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Human Rights Program

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Human Rights Program


  • The consequences of "NO"

    Taking the lives of 260,000 and leaving more than six million people internally displaced, the 52-year conflict in Colombia came to a definitive ceasefire this past year. Talks began in 2012 with President Juan Manuel Santos and leaders of FARC, resulting in a peace deal that would have required the rebel group FARC to put down all weapons, end its involvement in the drugs trade and morph into a political movement, along with the guarantee that FARC would receive ten congressional seats for the next two legislative sessions.

    As a method of showing popular consensus for what was negotiated, President Santos put this deal to the test -- a public referendum with a simple "yes" or "no" vote: "Do you support the final accord to end the conflict and to build a stable and lasting peace?"

    Shocking the world, the Colombian people voted "no" by a narrow margin -- seizing 50.2% of the vote. While the Peace Deal was expected to have overwhelming support, many Colombians believed the government made far too many concessions.

    Despite these critiques, the voter turnout revealed it was the communities most impacted by the conflict who overwhelmingly voted “yes” for the Peace Deal. Choco is one of the provinces hardest hit by the conflict and 80% of its voters backed the deal. In Bojaya, 119 people were killed when a church was hit by FARC mortar bombs; still, 96% of Bojaya residents voted "yes."

    Conversely, regions less affected had a significantly higher “no” vote percentage, the eastern province of Casanare as an example with 71.1 % vote against the deal. While many factors influenced the vote, the correlation between geographical location and support for the deal is far too significant to not acknowledge.

    Despite the imperfection of the Peace Deal, the thousands of Colombians devastated by the violence and displacement voiced their support for the Peace Deal and the wishes to move forward. Ultimately, the individuals least exposed to the violence made the decision, overwhelmingly voting a”No,” and thus making the decision for the most vulnerable people who were at the hands of the atrocities which occurred in the last half century.

    The Human Rights Program has many partners in Colombia who were closely affected by the defeat of the peace plebiscite. From 2012-15, we hosted the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Law Partnership with four schools in Antioquia, Colombia. The “Alianza,” funded by USAID and the Higher Education for Development (HED), provided a space for students, faculty, staff, and schools to come together to broaden their skills and experience in the field and study of human rights—all the while building a network of lifelong friendships and partners through mutual respect and empowerment. Alianza coordinator Zeller Alvarez noted, “Those of us who voted “yes” voted for hope, for a new opportunity, for reconciliation, for peace with an armed group. We must be conscientious and not respond with hate or rancor for the decision made in the plebiscite. We should remember that this country is our home, that we are all one big family and we need to continue to move forward together. We must be attentive to that which lies ahead and not lose the faith, hope and respect for others.”

    President Santos appeared after the vote stating the cease-fire would remain in effect. He added he plans to “convene all political groups,” especially those against the deal, “to open spaces for dialogue and determine how we will go ahead.” While the vote against the referendum carries, Colombia awaits an abundance of uncertainty as to what will happen next.

    Resources consulted:
    - written by Trish Palermo

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  • Students join international team addressing human rights violations in Mexico

    Throughout the summer, a group of U of M students worked as members of a cross-institution team of students and researchers addressing human rights violations in Mexico. Fellow researchers are based at FLACSO-Mexico and Oxford University. As news continues to emerge regarding enforced disappearances and related impunity in Mexico, advocates and scholars are increasingly interested in collecting information that may contribute to finding, stopping and prosecuting perpetrators. Within this context, the group has formed an "Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity". The overall project is designed to systematize existing data from various sources in order to implement practical strategies to address impunity for the human rights violations taking place in Mexico. The Observatory seeks to raise public visibility and examine data that may advance justice for the victims.

    The U of M students are working specifically on media analysis of reported disappearances. The team is coding newspaper reports of disappearances, providing a contribution to the larger initiative to create a fuller, more accessible database of information on the victims of enforced disappearances and the individuals and groups committing the crimes. The team is scouring media sources for articles relevant to cases - searching for a number of facts and patterns about each. Through this process, the students are able to document patterns in specific states and regions regarding perpetrators and victims, as well as the government’s lack of investigation in these cases. This work complements on the ground research being done by the team based in Mexico City under the leadership of Professors Karina Ansolabehere and Leigh Payne. Together, the students are learning valuable research skills, and applying them to a current and critical human rights crisis.
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  • Human Rights Program welcomes Fulbright Scholar Catherine O'Rourke

    Dr Catherine O'Rourke is Senior Lecturer and Gender Research Coordinator at Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute, Northern Ireland. She is visiting the Human Rights Program as an Irish Fulbright Scholar 2016/17, in order to advance a monograph on international law norms for gender equality and their relationship to domestic processes of peacebuilding. Catherine researches, teaches and engages in policy work in the fields of gender, conflict and international law. As a scholar, she has a noted record of publications and research grants. Catherine holds an LLB Law with Politics from Queen's University Belfast and MSc Gender from the London School of Economics. Her PhD, from Ulster University Transitional Justice Institute, was awarded the 2010 Basil Chubb Prize for the best PhD in politics produced in an Irish university. It was subsequently published as a monograph, 'Gender Politics in Transitional Justice' (Routledge, 2013).
    Catherine works with the Irish and UK governments, the United Nations and several non-governmental organizations. She is independent academic expert on the Irish Government's Oversight Group for its National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, appointed by the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs. Catherine is regularly commissioned by intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to conduct expert research on gender and conflict, such as commissioned research on gender and reparations (with Aisling Swaine and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin) by UN Women and the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights, subsequently published in Harvard Human Rights Journal 'Transforming Reparations for Conflict-related Sexual Violence: Principles and Practice'. More recently, she was commissioned (with Swaine and Ní Aoláin) as an expert to support the work of the International Criminal Court Trust Fund for Victims in designing a reparations implementation plan in response to the Court's reparation decision in the Lubanga case. Other commissioned work includes the UN Women Guidebook on CEDAW and the Women, Peace and Security Resolutions (2015, with Aisling Swaine) and a baseline study on the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1325 in Northern Ireland (2012, with Karen McMinn).

    Catherine is active in local feminist politics in Belfast, in particular on issues of gender and dealing with the past, and reproductive rights. She is a member of the Belfast-based Legacy Gender Integration Group and Lawyers for Choice.

    We are so happy to host Dr. O'Rourke and we look forward to her contributions to the University community and to the field of human rights.
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Upcoming Events

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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