Stream of consciousness

Lawyer Kati Verstrepen wants to make herself obsolete

4 min
Text Lise Wouters
Image Liz Dvorkina

In ‘Stream of Consciousness’, we give the floor to someone from the UAntwerp community. Our speaker today is: Kati Verstrepen. She obtained her law degree from UAntwerp in 1988, and today she’s a lawyer specialising in migration law and chair of the Human Rights League.

What drives you?

It’s very difficult for me to accept injustice and inequality. Back when I was in kindergarten, so long before I ever heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), I would get really angry if I saw someone being treated unfairly. Fighting inequality and realising the ideals of the UDHR is what drives me every single day, both in my professional activities as a lawyer and in my volunteer work as chair of the Human Rights League.


What is your motto?

My motto is very universal: treat people the way you want to be treated. This is a very ancient motto that can be found in almost all religions and beliefs. I’m sure the world would look a lot better if everyone took this motto to heart.


What does the perfect Sunday morning look like for you?

On the perfect Sunday morning, I would get to sleep in and enjoy an elaborate breakfast in pyjamas, preferably in the company of several newspapers and magazines, my husband, the dog, and some relaxing music. In that order.

Which professor impressed you the most?

There were actually two: Prof. Robert Kruithof and Prof. Alfons Heyvaert. Both were very good at their craft and loved imparting their knowledge to their students. Their lectures were peppered with real-life examples, making the course material really sink in.


What does UAntwerp still mean to you today?

I have particularly fond memories of my time at UAntwerp. I started out a naive schoolgirl, and was moulded into the lawyer and human rights activist I am today. I still love going there to lose myself in the library, to attend refresher courses, to debate with people, and so much more.


How did your friends and family react to your career choice?

Oh, they were not at all surprised by my choice of study. Everyone always used to say I was a good talker, and that’s really the only thing I’m good at. So a career as a lawyer was the obvious choice.

How does your job give you satisfaction?

I get satisfaction from my job when I notice that I’ve made a difference. If I’ve been able to really help someone, or correct inequalities.


What frustrates you in your professional life?

A lot. The lack of long-term vision in politics, and the ease with which human rights are thrown overboard and the core principles of our rule of law are flouted.

What would you still like to achieve?

I would like to make myself obsolete, and by extension all organisations working to protect human rights. If we succeed in instilling in politicians and citizens the importance of respecting human rights, then my and our mission will have succeeded.


City or countryside?

City and countryside. During the week, I’m energised by the hustle and bustle of the multiculturalism in 2060 Antwerp, where I live. On weekends, I like to unwind in the quiet surroundings of the Westhoek, where my husband and I have a cottage.


Working from home or at the office?

Working from home and at the office. To use my time in the most productive way possible, I have my home office. This keeps my commute limited to going up and down the stairs. It doesn’t get more efficient than that.

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