanting to go into law, or did that come later?

No, I was already studying law.

I see.

But, indeed, I understood that law could be an element, also, in working and improving the condition of people and helping people who do not have access to their rights. So I decided to continue that study; a lot of people stopped. But I thought it was important to become a lawyer advocate and I stayed in it until now.

Was it inevitable that you would do work in humanitarian international law? Or did that just happen? Did you just come upon it?

Maybe it was a logical evolution, but at the time, humanitarian law was not an issue. It became an important issue in the nineties. When I started as a young lawyer, we wanted to work on very local issues of discriminated people, migrants we have in Brussels, a very important population of migrants from Turkey and Arab origin that were in quite difficult situations at the time -- and there are still important problems. So I was working for years on many issues of immigration and asylum. And human rights issues, of course, are linked to that. Finally, I became more and more interested in humanitarian law as well.

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