University of Minnesota
Human Rights Program

Human Rights Program.

Human Rights Program


  • Expert Links Environmental Destruction and Modern Slavery

    According to Kevin Bales, if slavery were a country or state, it would have the population of Canada or California with the GDP of Angola or Kansas. And that “country” of more than 27 million would have a per-capita emission level roughly eight times that of the United States.

    Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at University of Hull, spoke February 4 to students, faculty, and the public at the University of Minnesota about his latest book, Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World.

    Bales’ lecture focused not only on raising awareness but also on bringing connections and solutions to the problems he identified throughout the world. His talk centered around the contemporary classifications of slavery, the situation of those therein, his years of research, and the quantifiable evidence of the increased carbon footprint and environmental destruction by those forced into slavery.

    As he explained, many children and young adults in developing nations are forced into conditions of exhaustive labor in hopes of a better future.  Their work is part of an economic system based on cutting costs and steps to turn a profit, including taking advantage of natural resources and risking the health of individuals through widespread environmental degradation and destruction. It is in realizing the frightening connections between these practices and the precious metals in our cellphones or many of the foods on our plate that we may understand the mutually constitutive relationship between these human rights abuses and the grievous harm to the planet on which we live. Many illegal fisheries, massive brick-making factories, and mining industries, to name a few, have not only violated many lands protected under international law by exploiting, permanently destroying, or poisoning their ecosystem but have also contributed to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions.

    For Bales, the connection between the contemporary slavery industry and ecocide are startlingly clear. The combined carbon emissions produced in these slave-based industries are third in size only to China and the United States. 

    Despite this terrible impact, Bales proposed policy changes, emphasizing that “there are many ways out of slavery and many ways to save the environment”. As the two conditions are deeply intertwined, he envisioned the solution as one in the same for slavery and environmental destruction, transforming the former slaves into a respected workforce that uses the land and resources on which they were previously entrapped for ecological good, by means of sustainable farming and forestry work. 

    Bales is the co-founder and former president of Free the Slaves, the largest modern abolitionist organization in the world. He has also served as a trustee of Anti-Slavery International and as a consultant to the United Nations Global Program Against Trafficking in Human Beings. He is the author of numerous reports, monographs, and scholarly books on modern slavery, including the acclaimed Disposable People. He lives in Brighton, England.

    Written by Amanda Kruger
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  • 2016 Human Rights Awards, Support, and Internships

    As a part of its commitment to recognizing the achievements of students in human rights, the Human Rights Program is pleased to announce its array of awards, financial support, and internships available for students in 2016. Whether you are an undergraduate, graduate, or professional student, the Human Rights Program is excited to support the work you are doing in promoting human rights:

    Undergraduate Students 

    Funding for Summer Human Rights Internship:

    The Human Rights Program will award two undergraduate students with a stipend of up to $4,000 to complete an internship in human rights for the summer of 2016. Students should have a summer internship confirmed and a proposed schedule and budget before the application deadline of February 26, 2016. 

    Click here to access the application. All materials should be submitted to the Human Rights Program office (214 Social Sciences Building). 

    Children of Incarcerated Caregivers Internship: 

    For a second year, the local non-profit Children of Incarcerated Caregivers is seeking upper-level undergraduates to serve on an interdisciplinary team to research the effects of parental incarceration and advocate for improved policies and programs. The paid internship will run May 30 - July 29, 2016. Successful applicants should have demonstrated research and writing skills and experience in the fields of human rights, sociology, or child development/psychology. Applicants should email their résumé/CV and a cover letter to Rochelle Hammer ( by February 26, 2016.

    More info on the CIC internships.

    6th Annual Human Rights Awards: 

    Each spring, the Human Rights Program and Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota and the Sullivan Ballou Fund celebrate the tremendous work of students in human rights with the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award. Faculty, staff, and students are encouraged to nominate an undergraduate student who has been truly impressive in their promotion of human rights; self-nominations are also welcome. 

    All applications should include a letter of nomination/recommendation (750 words or less), résumé/CV, and one-page personal statement detailing the nominee’s experience and dedication to human rights work. The deadline is March 22, 2016, and materials should be emailed to Rochelle Hammer ( or delivered to the Program's office (214 Social Sciences Building.) 

    Graduate Students 

      Children of Incarcerated Caregivers Internship: 

    For its second year, the local non-profit Children of Incarcerated Caregivers is looking for graduate and professional students to serve on an interdisciplinary team to research the effects of parental incarceration and advocate for improved policies and programs. The paid ($5,500) internship will run May 30 - July 29, 2016. Successful applicants should have demonstrated research and writing skills and experience in the fields of human rights,  law, public policy, sociology, or child development/psychology or other relevant fields.

    Applicants should email their résumé/CV and a cover letter to Rochelle Hammer ( by February 26, 2016.

    More info on the CIC internships.

    Students of the Human Rights Graduate Minor 

    The Human Rights Program offers support for students pursuing the graduate minor in human rights with a stipend of up to $4,000 for a summer 2016 human-rights-related internship. Current graduate minors are encouraged to apply. Applicants should have a summer internship confirmed by the organization and the DGS and a proposed schedule and budget (including travel or other expenses) in line before the application deadline of February 26, 2016.

     The application form can be accessed here. All materials should be submitted to the Human Rights Program office (214 Social Sciences Building).


    For more information regarding each of the awards, contact the Human Rights Program Coordinator, Rochelle Hammer, at or 612-626-7947.
    (Continue Reading)
  • Children of Incarcerated Caregivers to Broaden its Work on Children, Family in the Criminal Justice System

    Founded just this past year, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers (CIC) is a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization led by a team of local lawyers, scholars, and activists and staffed by a dedicated group of university students. With an initial focus on the relationship between parental incarceration and early childhood development, CIC has expanded its work.

    Originally titled the Prison Nursery Project, the organization was formed by a group of professionals from a wide array of disciplines—including the program’s own director, Barb Frey—united by a single passion: promoting the best interest of families affected by parental incarceration.  Over this past summer, the non-profit’s team of graduate and undergraduate student interns took part in an initial investigative stage to study the impact of prison nurseries, where children are raised by their parent in a prison setting. From their initial findings, the interns recommended that the organization broaden its focus to include research and advocacy related to other aspects of the criminal justice system’s effects on children’s development. Based on this shift of focus, the organization changed its name to better reflect its broader purpose to effect change in local, national, and international communities.

    Significantly, the organization’s researchers have been able to advocate for alternative sentencing options for caregivers facing a prison sentence. CIC research demonstrates that if a child remains with his or her caregiver in an alternative housing option (as opposed to being separated from a caregiver who is sent to prison), the child does much better developmentally and the caregiver is less likely to be a repeat offender. This presents a “win-win” alternative for everyone involved, according to CIC: the child benefits, the caregiver benefits, and the government may benefit from lower costs and reduced future offenses.

    CIC plans to broaden its influence by operating in a network of other local organizations advocating in a similar framework. Through its partnerships, CIC hopes to bring change to the prison system by expanding the range of alternative options available for caregivers and their children, reflecting the most current findings and research.

    This past fall, CIC held an open house on the University of Minnesota campus to present a preliminary report, with great success. As board member Julie Matonich explains, CIC hopes to make this an annual event that may highlight CIC’s accomplishments and increase awareness about important issues that affect families involved with the criminal justice system. For the future, CIC will continue to work with student interns to research other issues, which may include policies on arrests in the presence of children and ways to improve contact between children and their parents who are in prison. With other states—particularly Washington—as a model, CIC is interested in studying and providing recommendations for best practices on how law enforcement handles the arrest of a caregiver when a child is present, and how, with a particular focus on access to visitation and the quality of the contact between the child are caregiver, healthy bonds between imprisoned caregivers and their children can be maintained.   It further hopes to collaborate with experts from across the country and around the globe to share experiences and increase awareness of the impact of parental incarceration.

    We are excited about the progress that Children of Incarcerated Caregivers has made over the past year, and we look forward to what may develop from its work in the future.
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Upcoming Events

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

External Human Rights Events

  • Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop Public Reading Organized by Human Rights Scribe

    On Saturday, October 24th, the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW) will hold a reading at Hamline University. The reading, organized by MFA candidate Mike Alberti as part of the Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship, will feature the work of several writers currently incarcerated in Minnesota state correctional facilities. MPWW instructors will read pieces of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction on behalf of their students, and two formerly incarcerated alumni of MPWW classes will read their own work aloud for the first time. 

    This is a free reading, open to the public, so please come and invite a friend. A short Q&A and informal discussion will follow. Plus, there will be snacks! It’s sure to be a very powerful evening. We hope you can make it!

    Where:  Hamline University,
                  Klas Center, Kay Fredericks Room
                 1537 Taylor Avenue
                 St. Paul, MN 55104

    When:  Saturday, October 24th, 2015, 7:00 PM

    To learn more about MPWW and their work, please visit
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