Fiorella Rabuffetti | 2021 Recipient

The 2021 KLH Scholarship has been awarded to Fiorella Rabuffetti. Below is her submission essay published with permission:

I was born in a country near the end of a twelve-year military dictatorship during which people were persecuted, killed, disappeared, and many had to leave.  Growing up in a region recently torn by violence exposed me early on to the difficulties of reckoning with a painful collective past. This had a major influence on my interest in political violence, its effects, and how political communities can or cannot live with those effects. During my undergraduate years, I campaigned with Amnesty lnternational to support the work of the lnternational Criminal Court and became involved in the national campaign to re-open a public discussion on a law that granted amnesty to military and police officers potentially involved in crimes against humanity before and during the dictatorship. For a decade, I studied drama, acted, directed, and wrote two award-winning plays. I have since been interested in the arts, and in theatre in particular, as a form of social pedagogy and human rights activism.

While completing my Honors degree in Political Science with a monograph on ethics and international relations, I participated in several research and knowledge mobilization initiatives focusing on issues of conflict, peace-building and human rights. From 2006 to 2009, I co-authored a weekly report summarizing news on issues of security and on investigations into human rights violations that occurred under authoritarian rule in my country of origin. Around the same time, I worked as a research assistant for two projects, both in my country of origin. One inquired into the United Nations peacekeeping operation in Haiti and how democratically-elected governments can exercise effective oversight of that involvement. The other research project I participated in demonstrated the urgent need for a reform of the military’s system of discipline and justice to ensure civil control of the military institution, which is key to consolidating democracy and the rule of law in a post-conflict context. The conclusions of the investigation informed a legislative discussion on the reform of the military justice system, a discussion that led to the National Defense Law passed in 2010.

My engagement in human rights activism and research on issues of conflict and peace fueled my commitment to unravelling the workings and consequences of political violence, as well as the ways it can be effectively addressed. I decided to further pursue these interests when I moved to Canada in 2012 to obtain my MA in Political Science. My thesis explored political forgiveness and collective responsibility in post-conflict scenarios.

At the same time, I became increasingly passionate about the politics of borders, displacement, and (un)documentation. As a migrant myself, these issues speak to me personally. But it was the impact of the refugee crisis unfolding from the Syrian conflict, and the work of Hannah Arendt, a German political theorist who experienced refugeehood and protracted statelessness, that most strongly compelled me to conduct research on statelessness during my PhD program, where I specialize in political theory and international relations.

Statelessness encompasses an array of different situations, from people lacking nationality to people who are recognized as nationals by a country and yet cannot access its protection, as is the case of refugees. They might have been internally or internationally displaced, or have remained in the same place their entire lives, experiencing a kind of displacement. They face major obstacles to access basic rights, including the right of movement, given that they are denied identification and travel documents allowing them to claim those rights. My research seeks to look beyond the legal manifestation of statelessness and into the politico-economic mechanisms that perpetuate it. My work comprises a qualitative inquiry into three cases of statelessness. the “Erased” of Slovenia, made stateless in 1992 through the erasure of their names from the registry of permanent residents; the bidoon of Kuwait who have been stateless since the early’60s but in 1986 went from being treated as legal residents to being considered illegal; and the Dominicans of Haitian descent, who after being citizens by birthright for generations were rendered stateless through a 2013 judicial decision. As part of my data collection, I did a two-month research stay in Slovenia, where I conducted over twenty interviews with Erased people, legal practitioners, scholars, and activists who worked to support their cause. I feel deeply grateful to those who entrusted me with their stories.

I have come to believe that meaningful research and activism, which seek to challenge injustices, must at all times be grounded in the experiences of those who suffer those injustices. Whether in academia, advocacy, or policy-oriented positions, I intend to keep doing work on forced displacement that honors that belief.