University of Minnesota
Human Rights Program

Human Rights Program.

Human Rights Program


  • Director Barbara Frey and Professors Robert Stein and David Weissbrodt Receive Center for Victims of Torture Annual Eclipse Awards

    From the Center for Victims of Torture website:

    As the Center for Victims of Torture™ (CVT) commemorates its 30th anniversary, the organization presents its annual Eclipse Award to its founders. This group of individuals was instrumental in launching the organization in 1985 and making key contributions to its early growth and development.

    Recipients include Barbara Frey, Samuel Heins, Rudy Perpich, Jr. and the late Minnesota Governor Rudy Perpich, Terry Saario, Robert Sands, Robert Stein, Tom Triplett and David Weissbrodt in recognition of their role in founding and supporting the organization 30 years ago.

     “CVT is proud to recognize these visionary leaders who recognized a gap in the human rights movement: the need for torture survivors to have access to specialized rehabilitative care. Their leadership provided the momentum that established an organization that was the first of its kind in the United States,” said Curt Goering, executive director of CVT. “Repeatedly, these individuals demonstrated a commitment to rebuilding the lives of torture survivors, as well as leadership at the global level in putting an end to torture.”

    CVT presents the Eclipse Award each year near June 26 - International Day in Support of Victims of Torture- to an individual or organization that has played a crucial role in the prevention of torture or rehabilitation of torture survivors. June 26 is the day in 1987 when the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment went into effect. Events are held around the world to celebrate this special day.

    The honorees...[received] the Eclipse award on June 24 in Washington, D.C. as part of an event recognizing the growth and expansion made by CVT over its 30 years of extending rehabilitative care to torture survivors and advocating to end torture. Recipient biographies are available here. 

     Originally published on the CVT Website.
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  • Minnesota Daily Highlights New Master's of Human Rights

    On 17 June 2015, the Minnesota Daily, a campus newspaper for students, faculty, and staff at the University of Minnesota, published the following article on the anticipated Master's of Human Rights at the University of Minnesota:

    Damir Utrzan knows what it’s like to flee a war-torn country and resettle in a foreign land.

    After leaving Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Bosnian War more than 20 years ago, the University of Minnesota family social science PhD student came to the United States when he was 10 years old and has made it his life’s work to help others from similar situations.

    “Sometimes when I look in the eyes of some of the people I help, I just think, ‘This could be my grandfather,’” Utrzan said.

    Many non-profit organizations and efforts by the University have contributed to Minnesota’s long history of taking in refugees like Utrzan. This summer, the University is hoping to expand its role in educating about international human rights.

    Professors at the school are working to create a new master’s program in human rights, which organizers hope will advance knowledge and skills for people who want to work in the discipline.

    Director of the Human Rights Program Barbara Frey said the graduate program is a joint venture between the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and will likely admit 15 to 20 students starting in 2016.

    “We anticipate placing people in positions across the world, not just in Minnesota. This is a global reach,” Frey said. “We have really important organizations in Minnesota, and we have a great base. [But] we also want to make sure our graduates are competing for the highest level international positions.”

    Law professor and Co-Director of the Human Rights Center David Weissbrodt said the new program could draw on the University’s existing human rights programs.

    “We have a substantial group of faculty members that will respond to the needs of these students,” Weissbrodt said. “Minnesota has a long and strong tradition of work in the human rights field.”

    The University already has several centers related to human rights and a graduate minor in the field but does not offer a program that would allow graduate students to easily take classes in other disciplines.

    “The ability to be able to take classes across different departments is phenomenal,” Utrzan said. “The real world is changing. Human rights are constantly changing.”

    In the past 40 years, influxes of refugees and asylum-seekers from around the world have made their new home in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, more than 95,000 refugees have found their way to the state from 1979 to 2009.

    Utrzan said his work focuses on how the asylum process in the U.S. worsens existing mental illnesses, adding that unlike refugees who have been given residency, asylum-seekers can be deported anytime. The uncertainty, he says, exacerbates mental illnesses like depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Utrzan said the process to gain asylum can range anywhere from one to five years, but he said there are factors that could lengthen the process.

    Utrzan also works for the Center for Victims of Torture, a non-profit organization headquartered in St. Paul that cares for torture survivors.

    There are between 30,000 and 40,000 victims of torture living in Minnesota according to CVT data. The center sees 1,000 clients, including family members of victims, and around 3,000 international clients, said Peter Dross, director of external relations for the CVT.

    “Torture is an invisible problem,” Dross said.

    This year, the U.S. will admit up to 70,000 refugees into the country, according to a White House press release, with 33,000 admissions specifically set for near East and Southeast Asia.

    Minnesota has seen a growth in refugees from Myanmar over the past few years following instability as rebel groups clash with the country’s military. According to a 2013 report by MDH, of 2,141 refugees who came to Minnesota, more than 45 percent were from Myanmar and Bhutan.

    Dross said the CVT has faced stagnant funding for torture survivor rehabilitation in the last decade, but he hopes the new MA program will create a larger candidate pool and training ground for future CVT work abroad and in Minnesota.

    “It’s really a testament to the work and lasting legacy that several key human rights leaders at the University who’ve helped bring human rights issues to Minnesota,” Dross said.

    Frey said she will bring the proposal for the human rights master’s to the Board of Regents for approval in September.

    Originally posted by Minnesota Daily.
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  • Local Human Rights Advocate Nominated as Ambassador to Norway

    Samuel D. Heins, human rights champion in Minnesota and supporter of the Human Rights Program, was recently nominated by President Obama as the next ambassador for the United States to the Kingdom of Norway.

    Heins, who received both his B.A. and J.D. from the University of Minnesota, has built an important legal practice in anti-trust and shareholder litigation. Heins is internationally renowned for his role in promoting human rights. In 1983 he co-founded the Advocates for Human Rights, serving as the first chair of its board. Just two years later, he helped establish the Center for Victims of Torture, also serving as board chair. Additionally, he served on the Board of Governors of the Endowment Campaign of the Law School as well as the board of the ACLU of Minnesota and, most recently, on the board of the human rights organization, Witness.

    He has continued his involvement in human rights efforts through advocacy of academic and hands-on experience for students of the subject. He is a longtime sponsor of the Human Rights Center in the University of Minnesota Law School, and he has been highly involved in the Human Rights Program as well, providing various forms of assistance, such as support for internships, to undergraduates and graduates of the Program.

    We congratulate Samuel Heins on his nomination, and we look forward to his further achievements and contributions in the field of international diplomacy and human rights.

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Human Rights Beat

  • Chicago police detain Americans at abuse-laden 'black site'

    The Chicago police department operates an off-the-books interrogation compound, rendering Americans unable to be found by family or attorneys while locked inside what lawyers say is the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site. The facility, a nondescript warehouse on Chicago's west side known as Homan Square, has long been the scene of secretive work by special police units. Interviews with local attorneys and one protester who spent the better part of a day shackled in Homan Square describe operations that deny access to basic constitutional rights. Continue reading on The Guardian's website.

    March 6th, 2015
  • Amnesty International requests letter signing for Syrian asylum seekers pressured to return

    Reports in the media show that staff at the Manus Island, Papua New Guinea detention centre, run by the Australian Government, are pressuring Syrian asylum seekers to return to Syria where they will be in extreme danger. Read more on the Amnesty International website.

    June 10th, 2014
  • The ICRC releases video on Colombian human rights situation

    It's a crucial time for Colombia with presidential elections slated for this Sunday and ongoing peace talks between the government and FARC guerrillas continuing in Havana, Cuba. In a new Intercross video, the head of the ICRC's delegation in Bogotá, Jordi Raich, says Colombia is at a crossroads -- poised on the verge of economic growth, shrinking poverty, and the potential to put an end to half a century of war. Watch the video on the Intercross website.

    May 28th, 2014
  • US: A Nation Behind Bars

    Far too many US laws violate basic principles of justice by requiring disproportionately severe punishment, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The 36-page report, "Nation Behind Bars: A Human Rights Solution," notes that laws requiring penalties that are far longer than necessary to meet the purposes of punishment have given the United States the world's highest reported rate of incarceration. These laws have spawned widespread and well-founded public doubts about the fairness of the US criminal justice system. Continue reading on the Human Rights Watch website.

    May 7th, 2014