María Leoba Castañeda Rivas, dean of the Faculty of Law at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), emphasises that her faculty seeks to become more international. She considers the University of Helsinki an interesting partner.
“I believe the cooperation between Mexico and Finland in the field of legal studies began in the aftermath of the murder of the Finnish activist Jyri Jaakkola, when some Mexican judges, lawyers and academics became interested in Finland and human rights,” says Dean Kimmo Nuotio, María Leoba Castañeda Rivas’ Helsinki counterpart.
“It would be wonderful if this horrible crime would result in something good.”
UNAM is among the most significant universities in Latin America, in fact the best university in the region according to international rankings. It attracts the best students and researchers in the area.
Crossing the ocean with a presidential retinue
A group of Helsinki-based legal scholars and Finnish representatives of the legal profession crossed the Atlantic to visit universities and courts in March 2015. For this visit, Dean Nuotio was joined by Vice-Dean Jarna Petman, former President of the Supreme Administrative Court Pekka Hallberg and Pekka Nurmi, former Director General at the Ministry of Justice. The visit led to a decision to launch faculty-level cooperation between the University of Helsinki and UNAM.
At the end of May, Rector Jukka Kola will join President Sauli Niinistö’s retinue on a trip to Mexico, and sign the cooperation agreement while there. The agreement will introduce new opportunities in Latin America to University of Helsinki students and researchers.
At the same time, the project will promote internationalisation in other faculties. Latin America is a region with large, rapidly-developing societies.
“It’s important to participate in the changes occurring in developing economies and societies, which is an eye-opening experience, a kind of global social interaction,” says Nuotio.
Labour legislation and equality
In addition to European cooperation, legal scholars have been in most active contact with China, primarily the Institute of Law at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Peking University. Student exchange is off to a good start, and research cooperation is underway in fields such as labour legislation.
Cooperation is also being launched in Moscow and St Petersburg. The University of Helsinki’s Erik Castrén Institute joined the Ministry for Foreign Affairs programme Equal Before the Law which aimed to promote the rights of vulnerable populations in Central Asian countries.
International cooperation is popular everywhere in the world, and no marketing efforts are required: an active seeker will easily find enthusiastic partners. There is much to do in terms of the development of the rule of law, human rights and comparative law.
Outside Europe, the challenges and problems take on greater proportions. In certain Central Asian countries, democracy is a new phenomenon and the development of democracy has stalled. However, Mexico has similar structures and conditions to Western societies as well as strong presidential power, but the rule of law is still in development.
Hope and cultural strength
“Corruption is rife, illegal labour is common, the public education system is weak, human rights are infringed upon and certain areas are controlled by drug cartels,” lists Kimmo Nuotio when asked about Mexico's challenges.
“This creates a vicious cycle which is difficult to break. On the other hand, the economy is robust and people are expecting the future to be better. There is hope in the air. The Mexican cultural tradition is incredibly strong.”
According to Nuotio, the expectations placed on the cooperation with Finland, the University of Helsinki and the Faculty of Law can only be met by maintaining strong competence in basic legal research and capacity for comparative law. Strong basic research is vitally important.