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  • Opportunity for Students: 2017 Children of Incarcerated Caregivers Paid Internship

    Children of Incarcerated Caregivers (CIC) is seeking a team of interdisciplinary students from the University of Minnesota and Macalester College for a paid, part-time, three-month summer internship, from May 30 to August 25, 2017. Founded in 2014, CIC is a Minneapolis-based non-profit dedicated to researching and advocating for policies and programs that improve the lives of children whose caregivers are affected by the criminal justice system in the United States and abroad. There are four positions available:

    Research Intern (1 position): Responsibilities include updating past CIC reports on the impact of parental incarceration on children and visitation policies, as well as generating memos and summaries to aide defense attorneys in court. The research intern must have a strong background in generating comprehensive literature reviews and the ability to interpret complex social science research. Depending on summer work and CIC needs, the research intern may be invited to continue to intern part-time with CIC during the 2017-18 academic year. For this position only, please submit a writing sample (5-10 pages) along with your regular application materials.

    Community Engagement Interns (3 positions): Responsibilities include networking and collaborating with other organizations with overlapping missions, and building connections at the local, domestic, and international level. Fluency in a second language will be especially valuable as many potential partner organizations are outside of the US. In addition, these community engagement interns will identify the most pervasive unmet needs that Minnesota children of incarcerated caregivers face, determine what programs would best serve these children, and promote access to visits for Minnesota children.

    The summer research project will culminate in a written report that details next steps for CIC, including a plan for funding, next steps toward advancing Minnesota sentencing practices, and promoting access for Minnesota children visiting caregivers at correctional facilities. This report will guide CIC work in 2017-18 and the intern team will present their recommendations at the University of Minnesota in September 2017.

    The team will work under the auspices of the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Program. Interns will work remotely, but have office space when needed at the Human Rights Program. Team members will meet regularly as a group to receive feedback and direction from University of Minnesota faculty from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Human Rights Program in the College of Liberal Arts, Macalester faculty, as well as CIC board members with experience in criminal justice, child development, and human rights issues.

    Qualifications: Upper-level undergraduates and graduate students with knowledge of human rights, public policy, law, psychology, sociology, or other programs related to the issues affecting children of incarcerated caregivers will be considered. Candidates must have demonstrated research and writing skills. Fluency in Spanish and/or successful experience with grant writing are especially desirable qualifications and will be weighed heavily in the selection process.

    Application deadline: March 31, 2017. Applicants should email their résumé and cover letter to Rochelle Hammer ( If applying for the Research Intern position, please include a 5-10 page writing sample with your application.

    Commitment: 20 hours per week, May 30 – August 25, 2017, plus September 2017 public presentation (date TBD).

    Stipend and notes on funding mechanism: Undergraduate students will earn a stipend of $3,000.00 and graduate students will earn a stipend of $4,500.00 for the summer internship.

    (Continue Reading)March 10th, 2017
  • Call for Nominations: 2017 Human Rights Awards

    Each, spring, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies celebrates the tremendous work of University of Minnesota undergraduate students in human rights by presenting the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award.

    Inna Meiman Award

    Given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet era Jewish refusenik who was repeatedly denied a visa to seek medical treatment, and Lisa Paul, a graduate of the University of Minnesota who fought tirelessly on her behalf, including a 25-day hunger strike that galvanized a movement for Inna's freedom. The friendship between Lisa Paul and Inna Meiman is memorialized in the book, Swimming in the Daylight: An American Student, a Soviet-Jewish Dissident, and the Gift of Hope. The award of $1000 is intended to recognize a University of Minnesota student who embodies a commitment to human rights.

    Sullivan Ballou Award 

    Supported by the Sullivan Ballou Fund and named after Major Sullivan Ballou, an Army solider killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in the U. S. Civil War, this award honors Major Ballou's memory by recognizing a student who devotes heartfelt energy to promote human rights. The Sullivan Ballou Fund gives $1000 awards to celebrate and affirm people acting from the heart. They provide compassion, services, or advocacy to their local communities, the poor, homeless, children, victim of violence and mistreatment or the disabled. Some give of themselves to those around them through their art, their music, their words, or their presence.

    What are the selection criteria?

    • The awards are open to all full-time undergraduate students at the University of Minnesota
    • The student has demonstrated a personal commitment to the promotion and protection of international human rights through significant work on a human rights cause during their time as an undergraduate
    • Through their efforts, the student as raised the visibility of a particular human rights issue among the University community or the broader public
    • The student has made a positive difference in the life of others, and has given a voice to those who might not otherwise be heard

    How do I nominate someone/myself?
    • Nominators should submit a letter of 750 words or less describing the human rights activities undertaken by the nominee during their time at the U of M, a resume of the student nominated, as well as a personal statement by the nominated student
    • Self-nominations also need a statement of 750 words or less, a resume, and a letter of recommendation from a faculty or staff member, or a peer that can attest to the achievements of the nominee
    • Nominations are due March 31st, 2017 to Rochelle Hammer via email at
    • The awards will be given out at a luncheon ceremony on Friday, April 28th, 2017

    Contact Rochelle Hammer at or 612.626.7947
    (Continue Reading)March 10th, 2017
  • Program kicks off annual lecture series focusing on “Principled Voices”

    A few weeks ago, the Program was pleased to welcome Armenian Parliamentarian, Edmon Marukyan, to the University to present the inaugural lecture, “Fighting corruption and advocating for human rights in Armenia,” of a new annual lecture series. The series “Principled Voices,” supported by the Stephen and Chacke Scallen Lecture in Human Rights Fund, is designed to highlight leaders and thinkers who distinguish themselves by carrying out their passion for human rights, cultural awareness, democratic principles, fairness, and dignity, often at great odds and great personal risk. 

    Mr. Marukyan, member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia, lawyer, longtime defender of human rights and former Humphrey Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Law School, spoke of the many challenges to the promotion and protection of human rights in Armenia, citing government corruption as presenting some of the most deeply entrenched challenges. While promises to tackle the corruption go largely unfulfilled, Mr. Marukyan sees strong hope and broad efforts within the parliamentary system to strengthen the democratic process. The need is great as the negative impacts of the corruption extend not only to the protection of human rights but also to the government system overall.

    Responding to various questions from the audience, Mr. Marukyan spoke of the importance of the Armenian diaspora in the United States and its supporters in using their expertise and resources - financial and otherwise - to engaging with Armenian organizations, officials and civil society. Through continued efforts inside of Armenia and with support from the diaspora, Mr. Marukayn is hopeful that lasting change can be made to root out the corruption and improve the overall environment for support of human rights.

    The Program looks forward to bringing more principled voices to campus in the future and to providing courageous human rights advocates with an opportunity to continue speaking out. Stephen and Chacke Scallen, supporters of the lecture series, are focused on shedding light on corruption in governments, businesses, churches, and other institutions that challenge the full realization of human rights and as we know too well, can often lead to the erasure or near-erasure of cultures. Chacke Scallen’s abiding interest in human rights and cultural awareness was borne out of her family’s experience of having fled the Armenian genocide. We are so grateful to the Scallens for making this lecture series possible. Stay tuned for announcements on the next lecture coming in 2017-18.

    -Written by Trish Palermo  
    (Continue Reading)February 23rd, 2017
  • America 2017: Photography by Trish Palermo

    After interviewing members of the Minneapolis community, Trish Palermo, UMN Junior and Human Rights Program Assistant, created the following project to reflect the candid emotion response to life in America 2017.

    "Recognize that when you say “life will go on” that’s not a reality for many. Do what you can to cope and move forward, but don’t tell other people they aren’t coping fast enough. Don’t tell people their fear is invalid. Do what you can to help. Listen to people. Use your voice. Show up and be an ally for the communities that are hurting." - Trish Palermo

    Link to full project here.
    (Continue Reading)February 7th, 2017
  • Third International Conference: Local Action in Response to Migration

    Current debates about migration throughout the Central American-Mexican-United States-Canada corridors require a reexamination of the topic from perspectives that include the effective protection of human, civil, labor, and political rights. We are compelled to take into account the voices that are counteracting violence against immigrants, promoting support programs, and generating better access to public services.

    To that end, the Human Rights Program (U of M) recently joined with Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla and the Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas in Mexico to host their third annual international conference, this time on the subject of local responses to migration. As new debates and trends in the local and national politics of social inclusion of migrant communities are being accompanied by the rise and consolidation of actions by civil society, including the artistic and intellectual community, the time is ripe for this interdisciplinary discussion aimed at examining the experiences arising from local action and responses to migration.

    Jill Anderson, an activist and researcher from Utah currently living in Mexico City, kicked off the conference with a keynote presentation on a project she has devoted her life to since 2012; Los Otros Dreamers. Focusing on mainly young people (high-school and college-age students), Los Otros Dreamers is a project dedicated to telling the stories of deportation, specifically of individuals who spent the majority of their lives in the United States only to be deported back to Mexico or who have chosen to return because of hardships faced in America. In words and photographs, the book that resulted from the project illustrates the struggle of immigration, deportation, and identity on the personal level of a bilingual community on the move, and the obstacles and injustices they have encountered on their journey to a better life.

    The project focuses on establishing advocacy, support, and a sense of community for undocumented individuals. Their belief in education, not criminalization is central to their cause. Los Otros Dreamers operates through providing networks of advocacy for youth affected by undocumented migration.
    In a panel on local action and actors in solidarity, Ana Melisa Pardo from Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México led with a presentation on non-governmental organizations involved with migratory action, drawing attention to instances where governments do not provide adequate support or resources for individuals involved with migration, prompting non-governmental organizations have to step in.

    Continuing the conference, individuals like the University of Minnesota’s Bianet Castellanos discussed the politics of race and recognition in indigenous migration, acknowledging the frequent displacement of indigenous peoples when countries go through colonization or government overthrow, leaving them without basic human rights and representation.

    Following up on the topic of representation, Jose Aguirre and Tim Frye, graduate students from the University of Minnesota discussed Latino radio in the Twin Cities and how important representation is in establishing a voice for marginalized groups.

    This idea of representation and advocacy draws attention to a different set of problems; individuals that are set back from their educational and professional pursuits due to lack of resources and unfair legal practices, put at risk their safety, mental health and sense of identity. Throughout the rest of the conference, the identity, health, and safety of undocumented immigrants was discussed.

    In his presentation “Unable to ‘Do No Harm’”, Anthony Jimenez, a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Minnesota discussed healthcare for immigrants in Texas. In 2010, the Affordable Care Act was passed with the intention of reducing the number of uninsured Americans regarding healthcare. However, this act does not apply to undocumented immigrants, and the instatement of this act has done more harm than good. According to Jimenez’s study, there are currently 373,000 undocumented immigrants in Texas, most of which do not have access to reliable healthcare. The reason for this, he examined, is that due to the Affordable Care Act, public health is being overshadowed by the private practice industry, which puts more people at risk by turning healthcare into a business instead of a lifesaving service. To combat this issue, Jimenez’s organization Justicia y Paz works to provide migrants with food, clothing, and basic healthcare.

    In concluding the conference, we marked the need for continued dialogue and engagement, especially as it relates to cross-discipline discussion and in fostering relationships between academic institutions, advocates, those individuals most significantly impacted by migration. The Program looks forward to continued engagement on these issues with our partners in Mexico and around the globe.

    ~Written by Selma Demirovich
    (Continue Reading)January 26th, 2017
  • Student Opinion: We Knew

    Thousands of people including leaders from all five campuses and 42 states urged the University of Minnesota to fire head football coach Tracy Claeys. 

    We asked the University to Fire Claeys in part because from the moment women entered the world, we were taught to feel guilty. We were told to cross our legs, to smile more, to speak softly, and to limit our opinions. We were warned what men will do to us if we put ourselves in a position to be taken advantage of. We were told to be smart is to live in fear.

    We came to college and the words, “1 in 4”, were echoed by our loved ones as they sent us off, given as warning during our freshman orientations, and plastered all over social media. One in four refers to the percentage of undergraduate University of Minnesota women who report being victims of sexual assault.

    Trying not to be among the 25%, we watched our cups at parties. We kept an eye on friends to make sure nobody took advantage. We put headphones in our ears, stared at the wall, and pretended we didn’t exist while alone on public transportation. We walked with pepper spray in hand, on constant alert, because we knew what might be shouted at us when we walk alone at night. We learned that the sound of elevated footsteps behind us is always accompanied with heightened fear.

    We knew 97% of rapists walk free, victim survivors are heavily criticized, and that often women and LGBTQ+ folk are viewed as prey before viewed as human.

    At college we fought hard for policies that support sexual assault survivors and educating about what it means to obtain consent. We faced every institutional barrier, but we kept fighting. The University of Minnesota heard us when we said, “1 in 4 is too high. We are doing something wrong.” We were proud when our school agreed to implement a policy that addresses hard conversations about rape culture. University policy finally insisted, “Just make sure I want to have sex with you.”

    Then we read the horrifying EEOA report on an incident involving repeated assault by a football team recruit up to 10 football team members. We read how man after man went into that room, as others watched and filmed as she pleaded for it to stop.

    We watched the Gophers we cheered for on chilly Saturdays stand in front of national television, “in solidarity with their brothers in an effort to make a better world”. We watched the team we supported with so much pride insist their participation in a football game would be of higher value to the university than our conduct code and our values.

    We watched Coach Claeys respond to the outcry of our campus in that he, “had never been more proud of his boys”. While due process is important, we heard nothing from him during the boycott about respecting women.

    We wondered why this man has to be the role model for young men at our University.

    We tried to explain that his apology doesn’t matter. We tried to tell our campus, state, and country that no football game is more important than the fact that 1 in 4 women are assaulted on college campuses. We tried to explain his tweet was tone deaf. He didn’t recognize this isn't about football anymore, but a battle we’ve been fighting for years. We tried to explain that after years of hard work, we are heading in the wrong direction, and the entire country is watching.

    We thank the University for their decision to fire Claeys, as one step toward fighting rape culture. To all the victim survivors, to all those who aren’t believed, to all who are dehumanized and objectified, to all those who are accused of “wanting it”, I am so sorry. This is a step forward, but we have a long way to go. The fight has just begun to reclaim the climate of our campus in the name of the security, safety, dignity, and respect for women and for all students.

    -Written by Trish Palermo
    (Continue Reading)January 20th, 2017
  • Los Ofendidos: Shedding Light on Human Rights Injustices in El Salvador

    This past fall, University of Minnesota Graduate student Paula Cuellar, presented a screening of “Los Ofendidos”, a film that covered topics of armed conflict and human rights abuses during the civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992. The screening was followed by a Q&A session with torture survivor Neris Gonzalez, who provided her own personal testimonies and recollections of the war.

    Though the military occupation of El Salvador ended in 1992, the fight for social justice is far from over. Los Ofendidos explained that the injustices suffered throughout this war were due to institutionalized violence coming from the rightist government. Many citizens who were considered leftists or a “threat to the government” were seized, held captive, and tortured by the Salvadoran National Guard.

    In essence, the Salvadoran civil war was a government-led attack against its own people. When the war ended, Guerilla forces met with the government and reached a peace deal. This deal ended the conflict and granted amnesty to perpetrators of violence on both sides. While this was central to ending the violence, it conveniently left voiceless the victims of these human rights injustices.

    Even today, the rhetoric of the government is focused on indirectly telling victims of this war to move past their trauma, Neris says. War survivors still living are told by their government that El Salvador has too many problems today to focus on events from 20 years ago. While it is true that El Salvador has problems even today, the dismissal of the crimes committed against innocent people has only furthered the violence. Military groups that were prevalent during the civil conflict have evolved into the gangs which continue to terrorize civilians and coerce the government into bending at their will.

    While the violence was contained to El Salvador, the war was an international affair. The government-led hate groups perpetrating this violence, mainly La Hacienda, or the Office of Financial Affairs, kept tabs on civilians thought to be “subversives”. To be a subversive meant to be committing acts against the government, which could include mobilizing other civilians in protest, teaching others how to read and count, and being a doctor injured people without making them compensate you. For teaching her neighbors how to read and count, Neris was held captive by the National Guard and tortured for two weeks before eventually being released. She has since devoted her life to seeking justice for the horrors committed against her and other victims of armed conflict.

    Fortunately, with mobilization and pressure from people like Neris, changes are being made. Two months ago, the 1992 Salvadoran amnesty act that protected and absolved war criminals and government leaders central to human rights injustices committed during the war was finally declared unconstitutional. This action is a huge step forward in the fight for justice. Bringing these injustices to light today creates a dialogue focused around the victims of torture, and finally gives the affected people the voice that was stolen from them.

    On April 4th, 2016, Neris was one of four plaintiffs that brought the two main leaders of violence, Carlos Eugenio Vides Casanova and José Guillermo Garcia, to justice. The generals were hiding out in the United States, and Neris and the other plaintiffs successfully got them deported to El Salvador where they will finally be brought to justice for perpetrating the violation of human rights. We are grateful to Neris for her visit to the University of Minnesota and to Paula for her continuing efforts in shedding light on these human rights violations in El Salvador.

    To learn more about Paula and the incredible work she is doing to help shed light on these injustices, please read this December 2016 article published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

    ~Written by Selma Demirovich
    (Continue Reading)January 13th, 2017
  • Student Opinion: Being Muslim At Minnesota

    This historic election cycle has brought about tremendous changes in America’s social climate. For many, it has been easy to ignore the hate and fear that has developed out of the reactions to the presidential campaign, but for refugees, people of color, Muslims, and the LGBTQ community, ignoring the problem is not an option. Hateful messages from the president elect’s campaign and the subsequent responses of his followers has instilled fear into the hearts of many members of marginalized communities, not only throughout the country but also on campus at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Since the beginning of the presidential campaign, several events targeting Muslim students and students of color have occurred on campus. A few members of the Muslim community on campus shared their thoughts on current campus climate.

    When prompted with the question, “how has the presidential campaign affected your life on and off campus?” Al-Madinah Cultural Center President ZamZam Yusuf responded saying “The day of the election my mom was telling me to watch out, say my prayers, don’t talk to anybody, and don’t tell anybody what you believe. But my mom doesn’t understand that I have no choice by the clothes I’m wearing and what I look like”. Many Muslim students share similar sentiment on campus, after several Islamaphobic events related to the presidential campaign surfaced on campus this semester. In November, an unidentified vandal painted the word “ISIS” over the Muslim Student Association’s panel on the Washington Ave Bridge. Events like this have created unease among many students belonging to various identities; refugee, Muslim, black, and LGBT, to name a few. Minority students on campus are not represented adequately within the University’s faculty and staff, and the University does not exceed or even meet expectations for protecting the diverse students it so claims to treasure.

    When asked his opinion on how he thinks President Kaler and the university administration could do better in addressing acts of hate towards minority groups on campus, Carlson student and Al-Madinah Cultural Center Historian Khalid Hammami answered with “I go to a Diversity Forum for Muslim Student Association every 2 weeks, and they sent a representative [from Office for Equity and Diversity] which I think is a good first step, but I want them to show their involvement, and I want them specifically to come and listen in and either set up a meeting themselves [which I think is their duty to do so]; set up a meeting to say “hey students, we want to hear your input” and I know Kaler is a busy guy but we have some pressing issues”.

    On the topic of making campus more inclusive, CLA student Shahd Abukhdeir made a excellent suggestion: “I think that they need to have workshops, honestly, to work with students of color or for people to teach students of color. I’ve been to panel discussions for incoming teachers with a panel of students of color where the teachers just asked us questions and all of us addressed the situation, and we also said that if there’s something going on in the Middle Eastern community for example, like don’t look to me to be an advocate for my entire community, because I can only speak for myself. But at the same time, don’t be scared to ask us questions. Just because you’re the teacher doesn’t mean you can’t be taught something”.

    Promoting an atmosphere of more speech, like Kaler suggested, is exactly what this university needs: more speech centering minority students to educate everyone for the benefit of our campus as a whole.

    ~Written by Selma Demirovich, with contributions by ZamZam Yusuf, Khalid Hammami, and Shahd Abukhdeir.

    (Continue Reading)January 13th, 2017
  • Graduate Student Engages in Policy, Advocacy for International Human Rights through Center for Victims of Torture

    This summer, through a partnership between the Humphrey School and the Center for Victims of Torture, I was fortunate enough to serve as the public policy intern in CVT’s policy office located in Washington DC. As a Master’s in Public Policy candidate and a minor in Human Rights student, this opportunity was an excellent way to fulfill my internship requirement for both programs and served as a way to get to know the work and policy efforts of this well-known and respected human rights organization even better. Growing up in Minneapolis and being interested in the field of human rights, I had heard about the great work that the Center or Victims of Torture is doing here in the Twin Cities as well as abroad through their programs both Africa and the Middle East. Learning more about this organization and its work in healing, training, advocacy, and research was a great personal and professional experience.

    While interning for the Policy Office of CVT located in Washington, DC over this past summer, I worked on a few different projects. The first was assisting CVT in the coordination of its annual Eclipse Award presentation and event. The Eclipse award is presented each year to an individual or organization that has played a crucial role in ending torture or in the treatment of torture survivors. For 2016, the award was presented to Juan Méndez, the current UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, in recognition of his devotion to the preservation of human rights, the prevention of torture, and the rehabilitation of survivors. As part of the award presentation and event, I was able to attend a meeting of CVT’s board of directors, a meeting of CVT’s national advisory council and hear Juan Mendez speak on current issues of torture today.

    Overall, through this experience I was able to learn more about the policy and advocacy efforts of international human rights organizations such as the Center for Victims of Torture and how important the work of CVT is within the field of torture awareness and prevention as well as survivor healing. I learned a great deal about the network of organizations that work on torture, refugee, and asylum issues, both in DC and in other places within the US and abroad, as well as their various niches and the ways in which they can effectively collaborate. Lastly, I was able to gain experience in research, my primary goal for the internship, as well as a greater understanding of my interests and the issues I care about within the field of human rights work. The experience was invaluable and I feel very fortunate that I was able to have the chance to work for such an excellent organization within the field of human rights work.

    In addition to this coordination and logistics project, I worked on a few other research projects for the organization. The first was research regarding the rhetoric of torture and more specifically the gathering of statements and remarks made regarding torture and enhanced interrogation techniques by prominent individuals in the United States over the past year. I also completed research on case examples where perpetrators of torture were held accountable and charged with the crime of torture. Lastly, I completed research of the Right to Rehabilitation discussed in Article 14 of the Convention Against Torture as well as the CAT Committee General Comment No. 3. The results of my research were compiled into reports or fact sheets for general use by the organization.

    Written by Alexandra Sevett, Master of Public Policy student, Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Interdisciplinary Graduate Minor in Human Rights
    (Continue Reading)December 1st, 2016
  • Students Engage in Discussion on Sustainability, Responsible Waste Management with University and Public Officials

    On Thursday, November 3 2016, Sustainability Education hosted their 7th Annual Sustainability Film Series, with this year’s feature film being “Trashed” by Candida Brady. Before the screening, Sean Connaughty, a professor of art at the University of Minnesota, accompanied by a student representative of the Weisman Art Museum presented their research on trash development around campus. Through collecting and tracing the origin of garbage from the east and west banks of the Mississippi river on campus, Sean and his group of students were able to find the largest sources of garbage in our area and addressed it through an art project that is still available for viewing outside the Weisman.

    Additionally, Kelly Kish, the city of Minneapolis’ Recycling Coordinator discussed the city’s new zero waste plan and how students can actively help in reducing their carbon footprint through mindful consumption, reusing plastic, and composting organic food waste.

    The film itself was about global effects of careless disposal of waste and how everyone can be a part of reversing the damage we have done to our planet. After the film, a Q&A session was held with Chris Goodwin from from Eureka Recycling; Frank Hornstein, a Minnesota State Representative and sponsor of zero waste legislation; and Erin Stevenson, U of M Recycling Coordinator at the Waste Management Program. The panelists answered questions about local actions to help clean up our environment, and took suggestions from students and audience members about how to make recycling and composting more accessible.

    Co-sponsored by the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, the Sustainability Film Series is an event designed to educate students and faculty about environmental issues that affect everyone and about how to protect resources in nature for generations to come.

    -Written by Selma Demirovich
    (Continue Reading)November 8th, 2016
  • UMN Interns spark policy direction for Children of Incarcerated Caregivers

    The Human Rights Program partners with a new non-profit, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers (CIC) to provide unique research focused internship opportunities to advanced undergraduate and graduate students. CIC is a Minneapolis-based non-profit devoted to local, national, and international issues as they pertain to the wellbeing of children whose parents become incarcerated. On top of this important issue CIC is devoted to giving students a unique opportunity to do in-depth research, network, and advocate for real policy change.

    The first group of CIC interns, of which I was a part in summer 2015, started their summer research focusing on prison nurseries. In fact, at that time the name of the organization was the “Prison Nursery Project.” While when a parent becomes incarcerated here in the United States it is customary for the parent to be separated from their child but this is not the norm internationally. In most of the world young children typically accompany their mothers to prison. Our summer research uncovered the ways in which this practice can be potentially positive or deleterious for such children. However, as we learned about prison nurseries we also realized that perhaps the scope of our research was too narrow for an organization focused on the wellbeing of children. At this point we expanded our scope to look at the consequences of parental incarceration when separation occurs, as well as different alternatives besides prison nurseries. Hence, Prison Nursery Project changed its name to Children of Incarcerated Caregivers.

    While much of CIC’s work is focused on U.S.-based issues, the organization also recognizes the value of a global perspective. CIC realizes that its dedication to human rights requires us not to remain ethnocentric, for we can learn much about both best and worst practices from looking to other countries. The experience of working with CIC has been exciting for me because of this global perspective as well as the opportunity to work autonomously, with guidance from the diverse and accomplished CIC board. Working with an organization through which I might be able to contribute to real changes in law and policy add even further to the experience. In the end, my cohort of student interns produced two separate reports, one focusing on the domestic issues of parental incarceration and the costs and benefits of existing alternatives. The second took a global approach and looked at prison nurseries around the world.

    In the summer of 2016 the second group of CIC interns began their internship with the intention of investigating the quality of visits between children and their incarcerated caregivers throughout the state. Just as my intern cohort did, the second group of interns was able to redirect the focus of their research based on their initial findings when they discovered a more pressing concern—how cumbersome the process of figuring out the logistics of visiting a parent might be. Thus the interns shifted focus, with two interns producing a report which analyzed the current state of visitation information on the websites of Minnesota jails and prisons. True to CIC’s commitment to an international perspective, a second set of interns also researched innovative visitation programs in other countries with the hope that we might be able to bring some of the most successful of these novel approaches into our own prisons and jails.

    The CIC internship program provides students with a unique experience getting to do autonomous research, produce reports, network with community leaders, and have a real impact on policy change. I am so glad to have had the opportunity to be a part of this partnership!

    -Written by Veronica Horowitz

    Top picture: Veronica Horowitz
    Bottom picture: 2016 CIC Interns Amy Cosimini, Dagmara Franczak, Damir Utržan, and Claire Hepworth (Not pictured: Brian Wilson).
    (Continue Reading)November 8th, 2016
  • Scribe for Human Rights Fellow Works to Support Local Latinx Immigrants

    Roy Guzman, a graduate student pursuing a Master of Fine Arts at the University of Minnesota, received the Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship this past summer. Working with Centro Campesino, a Southern Minnesota based nonprofit seeking to provide care and resources along with adequate housing for migrant farm workers, Roy examined the struggles of the working class in America and how Latinx immigrants are particularly affected.

    Roy ran a series of interviews during his fellowship, attempting to uncover the reasoning beyond the heightened disenfranchisement of these workers. Through these interviews he found the many systemic issues these communities face—landlords taking advantage of their tenants, issues of wage theft, minimal access to hot water, to name a few. These violations are all representative of those benefiting from individuals who have found themselves in the predicament of migration as their last gamble at survival, “While thousands see farm work as a viable opportunity to support their families, they are unacquainted with the cruel systems that await them.”

    Reflecting on his experience, Roy notes the harsh reality of the seemingly “lighter” injustices in the world that often go unnoticed and remain unquestioned, gradually turning systemic. In a recent talk at the interdisciplinary conference, “Local Actions in Response to Migration” at the University of Minnesota, he posed, “I wrestled with this conventional—and I would argue, misguided notion—that a person's human rights can only be breached in the most heinous way. What I learned through the people I interviewed is that human rights violations in the United States occur every day, but we lack the language, and often the courage, to call them human rights violations. We forget our roles as witnesses.”

    While impossible to articulate every angle, every nuance, every sense of avoidance or gravitation towards him during his interviews, Roy spoke of of the challenges in translating others’ oppression through their language, knowledge, and in a way, through their heightened fear and hesitation to be wholly honest with their experiences.

    Furthermore, Roy spent his summer examining the systemic causes relating to language fluency, inadequate health care, low-to-below poverty wages, and general lack of access and assistance. However, the systemic issues go far beyond mistreatment in the workplace. Roy spoke of the lack of representation in state and local politics, the parallels of immigrants being misinformed and misguided with whom and what to vote for, and the problematic nature of the most vulnerable communities viewing every issue through the eyes of those who have oppressed them. This problematic foundation excludes marginalized communities out of the major conversations happening in this country.

    While Roy saw this fellowship as an opportunity to raise awareness for the unfair treatment of migrant farm workers, he plans to expand his work by transforming his findings into his first poetry manuscript. He also wants to get this work published and share with others how difficult it becomes for citizens to participate in the American notion of democracy.

    -Written by Trish Palermo
    (Continue Reading)November 3rd, 2016
  • 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

    (Continue Reading)October 4th, 2016
  • 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.
    (Continue Reading)October 4th, 2016
  • 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.
    (Continue Reading)September 30th, 2016
  • Ohanessian Dialogues on Mass Atrocities and Their Aftermaths receives additional funding

    The Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies were recently awarded a second $150,000 two-year grant from the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation in support of the Ohanessian Dialogues on Mass Atrocities and Their Aftermaths, an initiative that began with the Foundation’s first award in 2014.

    From the mass killings of American Indian populations, the Armenian genocide of 1915, the Shoah, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Mayan killings in Guatemala, to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, mass atrocities have plagued every continent inhabited by humans. With the launch of the Ohanessian Dialogues in 2014, we aimed at contributing to the prevention of and recovery from such atrocities by raising public awareness and encouraging student involvement. The Ohanessian Dialogues draw on the rich community of human rights scholars and practitioners in the Twin Cities and further the reputation of this region as a leader in the study and prevention of mass atrocities.

    The signature conference of the Dialogues, “Genocide and its Aftermaths: Lessons from Rwanda” held in April 2014, marked the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, and brought together scholars, policy makers, NGO representatives, and survivors. The conference was coupled with a conference for undergraduate students and with a daylong workshop for K-16 educators. We followed these events with a series of activities in 2015 commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide and in 2016 we expanded the Dialogues to include contemporary instances of mass atrocities, including enforced disappearances.

    As documentation is the first step in preventing mass atrocities, we plan to spend these next two years of the Dialogues conducting a series of workshops, symposia and conferences organized around the theme of documenting mass atrocities. A team of students in Minnesota are already analyzing secondary sources of data related to disappearances in Mexico while students in Oxford and Mexico City through a separately funded initiative are work with human rights organizations in analyzing primary sources of information for the purpose of creating and Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity. We hope that a systematization of information will lead to strategic litigation and policy responses to counter the impunity that permits these atrocities to take place so consistently in Mexican society.

    While data collection and analysis is critical, we also recognize the need for representation and public awareness-raising through art. Accordingly, the Dialogues will offer a three-week course “Holocaust Art: History, Representation, Commemoration and Preservation” in spring 2017 which will be open to the public, public lectures, and an educator workshop. Around the same time, we will be hosting an international symposium on comparative genocide studies and the Holocaust. The symposium, which will include a workshop for K-12 educators, will address the particular place of Holocaust scholarship and commemoration in the U.S. and Western Europe, against the background of a new generation of scholars dedicated to the empirical study of mass violence in a variety of cases across the globe.  

    We are thrilled to have this opportunity to extend the Ohanessian Dialogues initiative. Through increasing public awareness, sound scholarship on root causes and remedies, and enhanced educational capacity that impacts a new generation, we hope to contribute to the prevention of and recovery from mass atrocities.

    (Continue Reading)September 30th, 2016
  • Human Rights Faculty awarded Grand Challenges Research Grant

    An interdisciplinary group of faculty working collaboratively on international human rights issues has received one of the highly competitive Grand Challenges grants to support a Human Rights Research Lab focused on reducing inequalities through applied research. The two-year award of $110,000 will support a space in which faculty and graduate students will investigate and model ways in which cutting edge research can be utilized more effectively with NGOs, communities, and policy makers toward the specific goal of reducing inequality and enhancing human rights.

    The grant enhances the University of Minnesota’s global reputation as the “Human Rights University,” a leading site of scholarship, teaching and outreach. With human rights faculty in several colleges and degree programs offered at both the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels, the University is well-placed to affect developments in the field. The University’s Master of Human Rights, a professional degree offered jointly by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Liberal Arts, is the first of its kind in the United States. An initial cohort of Master’s students began the two-year in September 2016. The Human Rights Center, founded in 1988 and housed at the Law School, works at the nexus of scholarship and advocacy, supporting a concentration in human rights for law students. The Law School also hosts clinics that provide human rights legal representation to victims and groups.

    The Human Rights Research lab will build upon the work of the existing interdisciplinary initiatives of the Human Rights Center and the Human Rights Program (based in the College of Liberal Arts), supporting faculty research, engaging students, and collaborating with civil society organizations at the local, national, and international levels.

    The Human Rights Research Lab will serve as an incubator for a set of human rights projects with the ultimate goal of enabling knowledge transfer to policy or advocacy settings. The range of research projects represents the broad spectrum of expertise across the faculty. The topics, with a central focus on inequality and discrimination, include: 

    • unequal political and legal access after mass violence and human rights violations
    • racial and gender discrimination in gun violence 
    • inequities in access and funding within the global human rights movement 
    • imbalances in symbolic representation of victims of atrocity 
    • gender inequality, focusing on the human rights of women or girls in low- and middle-income countries 
    • perceived inequalities in judicial treatment 
    • discriminatory impacts of tobacco marketing 
    • equal access to justice for refugees 
    • impunity for disappearances in Mexico, and 
    • legal duty-based solutions to human rights problems.
    Professor Joachim Savelsberg noted, “This grant will allow us to create the institutional infrastructure to incentivize and sustain existing collaborative relationships between faculties. This will help with the recruitment of students, and it will be a catalyst for further external funding.”

    According to Human Rights Program Director, Barbara Frey, “the Human Rights Lab is a great way to leverage the human rights faculty’s expertise, allowing us to address in a more direct way the serious inequities that face us locally, nationally and globally.”

    The Principal Investigators on the grant are Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Law, Director of Human Rights Center); Senior Lecturer, Barbara Frey (Global Studies, Director of Human Rights Program); Professor James Ron (Political Science and Humphrey); Professor Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology and Ohanessian Chair). Additional collaborators include: Professors Alejandro Baer (Sociology, Director of Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies); Elizabeth Heger Boyle (Sociology); Greta Friedemann-Sánchez (Humphrey); Jennifer Green (Law); Catherine Guisan (Political Science); Lisa Hilbink (Political Science); Harry Lando (Public Health); Steven Miles (Medicine); Stephen Meili (Law); Leigh Payne (Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Program); Christopher Roberts (Law); and Cheryl Robertson (Nursing).

    For more information about this initial round of Grand Challenges Research grants, visit the Driving Tomorrow website

    (Continue Reading)September 30th, 2016
  • Local Action in Response to Migration: Sept 21-23

    Next week, the Human Rights Program welcomes to campus Jill Anderson, co-author of Los Otros Dreamers, a community-published anthology of stories and photos about the experience of twenty-six youth returning or being deported to Mexico after having grown up int he United States. Jill will make a public keynote presentation about the anthology and broader project on Wednesday, September 21, 7 pm at the McNamara Alumni Center (A.I. Johnson Great Room) on the East Bank of campus. A reception open to all will precede the keynote, beginning at 5:30 pm.
    Anderson's keynote address kicks off a two-day conference exploring the new debates being generated from the migratory panorama of the Central American-Mexican-United States-Canada corridors. The "Third International Conference of the Local Action in Response to Migration Network" will be held on Thursday and Friday, September 22-23 in 101 Walter Library. Many of the presentations will be made in Spanish and will be noted as such on the full schedule. Abbreviated schedule below.

    Thursday, September 22
    Location: 101 Walter Library (East Bank), 117 Pleasant Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

    10:00 AM - Actores Solidarios / Actors in Solidarity, Local Actions
    11:30 AM

    11:45 AM - Movimientos Migratorios: Luchas y Desafios / Migratory
    1:00 PM      Movements: Struggles and Challenges

    2:15 PM -   Lo Audible y Lo Visible / That Which is Head and That
    3:30 PM     Which is Seen

    3:45 PM -  Acciones Locales en Minnesota / Minnesota
    5:00 PM     Responses to Migration

    7:00 PM -   Film Screening: Comprometidos / We Are In It
    9:00 PM

    Friday, September 23
    Location: 101 Walter Library (East Bank), 117 Pleasant Street SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455

    9:00 AM -  Vulnerabilidades, Crisis y Desarrollo / Vulnerabilities,
    10:30 AM   Crisis and Development

    10:45 AM - Migrantes, Derechos Humanos y Salud / Migrants,
    12:00 PM    Human Rights and Health

    1:30 PM -   Arte, Memoria y Trauma / Art, Memory and Trauma
    3:15 PM

    3:15 PM     Concluding Remarks

    The keynote and conference are free and open to the public.

    Conference is hosted by the Human Rights Program, Hispanic Issues Online, Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, and Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas.

    Co-sponsors include: The Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair, Institute for Global Studies, Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Department of Chicano & Latino Studies, Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies, Immigration History Research Center, Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change
    (Continue Reading)September 15th, 2016
  • Human Rights Initiative Faculty Research Funds Available

    We are pleased to announce a call for proposals for faculty research projects that are designed to advance the study and protection of human rights. The Human Rights Initiative (HRI), a joint initiative of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and College of Liberal Arts, has received recurring funds from the Provost's office to support up to $140,000 each year in faculty-led interdisciplinary human rights research. The HRI seeks to support research that significantly impacts the grand challenges in human rights today.

    The HRI calls on faculty from the University of Minnesota to submit, by October 31, 2016, one-year funding proposals for grants between $10,000 and $50,000 that promote the scholarly and artistic activities of the faculty and their graduate students and that foster academic excellence in the field of human rights at the global and local levels. As a general rule, the Human Rights Initiative is seeking proposals from researchers willing to write, produce or perform the results of their research in human rights terms. Thus, applicants must explain how their proposed research connects with recognized human rights debates, issues, treaties, processes or activities.

    The HRI encourages proposals that use an interdisciplinary research approach and that engage with external partners. Successful proposals will also include a plan to extend the research results to non-specialist audiences, including communities and the broader public; human rights activists and practitioners; and policy makers.

    For complete details including criteria, eligibility, and application guidelines, please see HRI Research Fund Call for Proposals.

    (Continue Reading)August 25th, 2016
  • Paula Cuellar, Human Rights Minor, recognized, supported in her dissertation research

    Paula Cuellar Cuellar, Ph.D candidate in history and Human Rights Minor, has recently been awarded three prestigious awards for her human rights scholarship, from the Hawkinson Foundation Scholarship, the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, and the American Association of University Women International.

    Paula's dissertation focuses on the scorched earth campaigns used during the civil wars in Guatemala and El Salvador. With particular attention on the effects on women and girls, she aims to understand the situation as that of a genocide. This is bold, because contemporary international law normally defines such campaigns on the grounds of race, ethnicity, and religion.

    Nevertheless, Paula believes this to have been the case. She claims that the definition misses the mark, for it puts too much emphasis on fitting people into a narrow list of "acceptable" group identities and not enough on the form of violations that the perpetrators carry out. Her work, therefore, aims to better document the situation and its effects to increase our understanding of the situation and build a case around an argument for such a classification. Her dissertation is furthermore unique for its combination of explanatory and normative arguments around human rights within the discipline of history.

    Her research on this important topic would not be possible without the generous support of donors, such as those from the Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation. Founded in 1988, the Hawkinson Foundation "encourages and inspires the next generation of peace and justice leaders." Competitively-based, the scholarship is awarded each year to students across the upper Midwest who demonstrate a commitment to peace and justice as a way to support their studies. As a Hawkinson Foundation Scholar, Paula has been recognized for her impressive scholarship and contributions to the academic community as a whole. 

    Similarly, the Shoah Foundation's Institute for Visual History and Education supports graduate fellows who are conducting advanced research on topics related to genocide. As the 2016-2017 Center for Advanced Genocide Research Fellow, Paula will be one of the first people with access to the Foundation's newest testimonies of Guatemalan Genocide survivors--an honor for her. She will conduct research from August to September 2016 and give a public talk on her work, which will allow her to further strengthen her analysis and receive additional input from scholars and practitioners.

    Moreover, Paula has been awarded an International Fellowship from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) to support her research. Aiming at empowering women in academia, AAUW is recognizing her substantial contributions to understanding violence against women and girls and how reparation measures can be better applied to fit their needs. Her awarding is momentous, they recognize, as she is the first Salvadorean to win an AAUW fellowship.

    Her current research is the culmination of many years of schooling. Paula received an LL.B. Degree from the Central American University José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador (El Salvador), a Master's Degree in Human Rights and Education for Peace from the University of El Salvador, and a Master's Degree in Human Rights and Democratization Processes from the University of Chile. She also holds an LL.M. degree in International Human Rights Law from Notre Dame.

    Congratulations Paula!
    (Continue Reading)July 20th, 2016
  • Call for Papers/Convocatoria de Ponencias

    Third International Conference of the "Local Action in Response to Migration" Network

    With the conference just four months away, the academic bodies comprising the third international conference are seeking interested and relevant persons and institutions to submit papers for presentation.

    This two-day conference is designed to share the experiences arising from local action with regard to migration. It will support the examination of key efforts in response to migration and migrants in the framework of the most recent challenges to the dynamics in the movement of peoples that unite Mesoamerica and North America as well as their transnational effects.

    For those interested in presenting their findings or investigative work, the substantive focus should be on one of the following two topics:

    • Migration and human rights, or
    • Migration and testimonial/artistic/cultural practices

    Proposals must be submitted before June 15th, 2016, to the Human Rights Program email ( with the following information:

    • Title of paper/presentation
    • Sub-topic to which it corresponds
    • Name of author(s)
    • Affiliated institutions
    • Email address of author(s)
    • Abstract (Maximum of 200 words)
    • Curriculum vitae (Maximum of a half page for each author)

    Presentations may be submitted in English or Spanish.

    For more details in English, click here.

    Para más detalles en español, haga click aquí
    (Continue Reading)May 6th, 2016
  • University of Minnesota Hosts Black Feminism Cornerstone Event

    Sponsored by the Winton Chair in the College of the Liberal Arts, this three-day event was made possible by the efforts of black feminists who sought to bring greater awareness to black cultural life and politics through poetry and performance. Using voice, storytelling, and deep collaboration, these artists, scholars, and intellectuals invigorate the meaning and practice of community. In the era of Black Lives Matter, the intensive Cornerstone event examined how black feminist queer existence and influence informs current practices and life by centering love, realness and each other. By incorporating art, discussion, interactive presentations, oral histories and singing, the conference entitled, Learning to Breathe: Black Feminism, Performative Pedagogies, and Creative Praxis, exuded creativity, innovation, and celebration. Here is an insight into just a few of the inspiring events:

    Thursday’s schedule kicked off with Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs, a self-described feminist, storyteller, poet, historian, archaeologist, and artist--a “renaissance women,” if you will. Her event, titled “Love is Life Force,” invited the audience to take part in an interactive discussion around black feminism and its present position. Attendees were introduced to such leading black women as Harriet Tubman, Toni Cade Bambara, and Essex Hemphill, learning through the influence they have throughout time and space on black imagery.

    Moving into theater and the arts, the founders of MaMa mOsAiC Theater in Minneapolis, Shá Cage and Signe Harriday, discussed their collaborative efforts in forming the theater and the bold moves they made. In an effort to bring attention to the marginalized, their theater work often focuses on women of color and their position in the arts as a way to break down the roles that have traditionally suppressed them and limited their success. Their dialogue set the stage for the community performance to follow, The Blacker the Berry.

    Combining various pieces into a whole, The Blacker the Berry featured eight different original pieces created through “radical collaborative” workshops of local black female artists. Many different generations were represented on stage, but the vast majority of the women were young and nearly all were performing for their first time with MaMa mOsAiC. Hip-hop, traditional African music, poetic text, symbolic movement and voguing were just some of the mediums used to make visible the rich but often marginalized stories of black women and black queer culture.

    Andrea Jenkins, who performed an autobiographical poem in The Blacker the Berry about coming to terms with her identity as a black trans woman, also served as the keynote earlier in the programming. Titled The “T” Is Not Silent, the goal of her talk was to raise further awareness to the tensions of trans identities in black queer feminist discourse. Jenkins is a local leader and voice for the Minnesota black trans community, taking the time to highlight the intersectionality of black feminism and black queer/trans identity in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

    There were many more events that shed light on the work being done in the arts around feminism and Black Culture. The Winton Chair sponsors events like Learning to Breathe as a way to provide space for individuals to “question established patterns of thought.” Three to five days long, cornerstone events support the campus visits of exceptionally innovative individuals or groups of scholars and artists without regard for traditional conceptions of discipline or medium. Keeping with the Winton Chair’s mission, these visits aim to catalyze new intellectual relationships within and among College of Liberal Arts, the University, and the broader community. Cornerstone visitors are encouraged to think outside conventional forms of academic presentation and pedagogy.

    -Written by Amanda Kruger and Daniel Sbriglio
    (Continue Reading)May 5th, 2016
  • Black Lives Matter and Social Justice

    African American writer James Baldwin once noted, “to be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.” Baldwin’s words continue to echo in American society today, where racial inequality has yet to substantially dissipate.  Despite the victories in Brown vs Board of Education, the Voting Rights Act, and the Fair Housing Act, schools and neighborhoods are re-segregating, and elements of the Voting Rights Act were recently stripped of substantial power. Forty-two percent of black children are educated in high-poverty schools. The unemployment rate for black high-school dropouts is 47% (for white high-school dropouts it is 26%). Black people constitute just 13.2% of the US population, yet they account for 37% of the homeless. One in every 13 African Americans of voting age is disenfranchised because of a felony conviction – a rate more than four times greater than the rest of the US population. Moreover, African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million people in jail and are incarcerated nearly six times as often as white people.

    Following the trial of George Zimmerman in July of 2013, a number of incidents of police brutality reached heightened levels of publicity across the United States.  George Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford Florida, who shot a 17-year-old African American named Trayvon Martin the previous year.  Martin was unarmed and Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder and acquitted for manslaughter by a Florida jury, triggering an explosion of activism in the months that followed. Shortly thereafter, writer and activist Alicia Garza of Oakland, California logged on to her social media, posting a message concerning the trial, ending her post with “black people. I love you. I love us. Our lives matter.” Her friends shared this post, which began circulating on social media, where the hashtag #blacklivesmatter began to emerge. In the following days, Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi began to formulate ideas around organizing a campaign to fight police brutality.

    On August of 2014, 18-year old, African American Michael Brown was shot by a white police officer in Ferguson Missouri.  Similar to the Zimmerman case, Brown was unarmed. Massive protests ensued in the city, in which police officers arrived in riot gear to quell the unrest.  By this point, #blacklivesmatter began to permeate the posters and banners as well as the chants of people in the streets of Ferguson. Following the deaths of more young black and unarmed men, the phrase surfaced time and time again in the public sphere, specifically by political leaders and in pop culture. The organization founded by Garza and others of the same name now has over 26 Black Lives Matter chapters in the country, including in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and has been the leading voice in what has been dubbed the new civil rights movement of the era.

    This movement spurred the creation of a database called Mapping Police Violence, designed to collect statistical information on police killing and violence in the United States, focusing on black deaths. This research claims that at least 1,149 people were killed by police in 2014 and 26% of those were black. “In March 2015, 36 black people were killed by police – one every 21 hours, and a 71 percent hike in numbers from the previous month.”

    This movement utilizes local communities that seek to include women and queer individuals. However, the movement has also been criticized for the lack of a central or charismatic leadership. Yet, younger activists claim their strategy to incorporate individual agency into wide grass-roots actions is more effective. Part of the movement’s visibility can also be traced to the importance of social media, which is used disproportionately by young black Americans. Approximately 96% of African American Internet users between 18-29 are on social media.  According to Todd Wolfson, the author of Digital Rebellion: The Birth of the Cyber Left, social media has become crucial to the grassroots power of these sorts of movements. “The Cyber Left is about flattening hierarchies, flattening governance processes, combined with using the logic of social networks for deep consensus building.” Despite the effective use of social media as a tool for documentation and shaming, some activists fear its potential to divert attention from long-lasting policy change. They are also growing frustrated with the appropriate of the hashtag or groups who seek to counter the movement, such as “All Lives Matter.”

    One must not confuse BLM the organization with BLM the broader movement comprised of a number of different organizations across the country (Coalition Against Police Violence, Black Youth Project 100 etc.), which maintain a sense solidarity through social media platforms. Moreover, activists are using social media to highlight the inconsistencies and contradictions between police findings and eyewitness accounts, demanding, and in some cases achieving greater accountability. BLM the movement has effectively employed different tactics from “die-ins,” voting drives and rallies across the United States.  The movement has even warranted the attention of President Obama, who met with its leaders in the Oval Office in February of this year. The issue has also played a crucial role in debates between the democratic candidates on the campaign trail.    

     In May of 2015, the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing released a comprehensive report, which laid out suggestions for best policing practices to improve trust among law enforcement officers and the communities they serve. According to an Associated Press analysis released in late July, 24 states have passed at least 40 new measures following the events as Ferguson. These measures include issues regarding officer-worn cameras, training about racial bias, independent investigations when police use force and new limits on the flow of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies.

    The local Minneapolis chapter of the Black Lives Matter organization has received national attention for their incredible organizing and community work within the city and surrounding Metro area. On the busiest weekend before Christmas, it organized a protest at the biggest shopping center in the country, Mall of America. Protesters attended despite intimidation tactics being used to scare organizers from holding the protest. But the most well-known example of BLM Minneapolis organizing would be the 4th Precinct occupation following the murder of Jamar Clark on November 15th, 2015 by the Minneapolis Police Department. The occupation was sustained by mainly young, queer, black youth from the Metro area and lasted for 18 days before police moved in. Many people in Minnesota and even across the United States were confused following the rise of Black Lives Matter and many did not quite understand what the movement was trying to accomplish and saw it as a branch of ‘Black Power’. Black Lives Matter is a reaffirmation that black lives DO indeed matter despite destructive practices, including white supremacy, institutional racism and police brutality. Black Lives Matter seeks to change the narrative and create understanding that black lives are just as important as the lives of everyone else in this country.

    -Written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi and Sara Osman
    (Continue Reading)May 5th, 2016
  • Graduate Students Take Part in Semester-Long Simulated Advocacy around Racial Justice

    The human rights movement has a stake in every part of society. While we often emphasize its global or transnational dimensions, the ways in which human rights are promoted and protected locally and nationally are just as important, for they underscore what advancements we can and must all make in our very own communities. With this in mind, it is worthwhile to consider one particular group’s experience in studying racial justice in the Twin Cities. This is their story:

    Under the guidance of Program Director Barb Frey, a team of 15 dedicated graduate students took part in a human rights advocacy seminar this past semester, working on a case study aimed at bringing greater awareness and support to the local Black Lives Matter movement. The class, equipped with a diverse set of skills and experiences, tasked itself with addressing the problem of police discrimination against the African-American community.  The students first immersed themselves in learning about the scope and nature of human rights violations related to policing in the Black community.  The group took into account the formation and history of the Black Lives Movement and considered how they, as human rights advocates, could play a positive role in eliminating excessive use of force against black communities. The shooting of Jamar Clark, a young African-American man, by two white police officers, provided them with a specific case to examine.

    Ethnically and nationally diverse, the class began the semester aware of the fact that none of them had walked in the shoes of the African-Americans living in North Minneapolis. To gain a better perspective, the class reached out to different groups in the community, including the Black Liberation Project, staff members of the Robert Jones Urban Research and Outreach Center of UMN (located adjacent to the 4th precinct police station), and community leaders, including Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds, President of Minnesota’s NAACP, and Don Samuels, North Minneapolis resident and member of the city’s School Board. It was from this outreach and consultation that the students began to understand their role in the movement as researchers, as facilitators, and as auditors.

    While the first part of the class was dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the situation, the next step was putting into practice what they had learned. Forming a simulated non-profit organization, “Sonder,” (a word that has been defined as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own”), the class split into three groups, each of which worked to form a draft proposal that for review and simulated funding pitch to a foundation program officer.

    The first group understood that, to make effective change, the movement must have a source of data to support their claims, which to this point does not exist. Their proposal, therefore, was to begin a pilot program to document and study fatal police office shootings in the local community—a three fold project. First, they sought to create a reliable and replicable model for collecting data on the facts surrounding police shootings that result in a death, as well as the procedures the followed and the ensuing investigations Second, they aimed to identify, through direct engagement, the local community’s expectations regarding policing and investigative procedures. Finally, using the information they have gathered, they believed it vital to construct a searchable database of the recommendations and investigative procedures associated with fatal, police-officer-involved shootings.

    The second team, in comparison, emphasized the social dimension of the movement and sought to begin a reconciliation project. Titled “Bridge,” the goal of their proposal was to bring together the law enforcement and black communities of North Minneapolis to foster a better relationship and to dismantle dangerous norms, perceptions, and mistrusts that have developed over the decades. A community-driven program, this group believed that they would best serve as a facilitator of weekly discussions, beginning a series of positive interactions centered on education, partnership, and collaboration. 

    The final group worked to leverage their contacts with transnational actors to bring added scrutiny to U.S. police investigations.  Thus, the “Minnesota Protocol in the United States project” provided directly to the research and recommendation process of bringing the United States—and by extension Minnesota and Minneapolis—into compliance with The Minnesota Protocol: a set international human rights standards for the investigation of extrajudicial killings and deaths in police custody. These guidelines were created by the local NGO, The Advocates for Human Rights, and have seen much success around the world in measuring the adequacy of investigation procedures in potentially unlawful killings.

    As the semester came to a close, it was time for the students to put their proposals and weeks-long research and investigations into practice through a simulated funding proposal process. Each team met with visiting expert Mark Lindberg, University of Minnesota alumnus and Director of the Relief, Recovery, and Development Branch of the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, who played the role of the Ford Foundation program officer.  Mr. Lindberg led each team through an examination of their programmatic ideas through a series of questions touching on their capacity, their philosophy, partnerships, and projected deliverables.

    The semester project made an impact on those involved. As one student noted, “We have gained a better insight into the ways in which Black Lives Matter not only has created change in our local community but also has brought about a greater awareness of the many important dimensions of the issue that must be addressed.” While each individual in the course spent much of their time working in a single group on a single aspect of police brutality, they perhaps most importantly learned that the effective promotion of human rights requires pressure from all directions.  Successful advocacy includes facilitating discussions, building a collective vision, reviewing laws, policies and procedures, gathering adequate information, collaborating with affected communities and other actors, and leveraging for change based on our strengths and assets. 

    This class has planted some seeds for positive change in human rights-based policing in African-American communities.  Everyone involved now understands better the challenges facing the Black Lives Movement and has some new ideas and motivations for solidarity with it.
    (Continue Reading)May 5th, 2016
  • Undergraduates, Graduates/Professionals Lauded for their Achievements at the 6th Annual Human Rights Awards

    With tremendous fanfare, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) hosted on April 22nd their 6th annual Human Rights Awards ceremony. It was a time of celebration and festivity as the spotlight was turned to the students and their exceptional achievements in studying and promoting human rights. 

    “I’ve been at many universities in my career, explained Professor James Ron, “but this is the only one with a complete human rights orientation.” A human rights scholar at the Humphrey School, Professor Ron took the opportunity as the keynote speaker to highlight the development of human rights research and scholarship and its position at the university. As his remarks spanned his early work as a researcher at Human Rights Watch to his academic research now, Ron emphasized the growing presence and standardization of human rights in the world and the leading role that the University of Minnesota continues to play. His opening remarks set the scene for the rest of the program as a platform to recognize the recent and upcoming work of students in human rights.

    CHGS announced its 2016-2017 Bernard and Fern Badzin Fellow: Miray Philips. Awarded to a PhD student in the College of Liberal Arts, the fellowship aims to support students whose doctoral dissertation project centers around Holocaust and/or genocide studies. A PhD student in sociology, Miray’s research is grounded in theories of collective memory and cultural trauma and focuses on the ways in which Copts in Egypt interpret their history of suffering and martyrdom in light of present-day suffering.

    The Human Rights Program, too, announced its Scribe for Human Rights for the 2016-2017 school year: Roy Guzmán. Roy is a Master of Fine Arts candidate, and he will use his position over the summer and into the fall to write about the plight of migrant farm workers and the unjust conditions they endure in the workplace. He will partner with the Centro Campesino in Owatonna, Minnesota and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida to conduct research on migrants’ access to resources and adequate housing, as well as their efforts in protesting for fairer wages. At the end of this project, he will share testimonials and poetry inspired by the workers as a way to facilitate greater discussion around these human rights issues.

    The ceremony recognized the incoming research fellows for the local non-profit, Children of Incarcerated Caregivers: Amy Hill Cosimini, Claire Hepworth, Mariia Prokhorova, Damir Utrzan, and Brian Wilson. Children of Incarcerated Caregivers conducts research on the detrimental, often-overlooked role that the criminal justice system can play on children, advocating for alternative sentencing options for children’s primary caregivers to promote better development for the children. The new fellows will join a team of dedicated lawyers, scholars, and activists this summer to continue the organization’s goals.

    The Program also took the chance to announce the undergraduate and graduate students who will receive funding for a summer human-rights-related internship: Gabrielle Clowdus, Kayla Goldfarb, Sara Osman, Marine Phelps, and Trish Palermo. From their positions at the local Advocates for Human Rights to their assistance at World Housing in Vancouver, British Columbia, students are being proactive in gaining hands-on experience in promoting human rights, and the Human Rights Program is proud to support their amazing efforts. 

    The luncheon also highlighted the accomplishments of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board. The Advisory Board was involved in many events and campaigns this past year. It recognized International Human Rights Day in December with a booth-style fair by asking participants what human rights means to them as a way to bringing greater awareness to the many advancements made and issues facing the global human rights movement. It also organized a performing arts event to commemorate International Women’s Day on March 8th, and it took part in Earth Day, too. Recognized members include Mariah Berner, Laura Dahl, Raisa Elhadi, Libby Herrmann, Rachel Kosse, Amanda Kruger, Catherine Larsen, Rebecca Lieser, Abigail Meyer, Daniel Sbriglio, and Kayla Song.

    Of course, the celebration could not come to a close without announcing the annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award winners. Given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet-era Jewish refusenik repeatedly denied a visa for cancer treatment in the US, and Lisa Paul, a University of Minnesota alumna who fought on her behalf, the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award recognizes an undergraduate student who represents a true commitment to human rights. Anant Naik, the 2016 awardee, truly embodies this spirit. Through his work in Engineers Without Borders, Anant led initiatives to maximize the right to clean water in rural Bolivia through a service-based trip last year; he plans to continue to fight for human rights as he seeks a career in the medical field.

    The Sullivan Ballou Award, named after Major Sullivan Ballou of the US Civil War, celebrates those who act from the heart—those who provide compassion, services, and advocacy in their communities through their actions, words, or presence. The 2016 awardee, Ricardo Bennett Guzman, has dedicated himself to human rights through his career as a photographer, filmmaker, and digital media artist. He has organized and created, for example, short films and galleries that bring to life the stories and struggles of migrants to the United States, torture victims during the War on Terror, and Palestinian of war-torn Gaza.

    The terrific student workers we have had for the past two-and-a-half years at the Human Rights Program, Cameron Mailhot and Marie-Christine Ghreichi, were also recognized at the celebration.  We have benefited from their stellar work on the newsletter, supporting conferences and special events and providing research for the Program’s many projects.  We wish them great success in their next adventures – Cameron, as a PhD student in Political Science at Cornell University, and Marie-Christine as a Sullivan scholar studying in Lebanon.  Onward!

    We commend all the students who have been recognized for their work in promoting, studying, and protecting human rights on campus, in the local community, and abroad. We look forward to their successes and contributions in the future.
    (Continue Reading)May 5th, 2016
  • PhD Candidate discusses narcotics and drug violence in Latin America

    On April 21, Marie Jose Mendez Gutierrez, a PhD. candidate from the Political Science department presented her research regarding “Narcocorridos” and drug war violence in Latin America at the biweekly Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies workshop. This portion of her dissertation explores the violence in Central America and Mexico through what she calls Narco culture. This realm consists of art, songs, and literature, which carry the political consciousness of Latin America.  Previously, these spaces were largely dominated by the language of repression and autocratic rule, where as now, drug trafficking permeates such forms.

    Gutierrez focused on Narcocorridos, a folk storytelling style of music, which originated during the US invasion of Mexico.  Since the 1970s, these songs have expressed stories of the drug war, striving to create a counter narrative. Due to the increasingly hostile environment for investigative journalists, who are constantly under threat in the current political climate, these narratives express the texture of ordinary people’s lives and their stories.  The Narcocorridos have however, been accused of glorifying the lives of traffickers and subsequently, have been banned from radio and public performances in some states, despite their growing popularity. These songs frequently top latin music charts, also dominating playlists in cities in the US and in Latin America.

    Gutierrez noted the old-fashioned style of the music, often mocked by her high school friends for its association with “common people.” Educated, upper-middle class Mexicans are horrified to see a once “noble” art form corrupted by its association with what they considered uncivilized in society. Yet, she highlights how these songs bring bodies together in various sectors of society in what she calls the “geography of intimacy,” which illustrates a common experience of many people living in Latin America. She finds we can glean a number of insights into the dynamics of power in the region when dissecting these songs. 

    The Narcocorridos direct our gaze to the bloody landscape of massacres, which are condemned by the Church and various parties who believe this style creates a culture of death. However, for students of the drug war, these songs present a street level portrait of violence in Central America. Gutierrez further characterized these songs, which are often released within hours of major massacres. Oddly, these songs are crafted in a non-sensationalist way, lacking any sort of melodramatic heightening we see in other fear inducing spaces, such as mass media. Their nonchalant tone serves as a manifestation of how individuals interrelate and live in society, rather than offering an image of isolated acts of violence that disturb the social order.

    Beyond issues of violence, the Narcocorridos highlight the “silent voice of hunger” and exploitation of agrarian economies. Gutierrez cites the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s as a major source of suffering for individuals in the Global South as private protections were eliminated. Moreover, the emergence of NAFTA enabled the influx of heavily subsidized corn into Latin America, devastating landless farmers and pushing them to turn to drugs or to “change the seed” as an alternative means of survival.

    Gutierrez emphasized that violence is typically associated with a clandestine realm of society. However, these songs do not present individuals in the drug trade as scandalous, but rather as part of the larger neoliberal structure.  Rather than viewing the drug trade as an aberration, these individuals are simply producing another commodity for the system, which relies on the extraction of mental and physical rigors of these bodies.  The state is often guilty of reducing these individuals to categories of pathological sadism.  Conversely, in Narcocorridos this sort of work is marked by intention and specialization, therefore demonstrating what she sees as the violence of capitalism.

    Gutierrez also touched upon what she called the  “percussive sounds” of violence. Violent acts project beyond the moment of impact.  They resound into the future in less immediate and sensationally visible ways. These songs therefore, discuss the war on drugs but also the war on agrarian production.  The Narcocorridos have documented these developments since the 1980s and the aerial crop fugmation campaigns, in which the peasant farmer endures the most destructive consequences.  She explores the Colombian case in particular, where civilians did not experience the effects of repression immediately. Toxic rain, pesticides and hunger prove to be just as devastating as the drug violence.   In these regard, we see a direct connection between state repression of bodies through physical violence and progressive and repercussive destruction of bodies through fumigation policies. Different songs in this genre challenges state policies, demonstrating how violence can be dispersed across time and space.

    Gutierrez ended her discussion with an allusion to the corruption of these Narcocorridos. Before such songs were designed to be the voice of the voiceless.  Today they have been commodified and sold to society, particularly in a gendered way perpetuating patriarchal norms. Some are even commissioned by high level drug capitalists, who possess the capacity to silence others. Nevertheless, she finds these songs have the potential to call to our attention the complexity of the drug war and the violence associated with it.

    (Continue Reading)May 4th, 2016
  • Human Rights and Memory in Post-Franco Spain

    How has Spain addressed its history of grave human rights abuses under the Franco Regime? In which ways does the memory of these atrocities affect present-day society and politics?

    On February 25, 2016, Ofelia Ferrán of Spanish and Portuguese and Lisa Hilbink of Political science presented findings in their forthcoming book, Legacies of Violence in Contemporary Spain: Exhuming the Past, Understanding the Present, at the biweekly Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies workshop. 

    This comprehensive and interdisciplinary study brings together contributions from history, political science, literary and cultural studies, forensic and cultural anthropology, international human rights law, sociology, and art to unpack the various legacies of the Franco era in Spain, specifically focusing on the exhumations of mass graves from the Spanish civil war until regime’s demise. 

    Both Hilbink and Ferrán began with the historical context, outlining the political atmosphere following the Spanish civil war in which Franco institutionalized fear through violence as a means of controlling society.  This sort of state control manifested itself in acts of forced removal, exile, incarceration, kidnapping, torture and summary execution. Their research puts civilian deaths during and after the war somewhere around 170,000, with approximately 500,000 incarcerated and 500,000 exiled. However, these numbers remain contentious in Spain today. A group of mass graves function as another legacy of this authoritarian phase in Spanish history. Uncovering these crimes has been incredibly controversial in modern Spain, due in part to the nature of its transition to democracy.  This period was characterized by an attempt to repress the past in order to build a new democratic system through a sort of “pact of silence.” Moreover, an amnesty law was passed in 1977, prohibiting any Franco-era crime from going on trial.

    The early 2000s have witnessed the emergence of movements dedicated to recovering historical memory through the work of grass-roots cultural organizations to exhume mass graves. These movements have used literature from both the Holocaust and various episodes of genocidal violence to discuss the Franco period, even employing the language of “the disappeared” for the victims, reminiscent of political violence in Latin America. The Law of Historical Memory in 2007 was passed to extend broader reparations and instituted official policies to fund exhumations, create research and documentation of repression, remove certain insignias and street names, and reverse auction sentences from the Franco regime. Members of the historical memory movement found the law to be too timid, partially because it does not annul Franco verdicts and did not hold the central government accountable for the exhumation process. Consequently, the movement has turned to the courts for their new battle ground.

    According to Ferrán and Hilbink, the growing movement in Spain can be understood in an international context, which has borrowed strategies from locations of contentious politics and violence. Several significant events inspired the editors to compile literature and research that interrogates and explores this very crucial moment in Spanish history, including the political and legal battle over Judge Baltasar Garzón’s efforts to investigate the Franco-era crimes, and  the decision of an Argentine judge to accept jurisdiction over the investigation of the exhumed bodies.

    The book employs a number of angles regarding issues of memory and violence in the Franco era, particularly the exhumations of mass graves, forensics from the Spanish civil war, rebel violence, gender violence, dreams of transition to democracy, the law of historical memory, and legal accountability for Franco-era crimes. This book also addresses the issue of mass graves through other mediums, such as poetry and film, and one chapter is dedicated to an interview with Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzón regarding truth, reparations and justice. 

    The editors explore the silences around the legacy of violence, which, according to Ferrán and Hilbink, have become ingrained in Spanish society. They describe the violence as “what is known, but cannot be said.” The book examines historical timing (i.e. post-Nuremberg era) and geopolitical developments (Spain being a Latin case in Western Europe) and how these influenced the categorization of these crimes.  The book explains the differences and implications between what Hannah Arendt described as “regimes of criminals” -- best exemplified in Latin America -- and “criminal regimes” -- associated with Eastern Europe. Finally, the book discusses the effects of this unearthing of crimes on the nature of debate in Spain and the evolution of its democracy. 

    The book will be published later this summer. 

    -Written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi
    (Continue Reading)April 14th, 2016
  • Migration and Human Rights

    In its efforts to address timely issues in the human rights community, the Human Rights Program has decided to bring attention to the pressing concerns of transnational and transcontinental migration around the world today. Included herein are just four major focal points: the Middle East, Europe, Southeast Asia/Australia, and Central America.

    Migration within the Middle East

    The world is currently facing the greatest migration crisis since the Second World War, in which millions are being internally displaced and forced to flee their countries. The majority of these refugees, asylum seekers and migrants (the latter often being interchangeable with the refugee experience, posing questions of discursive appropriateness) are forced to leave their homes due to various conflicts, particularly violence and instability in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. This mass influx towards particular areas in the Middle East, Europe and the United States has been complicated by a rise in terrorist attacks in these countries, which are believed to be connected to these conflicts. Though media attention has been allocated to the exodus of people towards European borders, it often fails to highlight the struggles of migrants who are within the Middle East.

    Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have received the majority of refugees and migrants, presenting varying barriers to resettlement and adequate shelter. Turkey has taken in approximately two and half million refugees, Lebanon over one million, and Jordan half a million. Both Iraq and Egypt have played their part in accepting tens and hundreds of thousands of migrants, though many entering these countries go undocumented. Migrants entering these countries are not always well received and face immense hostility. An Amnesty International report began circulating at the beginning of April, claiming the Turkish regime has been illegally and forcibly returning thousands of refugees to Syria. This practice exposes a flaw in the recent deal between the EU and Turkey. Most crucially, under the “non-refoulement” principle of international humanitarian law, a state is prohibited from deporting individuals to a war zone, making Turkey’s actions in direct violation of this principle.

    While many refugees and migrants may cross the border into camps, a large proportion are also scattered throughout cities and towns in informal communities, seeking shelter and security wherever it may be found. According to UN reports, in Lebanon, over 70% of Syrian refugees live below the Lebanese extreme poverty line. As Syrian refugees now constitute about a quarter of the Lebanese population, there is a crisis to meet basic needs of those who are residing in the country, with mounting concerns over food security. Like many refugees, Syrians are restricted in their access to the job market as well, making their independence and stability difficult and creating an atmosphere of tension among citizens and refugees who are searching for employment. Moreover, just over half of 6-14 year-olds in the refugee community are attending school and fewer than half who entered primary grade one reached grade six, according to December 2015 UN reports. The UN’s High Commissioner for Refugees further documents that only 5% of 15-17 year-olds attended secondary school or higher. In Jordan, too, refugees also do not have the legal right to work and must depend on UN food coupons. Syrians often take the jobs held by migrant workers like Egyptians, in construction and agriculture, but also those of the poorest 14% of Jordanians, who accept less than the minimum wage.

    Many are puzzled as to why the Syrian migrants are disproportionately fleeing to these three countries, rather than to wealthy, Gulf States surrounding the conflict-ridden zones. Among the Gulf States, only the United Arab Emirates has received around 250,000 migrants. The UAE has contributed millions towards refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey.  The Gulf nations (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE) claim they have each given millions of dollars to aid refugees, amounting to more than $500 million over 2½ years, according to the United Nations. The Gulf States also say that Syrians have entered their countries on visas and continue living there.

    One reason the Gulf States have failed to address the migrant crisis is because they have still not ratified the 1951 U.N. treaty on refugees, and as a result these nations aren't legally obligated to provide refuge or asylum.  For those with less money, the sheer distance between Syria and the Gulf poses another problem. Officially, Syrians are able to apply for a tourist visa or work permit to enter one of the Gulf States. However, Syrians face various obstacles to getting a visa, particularly the high cost of the process, as well as less official or unwritten restrictions hindering Syrians from obtaining one in the first place. Without this hard-to-obtain visa, the Syrians primary options are Algeria, Mauritania, Sudan and Yemen.  Other barriers for refugees include the lack of work in Gulf States, which in recent decades have relied heavily on unskilled migrant labor from South-East Asia and the Indian subcontinent. A shift by countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait toward employment of their own nationals in skilled mid-level employment has the effect of reducing jobs for refugees.  Kuwait, in particular announced in 2012 its plans to reduce the number of foreign workers by one million in the next ten years. Prospects for refugees look even bleaker in light of strict nationality policies that prevent integration.

    Would relocation to the Gulf States be a practical solution for the Syrian refugees? Critics argue that Gulf citizens and Syrians speak Arabic and share certain cultural traditions.  Most of these states are also substantially wealthier than Turkey, Lebanon or Jordan which have accepted the bulk of refugees. Yet, due to fears of destabilizing national security, many of the countries continue to be wary of accepting refugees from the Syrian crisis.  According to Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a retired professor from United Arab Emirates University, there is a perception in the Gulf States that accepting refugees would play into the hands of the terrorists and feed into the violence. As a result, the wish to preserve stability remains the paramount objective.

    Marie-Christine Ghreichi

    Into Europe

    The migrant crisis in Europe has assumed an important role in our global consciousness in the past year. Images of young children and families facing the horrors of crossing the oceans in makeshift boats have taken the internet by storm. More than one million migrants entered the European Union by boat from Turkey in the past year, which, in turn, forced the States of the region and the European Union itself to adjust their immigration policies.  Europe moved from an initial position of welcome to one of limited access. In early April this change in policy resulted in removals of migrants who illegally crossed from Turkey. Migrants are now fearful that they may be returned to camps in Turkey or even stuck in Greece for an undetermined period of time. Migrants are voicing concerns over the lack of information regarding the asylum procedure that would allow them to stay in Europe. States now face the challenge of processing asylum applications to keep pace with new arrivals on their shores.

    Tensions mount as law enforcement officers in some refugee camps have been documented to use tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of migrants who have tried to break through restraining fences. There have been a number of such uprisings taking place in the camps in Greece since main routes used to get into Germany have been closed off and blocked to migrants. It is estimated that more than 10,000 people, mostly women and children, have been stuck in Greek camps for more than a month waiting for the routes to reopen.

    Migrants are said to be arriving at about 4,000 migrants per day on the Greek Islands. And those numbers are expected to increase as the weather becomes consistently warmer. A controversial deal between Turkey and the European Union supports new controls on migration flows into Europe. For each migrant who is sent back to Turkey, the European Union will resettle a migrant who is currently living in a Turkish refugee camp. The deal also provides that Turkish citizens may travel without visas to the European Union. This portion of the deal is particularly important to the some 15-20 million people Kurds who live in Turkey and face persecution.

    Human rights groups have criticized the deal saying it is unethical and could be illegal if refugees are not given the fair chance to seek asylum or if migrants are forcibly returned to countries where their safety is compromised. Greece’s capabilities to document and process the thousands of refugees has also been called into question as the country’s facing its own financial instability.  Human rights organizations highlighted the mistreatment the migrants face at the deportation camps in Turkey and Greece.  Amnesty International says Turkey rarely processes asylum requests and has forced migrants to return to their war ravaged countries, which is a direct violation of refugee protections.  As concerns about these violations mount, the European Union will continue to be faced with the challenge of how to meet its international obligation to protect migrants.

    Sara Osman

    Australia: Taking the Hard Line on Migrants and Refugees

    Amidst the largest refugee crisis since World War II, many nations especially in Europe are looking for a short-term solution to their current situation. Thousands of refugees and migrants arriving daily on the shores, train stations, and cities throughout Europe, an unprecedented number of those are asylum seekers and displaced persons from war.

    Some European conservatives have suggested using the Australian model of handling refuges: utilizing naval forces to halt boats, using offshore processing facilities and detention centers, and outsourcing the operations of the facilities to private contractors.

    Australia took on the new set of policies in 2012 to deter new arrivals at the cost of serious human rights violations and under accusations of its political motivations. Australian officials claim that only one boat of asylum seekers reached its shores in 2014.

    The Australian government argues the journey of the asylum seekers is ridden with danger and may be the result of human trafficking. Critics assert that opposition to the asylum seekers is heavily racially motivated, treatment of asylum seekers is poor at best, and is ultimately damaging Australia's international reputation.

    The asylum seekers arriving mostly originate in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iraq, Iran or Myanmar, traveling to Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations before taking a boat intended for Australian shores. UNHCR's Asylum 2014 report cited Australia at receiving 8,960 asylum applications in 2014, about 1% of all applications made globally that year.

    Australia introduced in 2012 its Operation Sovereign Borders, under which naval vessels would be particularly tasked with patrolling Australian waters and intercept migrant boats, towing them back to Indonesia or sending asylum seekers back in dinghies or lifeboats. In the major nations of origin, Australia has also started media campaigns with videos and flyers, deterring people from making the migration by stating they will never reach the mainland and will not receive work, citizenship or benefits.

    For asylum seekers that have already arrived, the options are bleak. For those who need assistance or time to process their claims, they may be sent to neighboring, offshore island detention centers or such countries as Cambodia or Nauru for residency. Through this plan, the government is able to outsource its responsibility to private contractors which carry out administrative activities such as operating and providing security at temporary detention camps. Australia also provides financial aid to the countries that acceptance of the asylum seekers.

    In December 2014, the Australian Parliament approved changes to its immigration laws, reintroducing temporary visas for refugees, allowing them to work in Australia for three to five years, but denying them permanent protection and rights. These short-term solutions show little regard for the wellbeing of the people concerned, dumping seekers onto third party islands and casting them off in dangerous territories.

    Amanda Kruger

    The Journey from Central America to the United States

    Concentrated primarily in the Southwestern portion of the United States, the Latino community was just under 6 million—or 3.2% of the total population—in 1960. Fifty years later, more than 1 in 6 Americans trace their heritage to Hispanic roots, and they make cities and towns across the entire United States their home. The history of Latin American immigration to the United States is complex and highly nuanced, but it is important to consider the serious human rights implications from which many are fleeing today and into which many are coming as they make their journey north.

    Teresa Ortíz’s children were between the ages of 1 and 11 when they witnessed their neighbor being fatally shot by members of one of El Salvador’s street gangs, or “maras.”  Threatened by the gang for what her children had seen, Ortíz worked day and night as an immigrant to New York to gain enough money to send back home to fund their children’s travels. It was in July of 2014 that the family was finally reunited, after seven years of separation

    While this does not tell the story of every Salvadoran—or Latin American—immigrant family, it highlights the very serious conditions which many across Central American face every day. Gang—and state—violence is a constant pressure for many. The homicide rate in Honduras in 2013 was over 90 for every 100,000 inhabitants—the highest in the world. El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico have also seen an increase over the past decade, sitting at 41.2, 39.9, and 21.5, respectively. In contrast, the rate of homicide in United States has hovered around 5 for every 100,000 people since 2001.

    If the threat of murder is not enough, many of these individuals face unstable living conditions. While on a slight decline, over 70 percent of individuals in Mexico and Central America live in poverty (defined as under $4/day) or are vulnerable to it. Gang violence is particularly high in many parts of these countries, and young boys are often pressured either from members themselves or by their social and economic situations to join. Many of these communities are still facing the legacy of violence and fragile institutions following a series of civil wars in the 1980s.

    In large part because of the gang violence and economic devastation, many individuals—and children in particular—felt it safer to travel north than risk remaining in their homeland. This has reached a climax recently, with more than 68,000 unaccompanied children being detained by Border Patrol in 2014 alone. The vast majority of these children—many as young as five years of age—originated from Central America’s Northern Triangle—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and were fleeing extortion, domestic and community violence, and economic despair. 

    However, for those who are able to escape violence at home, many are faced with new dangers along their journey. Immigrant children and families often use smugglers to get across the border, placing themselves in the hands for others’ doing. Teresa Ortíz paid over $4,500 to have her 15-year-old child smuggled via car, van, truck, and foot, across Mexico and into the US.

    The sector that has sprung up around the smuggling process is tied to another, much more abusive system: exploitation. While Mexico, with funding from the United States, has increased its surveillance and security of migrants from Central America in recent years, many face the dangers of forced labor or serving as drug-mules and assassins by drug gangs in Mexico. For girls and young women—and increasingly boys—sexual exploitation adds another dimension, while the Mexican Migration Southern Border Survey has recently reported that at least 15 percent of all migrants through the country are facing extortion along the way.

    Human rights violations facing Central American migrants do not disappear as migrants reach the United States. For many children and adults who are undocumented, the threat of deportation lingers overhead, and exploitation of their labor is widespread. First-generation migrants are more likely to hold low-skilled jobs, and many are unofficially employed in the service sector, farming, construction, or seasonal work at much lower wages than non-immigrant. The threat of being reported to authorities, deported, or separated from their families again places added pressure on Central American immigrants to remain in the shadows.

    The unexpected influx of children has kicked off a national debate in the US on immigration and border security in recent years. As politicians such as Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, both of whom are vying for the US presidency in the 2016 elections, have spoken of major migration reform, the discussion seriously overlooks the human rights dimension of the issue. As a world leader, the United States has the ability and responsibility to protect and promote human rights within its boarder and abroad.  Voices are growing for more humane regional solutions. In January, 22 U.S. Senators called for an immediate halt to the Department of Homeland Security’s recent targeted arrests and deportations of mothers and children from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and urged the Obama Administration to consider temporary protected status for these migrants.

    Cameron Mailhot
    (Continue Reading)April 14th, 2016
  • Women and Human Rights

    The first World Conference on the Status of Women convened in 1975 in Mexico City to coincide with International Women’s Year. Held to remind the international community of its duty to prevent discrimination against women, the summit kicked off worldwide discussions on the status, rights, and role of women at the local, national, and international levels. “A process was set in motion—a process of learning—that would involve deliberation, negotiation, setting objectives, identifying obstacles, and reviewing the progress made” (5thWomen’s World Conference).
    Subsequent conferences were held at five-year intervals—Copenhagen in 1980 and Nairobi in 1985—leading up to the major 1995 world summit in Beijing, which brought together over 17,000 representatives of states, NGOs, and international institutions to review and recommend progress on the promotion and protection of women’s rights, including the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights (now the Advocates for Human Rights). Through deliberation, the focus was consciously shifted from discussion on women and their involvement in society to the concept of gender, recognizing the need to view the social construction of gender roles to support women in their claims for equality. The 1995 process culminated in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which reaffirms the international community’s responsibility and builds a global consensus around women’s rights and participation in economic, social, cultural, and political spheres—public and private. The Platform identified 12 key areas of urgent action, including women and power, women and armed conflict, women and health, and education and training of women, among others.

    The U.N. has convened conferences to build upon the Beijing Platform for Action in 2000, 2005, 2010, and 2015. The most recent summit, Beijing Plus 20, was the largest review session to date, bringing together recommendationsfrom the UN Entity for Gender Equality and Empowerment, states, NGOs, and representatives of the UN Economic and Social Council. Much like the previous meetings, this 20-year review processincluded comprehensive reviews of national actions, regional reviews by the UN regional commission, global-level reviews, and parallel NGO forums. Over 167 countries took part in forming the Beijing Plus 20 Report, which summarizes the present-day global status of equality and opportunities for strengthening gender equality and empowerment of women.

    One of the outcomes of the 2015 conference was a focus on how to re-energize and speed up the movement with a ceremonial goal of reaching full gender equality by 2030—“Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it up for Gender Equality.” The UN has created a website to track member states’ progress in various sectors of promoting and protecting equal rights for all genders, including education, employment, and representation in the media. Much progress has been made over the past 40 years, but we still have a long ways to go to reach full gender equality. With Beijing Plus 20, the international community has taken a step in the right direction to create real, lasting change.

    By Cameron Mailhot

    As we take the time to recognize the achievements of women around the world during Women’s History Month, let us take a closer look at the progress being made in women’s rights to health and education and the contemporary women working to advance gender equality.

    Zika Virus and Development Rights

    There has been growing attention on the Zika virus and its connection to birth defects, specifically microcephaly and impaired mental development. From the Pope to national leaders, some have stood by the most stringent abortion laws and current restrictions and inaccessibility of birth control for the women in Latin America. Many national health organizations including the CDC have asserted that preventing pregnancy will be the most effective response to the epidemic.


    One of the impacts of this tragic disease has been an increase in discussion of a broad range of human rights issues, including women’s reproductive rights, access to health care, and social determinants of the disease. Affordable childcare for special needs children is a particular concern in nations where abortions are illegal or inaccessible. Women are questioning their sole responsibility in controlling the epidemic when men are also carriers of the virus, which has been found to remain in the reproductive system for more than six months. Additionally, many public and private school systems teach abstinence only sex education, if there is any sex education provided at all.  Females and males who are coming of age and in relationships may not have the knowledge of what safe sex is, the difference between myths and facts in sexually transmitted diseases, how to access contraceptives, and how to use those contraceptives properly.

    Brazil, ground zero for the current Zika outbreak, has been recording infections since April 2015, highlighting a disproportionate impact on poor and rural women. As reported by Debora Diniz, a founder of Anis and a law professor at the University of Brasília, “[Zika virus] is concentrated among young, poor, black and brown women, a vast majority of them living in the country’s least-developed regions.” Brazil and the other nations with active virus transmission are faced with a unique moment in their history. Expanding rights for women could benefit more than just women’s rights to health by moving into the closely related rights to education and economic well-being.

    By Amanda Kruger

    Women in STEM

    As we enter women’s history month this March, it’s important not only to recognize all the amazing accomplishments made by women but to also highlight all the issues that still remain. Among the greatest of these issues is the topic of women in education—particularly the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, or STEM, fields. Men have traditionally dominated STEM fields, and women were not often given as much opportunity to engage. Women’s involvement in the STEM field has increased since the 1970s, but women are still greatly underrepresented in both the STEM workforce as well as the related undergraduate degrees being awarded. According to the Census Bureau’s 2009 American Community Survey, women make up close to 49% of the U.S. workforce but just are only 25% percent of STEM workers. Despite this, young women in middle school and high school perform at and often time outperform their male counterparts in STEM courses. But by the time young women get to college, they are less likely to pursue STEM as a career path.

    There are a number of challenges facing women pursuing careers in STEM fields. Among these challenges is the fact that there simply are not enough mentors in higher education for young women seeking to build relationships with a faculty member. Another challenge is the fact that overt sexism remains a huge deterrent for women considering STEM as a path. The environments in STEM fields are heavily male and often times women are harassed, not accepted or discriminated against in the hiring process as well as when it comes to pay. Also, strong gender roles are reinforcing the idea that STEM fields are only for men.  Yet, women with STEM jobs earned about 35% more than women in non-STEM jobs. The gender wage gap is smaller in STEM jobs than in non-STEM jobs. This is even more important to recognize because women are more likely to attend college and graduate with degrees than their male counterparts.

    To move forward and create an enriching experience for young women interested in pursuing STEM careers in the future, these challenges need to be addressed. In light of the awareness developing nationally regarding the inclusion of and engagement with more young women in STEM, there are a number of initiatives being brought forth by organizations, corporations and governmental entities, including the White House. The STEM workforce has also been making an effort to end disparities when it comes to gender. More work must still be done in creating a safe environment for women and young girls as well erasing harmful gender norms that prevent young girls from reaching their potential.

    By Sara Osman

    Trailblazers and Remaining Challenges

    According to the UN Women’s 2015-2016 studyon the status of women from 2015, 22% of all national parliaments were female as of August 2015, which is an increase of 11.3% since 1995. Women serve as Heads of State in 11 states and women serve as Heads of Government in 10 states. Rwanda boasts the highest number of women in parliament in the world, with over 63.8% in the lower house. Women parliamentarians varies across regions in the following way: Nordic countries, 41.1 per cent; Americas, 25.5 per cent; Europe excluding Nordic countries, 24.4 per cent; sub-Saharan Africa, 23.0 per cent; Asia, 18.4 per cent; Middle East and North Africa, 17.1 per cent; and the Pacific, 15.7 per cent. Studies indicate women’s representation in local government has improved the daily lives of citizens.  Research on local councils in India have found the “number of drinking water projects in areas with female-led councils was 62% higher than in those with male-led councils. In Norway, a direct causal relationship between the presence of women in municipal councils and childcare coverage was found.”  Out of the 41 countries with over 30% women in single or lower houses, 34 had applied some form of quotas, opening space for women’s political participation. Specifically, 17 use legislative candidate quotas; 6 use reserve seats; and in a further 11, parties have adopted voluntary quotas.

    In regards to violence, 35% of women are estimated to have experienced physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime. Over 700 million women today were married as children.  Around 120 million girls worldwide have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts, and at least 200 million women and girls have undergone female genital mutilation.  Adult women constitute over half of all human trafficking victims. In order to remedy these issues, over 119 countries have passed laws regarding domestic violence, 125 on sexual harassment and 52 criminalizing marital rape. In February 2016, the Punjab region of Pakistan enacted a new law criminalizing violence against women, including domestic, emotional, psychological, economic or sexual and provides shelters and hotlines for women at risk. There is also more comprehensive data regarding violence against women than ever before. Some of these studies indicate that non-heterosexual women and women with disabilities are at greater risk of experiencing physical/sexual violence. These studies have also found that women’s participation in peace agreements in conflict zones increases the probability of the agreements at least two years by 20% and increased the probability of a peace agreement lasting 15 years by 35%.

    Despite the persistent gender wage gap worldwide (which results in particular large pay gaps for minority women), research from this study concludes that more women in the workforce results in faster economic growth. Educating women has also proven to contribute to economic growth. Companies with three or more women in senior management receive higher scores in all dimensions of organization effectiveness. “Increased educational attainment accounts for about 50 per cent of the economic growth in OECD countries over the past 50 years, of which over half is due to girls having had access to higher levels of education and achieving greater equality in the number of years spent in education between men and women.” Additionally, a study spanning 1970 to 2009 from 219 countries shows that for every one additional year of education for women of reproductive age, child mortality decreased by 9.5%. 

    UN Women has taken steps to engage and empower women in the world.  In 2013, UN Women supported 65 countries to make gender equality priorities in national, sectorial and local development plans and budgets.  In 24 countries, national planning documents incorporated priorities and budgets on gender equality and women’s empowerment. For example, the “Government of Nepal increased gender-responsive budget allocations from USD 1.13 billion in 2013/14 fiscal year to USD 1.36 billion in 2014/15, accounting for 21.93 per cent of the total budget. The country developed, implemented and refined a tracking system to provide critical information on gender-responsive investments.”

    Beyond the challenges and steps made in these macro-level issues concerning female empowerment, a number of individuals have broken barriers and trail blazed their own paths for women in the generations to come in 2015. Mazoun Almellehan, known as the “Malala of Syria” fled the Syrian conflict with her family to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. At the age of 16, Almellehan has dedicated her life to educated young girls in these camps, campaigning for parents to send their children to school instead of forcibly marrying them off due to economic instability. Rafea Um Gomar, born and raised in a poor Bedouin community of Jordan, has become the first female solar engineer in her country.  She has successfully set up over 80 solar installations to provide electricity to her village and is motivated to reduce poverty, empower women in the local economy and provide opportunities for a better life for her daughters. Misty Copeland was promoted to the role of principal dancer--the highest position within a ballet company, and is the first African American woman to do so at the most prestigious ballet company in the country, the American Ballet Theatre in New York.

    In November of 2015, Ethiopian airlines made history by sending an all-female crew for the first time in a flight from the country’s capital to Thailand.  Lt. Col. Christine Mau became the first female fighter pilot for the US Air Force. For the first time, NASA's latest class of astronauts is 50 percent female, comprised of a group of women who have already flown combat missions in Iraq, braved the South Pole, and dived under thick layers of ice in Antarctica. When these women were chosen for the class of 2013, NASA announced that they could be selected for an inaugural trip to Mars. In the fall of 2015, a new professional women's hockey league was launched, and one of the founding teams has chosen to honor a famous feminist icon in its name and logo—the New York Riveters. In the summer of 2015 in Delhi, the first female bus driver took to the streets, complementing the rising number of female taxi drivers in the city. Finally, in December of 2015, for the first time in its history, women voted in local council elections and stood as candidates in Saudi Arabia. 

    All around the world, women are shattering the limits placed on them and defying “traditional female” roles to empower other women, their communities, improve our world and continue to reach for the stars, pushing the boundaries of human endeavor. 

    By Marie-Christine Ghreichi
    (Continue Reading)March 10th, 2016
  • “Staying Alive: Human Rights and the Performance of Life Support in Post-Soviet Belarusian Theater”

    How do theatrical practices across nation-state borders mediate the cultural practices of citizenship and human rights? How can we observe this in contemporary theatrical practices?

    On Thursday February 11, Rita Kompelmakher, a fifth year PhD candidate in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance, presented at the biweekly Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies workshop a chapter in her dissertation, which attempts to address these questions across time and space.

    Her work stems from her experience attending a London-based festival entitled “Staging a Revolution.” This festival spanned two weeks, in which the Belarus Free Theatre of Minsk, Belarus staged 10 productions from their repertoire. This company was founded in 2005 in Minsk and is known for tackling taboo social issues, ranging from mental health, women, gender, sexuality and political repression. The company began performing in a nomadic style, including in various homes in Minsk.  The group gained an international reputation and was invited to perform in London, where four of its members applied and received refugee status.  

    After attending the performances and reading a number of reviews in the British media, Kompelmakher observed a particular narrative regarding the company.  Because BFT is known internationally as a “human rights” company facing social and political pressures back home, spectators and supporters largely highlighted the existence of the theatre in Belarus rather than commenting on its content, style, or artistic merits.  According to Kompelmakher, that sort of narrative also translated to human rights and theater academia, which has employed similar framing approaches, focused on survival, not artistic merit. 

    The company is revered for being a “human rights” company, not because of the political weight surrounding its work but rather its ability to survive. Kompelmakher alluded to this trend in human rights memorialization, citing the Berlin Holocaust Memorial whose structure signifies an image of “presence through absence.”  In the case of “Staging a Revolution,” the BFT production catered to the survivors of death rather than to the dead, and in this sense, she argued that history was not produced, because death was avoided.  Performance in human rights representation functions as a sort of life support, a means of survival. The UK therefore has provided life support the the BFT, and the festival was one mechanism of this life support, which had the unintended consequence of rendering the company “survivors” with no chance of escaping such a power dynamic.  As a result, Kompelmakher concluded, politics ages companies, whereas human rights discourse freezes the aging effect. 

    -written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi 
    (Continue Reading)March 2nd, 2016
  • "What Before Why: Taking Descriptive Inference Seriously in Quantitative Conflict Studies"

    Databases have growing importance in human rights studies.  Researchers rely on databases that count human rights violations and violence, such as homicides, sexual assaults and other crimes.  Yet just how reliable are these counts? 

    On February 15, the Minnesota Political Methodology Colloquium and the Human Rights Program co-hosted Amelia Hoover Green, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Politics at Drexel University, where she discussed her work regarding quantitative conflict studies.  After observing a trend of inconsistent findings between various data sets studying the same phenomena, Green began a project to critically assess these inconsistencies.  

    Hoover examined research in the Colombian conflict, specifically eight different data sets recording conflict related homicides. The discrepancies between the data sets stemmed largely from debates over definitions and technological imbalances between research groups. The researchers she observed also failed to investigate who was not reporting to them and why, yet would still claim a comprehensive data set. After looking at another group of data sets regarding sexual violence in Colombia, such problems proved to be even more severe. With a serious mistrust between victims and state institutions, the threat of danger prevented victims from reporting; victims also faced logistical issues. Consequently, reporting rates on sexual violence remained incredibly low, despite researchers claiming complete knowledge of the rates of these crimes.

    After looking at these data sets, Hoover carried out statistical analysis to assess homicide data from five Colombian sources and discovered that undercounting and underreporting were hindering effective data collection. What can be done about such problematic data sets? Hoover offered some potential solutions including quantitative approaches such as multiple systems estimation, simulations but also the use of survey data and ethnography.  Regarding the ethnographic data, Hoover stressed the importance of knowing one’s case, including the effects of cultural and political structures in place to account for low reporting rates.  Hoover also highlighted the importance of practicing humility when approaching this kind of data collection and acknowledging the barriers to accessing credible information and reporting rates.  With time, researchers can observe which variables in the quantitative design will still hold as they add in the missing pieces of the data. Researchers must also understand the political power dynamic of reporting, especially when using data retrieved from government agencies.  

    Hoover’s conclusions produced a series of implications for human rights advocacy in these contexts. Rather than perpetuating statistical data collection error, human rights organizations should focus on documenting violations on a case by case basis to the best of their ability.  Disseminating this information can serve to motivate public discussion or call attention to a particular set of problems. Moreover, NGOs can be critical of quantitative methods while also contributing to this sort of research, due to their expertise and local knowledge of complexities on the ground. Hoover embodies this critical approach as a field consultant for the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, providing technical support to data collection of human rights violations, conflict, and testimonies in war crimes trials. 

    -Written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi

    (Continue Reading)March 2nd, 2016
  • Climate Change and Human Rights

    Observations of the effects of greenhouse gases on the world have been documented for over 100 years. It was in 1896 that Swedish Chemist Svante Arrhenius first concluded from his research that the natural greenhouse effect that sustains life on Earth might be enhanced by industrial-age coal burning by humans. According to his findings, the consumption of such energy sources has a considerable effect on the natural heating process of the planet by producing more carbon dioxide than may be consumed by plants, which as a result retains more thermal energy in the atmosphere and re-radiates it back towards Earth.

    Over the past century, the scientific community has built a consensus around this effect. As the world’s population increases, more countries become industrialized, and consumption of fossil fuels grows, the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide steadily increases, and so has the surface temperature of Earth. This past year (2015) has been the warmest year on record, with a 0.87 degree Celsius increase from the 1951-1980 average. The 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000.

    The effects on nature are startling. Higher temperatures and the resulting climate change can lead to rises in sea level; stronger storms; species’ extinction; and increased risks for drought, fire, and floods. Such changes can affect humans as well, including economic losses and increased risks for heat-related illnesses and diseases. Moreover, human populations as a whole are at risk of losing their lands, housing, and sources of food and water.

    These disruptions may result in mass migrations of individuals from areas lying near sea level (such as Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, or the coastal regions of the United States) or in the tundra and Arctic regions, or displacement of individuals from a loss of their means for living. The negative impacts of climate change are disproportionately borne by people already living in disadvantageous situations due to geography, gender, (dis)ability, poverty, or historical background—often those contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions.  The human-rights-related implications are substantial: individuals affected are at risk of exploitation, starvation, exclusion from political and economic participation, and extended conflict for resources, to name a few.

    The international community has developed a rights-based approach to climate change. Through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the United Nations has emphasized considerations for ensuring that climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts are “adequate, sufficiently ambitious, non-discriminatory, and otherwise compliant with human rights obligations….” The human rights priorities include ensuring that efforts to address climate change are carried out in a way that protects the most vulnerable, and that such efforts not exacerbate inequalities within or between States.  The human rights approach also focuses on transparency, ensuring for instance that early warnings on natural disasters is made available to all sectors of society. According to the U.N. High Commissioner, “Adaptation and mitigation plans should be publicly available, transparently financed and developed in consultation with affected groups.” 

    Most recently, the United Nations held its 21st yearly session for states party to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on climate change and the 11th session of states party to the Kyoto Protocol, both of which emphasize responsibility of states and individuals to limit their global carbon footprint, in November and December of 2015. Participating nations approved a landmark agreement: 195 nations, including the United States, committed themselves for the first time to lowering their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and to assist other nations as well in the process. 

    However, that isn’t all: coalitions have formed around the world to combat climate change in the corporate sector—including here in Minnesota. Major multinational corporations recently came together to form the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition as a way to promote a healthy environment and sustainable growth by monitoring what and how natural resources are used and to support innovative approaches that may lead to systemic change in businesses’ practices. The collaboration has already borne fruit: Best Buy, for example, has committed itself to reducing its carbon emissions by 45% by 2020 through operational improvements and renewable sourcing.  

    In response to these recent events, the Human Rights Program has reached out to Jim Dorsey, a founder and Past President of The Advocates for Human Rights and partner at Fredrikson & Byron who has been involved in international discussions about climate change and human rights, to comment on the intersection of climate change and human rights. The dialogue below represents his viewpoints on this important issue: 

    What do you see are the biggest human-rights-related implications of climate change at the moment? In the future?

    In the Declaration of Independence, after listing the self-evident, unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Jefferson explains that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men . . . .”  The biggest impact of climate change on human rights is that climate change has the potential to create failed states.  In such places, the instruments of government no longer work and, hence, provide no protection for human rights.  We can see this already occurring in countries in the Horn of Africa, where drought has led to famine, which has led to political instability.  Similarly, some commentators point to climate change as an instigating factor in Syria’s current chaos.  Moreover, the Pentagon views climate change as a threat to international security largely because fragile states, which have limited economic, social, and human capital already, are vulnerable to the disruption that climate change will cause.   In short, climate change will negatively affect human rights by threatening the viability of governments, which are the institutions through which people create and protect human rights.    

    How do you anticipate the human rights discourse to change as climate change continues?

    The definition, breadth and emphasis of human rights is always evolving.  For instance, in the aftermath of the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1995, the role and importance of women’s human rights grew dramatically.  Now the status of women and girls in a society is a useful measure of the overall economic, social, and human rights health of that society. 

    In response to the challenge of climate change, we can expect human rights thinking to evolve and expand again.  One possibility is that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) may be embraced as a means of promoting and measuring human rights progress.   Adopted by the UN on September 25, 2015, the SDGs consist of 17 goals to be achieved by 2030.  The goals fall into three broad categories (or, as the UN calls them, “dimensions”) – social (feed, educate, provide health care, eliminate poverty, etc.), economic (provide employment, build resilient infrastructure, etc.), and environmental (combat climate change, protect the air, water, and forests).   Proponents of the SDGs say that achieving the 17 goals will also promote human rights. 

    In which ways at the individual, local, national, and international level can we begin to work towards living environmentally friendly lives?

    Climate change does not respect international borders.  In that way, preventing or ameliorating climate change, like combating infectious diseases or terrorism, will require international cooperation and collaboration.  In addition, each country or region will need cross-sector collaboration among its own business, government, non-profit, philanthropic, education, and faith communities. 

    In the past, Minnesota has excelled at such cross-sector collaboration.  For instance, from about 1950 to 1990, Minnesota rose to where it ranked at or near the top of all the states in terms of the Human Development Indices (longevity, level of education, and per capita income), plus we had high ACT scores, low unemployment, high home ownership, low incarceration rates, and more Fortune 500 companies per person than anywhere else in the country.  That happened through cross-sector collaboration in, and support for, investment in human capital. 

    Addressing climate change and promoting sustainable models for business growth and societal well-being offers an opportunity for Minnesota to again be a model for such collaboration.  With our tradition of corporate social responsibility, bi-partisan political progressivism, non-profit dynamism, philanthropic vision, educational commitment, and faith community involvement, we could be a world leader on sustainability issues.

    For instance, the Minnesota Sustainable Growth Coalition, composed of Minnesota companies, government entities, and non-profits, has just recently formed.  The Coalition aims to achieve growth and competitiveness by promoting business-led projects that create a circular economy through stewardship of our natural and human resources.

    At the international level, Minnesota is also well positioned to collaborate.  Formed in Caux, Switzerland, but now based in St. Paul, the Caux Round Table (CRT) has hundreds of corporate and individual members located across the world.  The CRT promotes “Moral Capitalism” as the best means to achieve greater prosperity, sustainability and fairness in the global economy.  Furthermore, it views the SDGs as a necessary and well-fitting component to ethical capitalist practices.
    (Continue Reading)February 18th, 2016
  • 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
    (Continue Reading)February 11th, 2016
  • 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 internships--local, national, or international--confirmed and a proposed schedule and budget (i.e., rent, transportation, etc.) before the application deadline--extended to March 28, 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. Each recipient will receive a $1,000 award.

    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 extended to March 28, 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 March 22, 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)February 1st, 2016
  • 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.
    (Continue Reading)January 20th, 2016
  • Local Activist Helps Craft Legislation Banning Torture

    James V. Roth, a longtime human-rights activist from the Twin Cities and a participant in the University of Minnesota’s November 12 discussion on the federal government’s torture policies, played a key leadership role in crafting the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Signed by President Obama into law on November 25, 2015, the NDAA places a permanent ban on the use of torture by US forces.

    This is the first time that anti-torture language has been included in an annual NDAA. The amendment to the NDAA, the McCain-Feinstein Amendment, was passed early this year with bipartisan support, and it significantly strengthens existing anti-torture legislation—including the Anti-Torture Act of 1994 and the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005—in part by preventing the authorization of any torture program in the future. 

    The NDAA specifies that any person in custody of US forces, which includes the CIA, can be interrogated only through techniques authorized by the US Army Field Manual on Interrogations, which explicitly bans waterboarding, forced nudity, stress positions, sleep deprivation, beatings, forced rectal feedings, and other forms of torture. The UDAA also requires that the Manual be made public, reviewed, and updated regularly to include our best understandings of effect and humane interrogation techniques, and it also requires that the International Committee of the Red Cross be granted access to all detainees under custody of the forces.

    This permanent ban on CIA torture would not have been possible without the commitment of James Roth to fighting for human rights. Roth worked with the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2014 and 2015 to finalize the bill that would later become the McCain-Feinstein Amendment, a later version of the 2013 anti-torture bill he initially drafted to Minnesota’s members of the US Senate and House of Representatives. The initial House version of the NDAA had no comparable amendment regarding stipulations on torture.

    Roth is a retired attorney and member of the Minnesota Peace Project, a group that lobbies Minnesota’s congressional delegation on military and foreign policy matters. He has been affiliated with various local, national, and international human-rights-related groups, including Amnesty International, the Center for Victims of Torture, Advocates for Human Rights, the Constitution Project, and Women against Military Madness.
    (Continue Reading)December 2nd, 2015
  • Security, Terror, and Human Rights

    Comments on a November in Paris: Terrorism, Security, and Human Rights
    -Joachim Savelsberg, Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Minnesota.

    I was asked to comment on questions raised after the November 13, 2015, terrorist attacks in France. I do not claim to have grand and authoritative answers to these questions. In fact, I share a sense of helplessness, engulfing many who seek to make sense of the events and to find appropriate responses. I also depend on information that reaches all of us via news media, having no access to the intelligence possessed by some in our governments in the US and abroad. Let me begin with two personal notes that may color my comments.

    During the summer of 2015 I lived in the very neighborhood of Paris, in the 11th arrondissement, where the worst of the recent violence unfolded. Across from our apartment was a large mosque, established in an unremarkable building that must have served some other purpose in the past. It was frequented by hundreds of pious Muslims, mostly immigrants from North Africa, especially during the days and nights of Ramadan. A few hundred yards down the street began the Paris described in media reports about the attack, hip places, bars and restaurants, filled with young people, mostly French, some foreign visitors, spilling out onto the sidewalks far into the warm summer nights. Interspersed were, throughout the arrondissement, synagogues and Jewish child care centers, many attended by immigrants who had also come to France from North Africa. The seemingly high level of mutual tolerance was remarkable. Yet, following the January attacks, not everything was normal. During pick up times at Jewish child care centers and during services at synagogues groups of soldiers in battle gear, armed with heavy machine guns, were posted on the surrounding sidewalks. Occasionally armed units were also to be seen in Metro stations across town – innovations introduced after the January attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket.

    I am writing these brief comments while at a conference in Washington, DC, where my new book, Representing Mass Violence, was subject of an author-meets-critics session. The book addresses conflicting responses to mass violence. While examining the case of the Darfur, some broader lessons can be learned: representations and associated responses do not only vary by country (despite interventions by global institutions such as the UNSC and the International Criminal Court), but also across social fields. Human rights NGOs generate narratives quite similar to those of international criminal justice institutions. But representations emerging from the humanitarian aid and diplomatic fields focus less on culpable individuals and victimization as a direct result of violence. They instead highlight factors such as climate change and the resulting desertification of land, structural features of the Sudanese state (center-periphery conflict), long term historical trajectories and the suffering in refugee and IDP camps. Differences result from field-specific goals and distinct power dynamics, especially the position of the Sudanese state vis-à-vis actors in the respective fields. Importantly, each type of representation of mass violence is associated with specific response strategies, focusing alternately on criminal prosecution to achieve justice, delivery of humanitarian aid to heal and save lives, or negotiations to achieve peace. This insight is important if we hope to understand responses to the current wave of violence: different fields generate different representations and associated responses, and the consequences of adopting one instead of the other can be substantial. The human rights field will certainly have to contend with powerful representations that differ substantially from its own.

    Discussions on Security, Terror, and Human Rights
    The Human Rights Program reached out to Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Professor Steven Miles, and Professor Joachim Savelsberg, scholars of human rights and ethics at the University of Minnesota, to comment on the attacks in Paris, Beirut, Egypt, and Iraq. The dialogue below represents their diverse viewpoints on the recent events.

    In regards to the recent terrorist attacks (Paris attacks, Beirut bombing, plane crash in Egypt, Baghdad bombing) allegedly carried out by the Islamic State, what sort of security measures do you see states taking in response to these acts of aggression. Do you anticipate the actions of states, such as France, to diverge from the approach taken by the United States in the post-9/11 era, both in rhetoric and in policy? If so, how and why?

    Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Director, Human Rights Center, Law School):  

    There is not one set of security responses, and it is important to segregate out the phenomena in each place. Often, we tend to lump together places where ISIS is acting. Though groups are affiliated with ISIS, it would be a mistake to presume they are all precisely the same sort of group. As a result, not every response should be the same, as each country doesn’t have the same capacity to respond.

    In the case of France, it is a Western democracy with strong rule of law, with an effective police force and a highly equipped military—more resources than the Iraqi state, for example. We need a nuanced approach to understanding what we can do at the national level in these places.

    At the international level, responses can be taken by states through various mechanisms—for example, the Counter-Terrorism Committee at the United Nations. This committee has huge technical and cooperative expertise, but there are also various regional organizations (for example, NATO, the Arab League, etc.) and global responses that can be coordinated. However, national level responses will still vary.

    We recognize now that the American response to 9/11 (invasion of Iraq and Guantanamo), which may in part be viewed as having helped create the conditions that produced entities like ISIS, is an approach that countries should avoid. The US created a national security strategy with and a new infrastructure, the Department of Homeland Security, and sought a military coalition to invade a sovereign state: Iraq. Therefore, there are certain international structures in this new era that allow states to coordinate and cooperate in their counter-terrorism efforts, and France can use those mechanisms. But we have to recognize that the European context is very different from other places. France is more limited in regards to foreign policy because it is a member of the EU, so comparing France to America is like comparing apples and oranges: These countries have different legal structures and capacities.

    Professor Steven Miles (Center for Bioethics):
    A proper response to the current situation of ISIS and refugees must involve 1) replacing the Assad regime, and 2) naming and placing strong economic and cultural sanctions on the governments that are allowing or providing material support for ISIS most notably Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Sanctions can work, and they are infinitely preferable to bombing these insurgent groups, which is destructive of human life and serves to promote their recruitment.

    Professor Joachim Savelsberg (Department of Sociology):  

    The attacks started earlier, of course. Even if we focus the lens to France of 2015, they included the killings of Charlie Hebdo journalists and those in a kosher supermarket in January as well as the attempted massacre in a high speed train between Brussels and Paris in August. And the violence continues. One week after the Paris massacres, more than 100 people were taken hostage and some twenty were killed in a hotel in Bamako, Mali. Today [Sunday, November 22, 2015], public life in Brussels came to a halt due to a concrete terror warning.

    French responses abroad will resemble but also differ substantially from those applied by the United States after the 2001 attacks. One of the first words uttered by President Francois Hollande in reaction to the Paris attacks was that France is at war. Using the war frame suggests military responses. And indeed, France has already intensified its bombing campaigns in ISIS-held territory, including Raqqa, seat if ISIS with a large civilian population. France also has coordinated military action with Russia, unthinkable only weeks ago. Its government strongly objected to Russia’s support for President Assad of Syria and had earlier cancelled the delivery of two navy vessels to Russia in response the Russia’s engagement in Ukraine.

    The French government has thus applied the war frame and engaged in the associated military response. Yet, France’s military budget is miniscule compared to that of the United States, and its forces are already spread thin due to its engagement in countries such as Mali. Military intervention like that pursued by the US in Afghanistan and Iraq is clearly not an option. But again, France is not alone. It has already activated Article 222 of the EU treaty, requesting support from other European countries that might include military support. Use of Article 5 of the NATO treaty has been discussed, but its activation may be less likely in light of Russian sensitivities.

    Domestic responses are a different matter. France declared a state of emergency, the first time since the respective law was passed in 1955, and its National Assembly voted almost unanimously to extend it by three months. The state of emergency would allow the dissolution of mosques run by radical groups, the blocking of website that encourage terrorism, and the use of electronic bracelets for those under house arrest. Hundreds of raids have already been carried out. Almost two hundred persons have been arrested or placed under house arrest. Importantly, under emergency law, raids and arrests do not require a warrant. President Hollande also seeks measures that would ease the expulsion of foreign nationals and the revocation of French nationality. Belgium has mobilized a similar arsenal of measures. These restrictions generated by European countries in 2015 are possibly more intense than those imposed by the US Patriot Act, which had been passed in response to the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of 2001. We should note though one other remarkable difference between Europe and the US: America has a great wall of protection against the troubled regions of the Middle East (which in European countries accordingly is called the Near East): the Atlantic Ocean – no need to roll out barbed wire fences! Further, immigration restrictions continue to be tight, and the acceptance of Syrian refugees, already dismal, is currently subject to heated debate (reminiscent, actually, of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII and the refusal to permit the landing of a ship filled with Jewish refugees from Europe during the years of the Holocaust).”

    What concerns, if any, are there for the protection of human rights as states respond to these recent events?

    Professor Ní Aoláin:  

    There are far more robust constraints on France in particular. It is a member of the Council of Europe and the European Convention on Human Rights, and it possesses a value for international human rights standards. There is a strong capacity to challenge France’s actions in domestic courts through international standards, which is not possible in the US. However, of course, because of the pervasive fear, there is great pressure to respond in visible ways. Leaders always feel the pressure to respond in crisis, and choices are made, which can be detrimental in the long term to fighting terrorism and transnational violence, which is huge challenge. The reaction often fails to address the root causes of terrorism--unstable and fragile states like Iraq and Syria. There is no solution to terrorism without looking at the fragility of these states. Initial retaliation is like putting a band aid on the problem but not looking at the conditions in place to create a breeding ground for this violence: absence of the rule of law, stability of the state, state ability to provide security, a lack of accountability. In Syria, the leader is committing systematic atrocities, and this needs to be appropriately addressed—in a serious manner. 

    Moreover, we saw how European states were skeptical of invading Iraq after 9/11, but the natural reaction in the aftermath of vulnerability is to show strength—robust military strength. This reassures the public that something is being done to keep them safe, but such a response could encourage even more radicalization in France and Belgium. In order to address homegrown radicalization in democracies after this moment of initial reaction, we need to recognize the importance of putting more thought into what is causing radicalization. As such, it is important that we look beyond short-term solutions.”

    Professor Miles:  

    With specific regard to refugees, the United States and European Union must recognize that the increased flow to Europe not only is the result of a crisis in Syria and Northern Iraq but also occurs in the context where the refugee carrying capacity of multiple critically important neighboring democracies of Jordan and Lebanon has been reached. The refugee load in these countries is draining aquifers and exceeds the food productivity of those countries. Those immense populations have been well vetted and are not a security threat. The irrational responses of the US state governors who do not wish to admit refugees is inhumane and counterproductive.

    The United States could well afford to admit two million people from these front line states. This would help stabilize these important strategic allies and would result in a measurable increase in GDP growth in the US in a matter of a few years. Since 9/11, a tiny number of young people have left the US to join various jihads in Africa and the Middle East. Aside from the singular event of 9/11, domestic right wing terrorists have killed the most people in the US.

    Finally, the concept of "war" is a political metaphor of limited value. Groups like ISIL, Al-Qaeda, or Boko Haram are criminal cartels. They are not state actors. Pursuing them as criminal cartels, including selectively using special forces for some tactical missions will be most effective, decrease the radicalization of populations by warfare and is more likely to preserve civil liberties.”

    Professor Savelsberg:  

    Times of threat make calls for the mighty Leviathan, the law and order state, all the more attractive. It is in such times that Hobbes’ depiction of man as man’s wolf becomes appealing. (Hobbes himself had written his famous book in response to the horrendous religious wars of his life time.) And it is then that people are willing to follow Hobbes’ advice that the public should transfer individual rights to Leviathan, delegate authority so that he may pacify civil society in return. Attractiveness of a strong state, authoritarianism, or a state of emergency, is further enhanced when political forces stir up fear for the benefit of political gain. They do so most effectively when the presumed attacker is the “other,” portrayed as different (by race, ethnicity, or religion) from society’s majority. In this situation mainstream parties may resist popular sentiments, but they would do so at the risk of yielding political ground to populist, typically right wing parties. In today’s France the Front Nationale party is already strong; and regional elections will be coming up in a few weeks. Or they may tighten control within society, as the French government does today (and the US government did in 2001), with the risk of offending against human and civil rights principles. They also run the risk of further alienating immigrant and Muslim populations and thus prepare the ground for future violence. It is easy to see the threat of a vicious circle: more security-measures, more alienation, more violence, more security-measures etc.

    What do you anticipate the human rights discourse to be surrounding states’ responses to these events? What role do you see the human rights community, in general, to be in light of both the terrorist attacks and states’ responses?

    Professor Ní Aoláin:  

    The human rights community, in the aftermath of atrocities, will refer to standard bearing language (dignity of all, human rights, non-discrimination, proportionality, etc.), which seems inadequate in the face of atrocity. Human rights activists face challenging decisions on how to best situate themselves after the moment. They need to consistently reiterate the values of the international order because they are fundamentally necessary to the creation of secure, safe, and rights-compliant societies.

    Likewise, security includes the protection of human rights. They are not separate. The human rights community needs to articulate the view that rights are part of security: We are not secure unless we have rights. In making that link, we create an understanding within the advocate community but also with security strategists and military personnel. Activists need to show that preserving human rights is not just morally right but utilitarian and expedient. The idea that human rights people do not care about security creates a false dichotomy—these are not separate values. Human rights activists are to be held responsible to not reinforce this dichotomy. Defending tolerance and treating the most dangerous of society with the same rights and dignities of others is a marker of a strong democracy with human rights principles, but so is upholding every citizen’s security.

    Professor Savelsberg:  

    Human rights groups will clearly warn against the populist reactions to new risks, against the curtailment of human rights. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have already done so in response to new French policies. But their voices will be faint compared to those who plead for security at the expense of rights. They must insist and speak loudly enough. But they will also have to adopt new strategies in response to a new situation. Historically human rights organizations emerged to fight modern nation states that sought to curtail human rights. Today, however, it is not just nation states that pose a threat to grave human rights violations. Non-state organizations that are not marked by national boundaries do so as well. Human rights activists and organizations must speak out to them as well. They will also have to learn to translate their human rights messages so they can be understood among populations from which potential terrorists may be recruited. They must sit down, for example, with Imams to help cultivate a humane Islam, one that differs from the brand advanced by US-ally Saudi Arabia, one that respects and cherishes human rights. Finding the right language to do so will be more difficult than in traditional campaigns vis-à-vis governments of Western liberal democracies or even of authoritarian and dictatorial governments. Social science research on ‘vernacularization’ of human rights principles and work by scholars such as [the University of Minnesota’s] Jim Ron on the many ways in which peoples outside the global north speak about human rights may provide helpful tools. Building bridge positions across social fields through which such dialogue and spread of human rights principles can be achieved is the order of the day.
    (Continue Reading)November 24th, 2015
  • University of Minnesota Hosts Discussion on United States Torture Policies

    “Torture is always a crime” was printed across the flyer for the event, and it was the common thread running through each discussant’s lecture. This past Thursday, November 12, former-CIA counterterrorism operations officer John Kiriakou, Professor Bradley Olson of National Louis University, and James V. Roth, local human rights attorney, discussed the role of the American military and government, the American Psychological Association (APA), and themselves in the United States’ implementation of torture techniques in the War on Terror.

    “Out of the fourteen, I was the only one to have said ‘no,’” explained Kiriakou, a former CIA analyst. In the period following the September 11th terrorist attacks, Kiriakou was approached by his supervisors to gain a training in what was referred to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” He declined, but the use of torture on detainees expanded.   In December 2007, Kiriakou made an appearance on ABC News to confirm the use of waterboarding in interrogation of Al Qaeda detainees, which.  According to Kiriakou, in that interview he spoke of three key points: the CIA was torturing, torture was an official US policy, and the policy was approved and signed by the president.  Kiriakou was a frequent source for press interviews and as a result, he came under intense scrutiny by the CIA, FBI, and IRS. 

    In early 2012, Kirakou was charged with disclosing classified information to journalists. On October 22, 2012, in Federal District Court in Virginia, Kiriakou pled guilty to one count of passing classified information to the media, and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.  Kiriakou is the only CIA agent who has been tried for offenses related to the harsh interrogation techniques used against detainees in the “war on terror.”

    Bradley Olson explained the role of the APA in acquiescing to the role of psychologists in the torture of detainees. According to Olson, as well as the recently-published Hoffman Report, the APA issued ethical guidelines in 2002 and 2005 regarding whether and how psychologists could ethically participate in national security interrogations.  These guidelines supported loosed ethical standards which, according to Olson, condoned APA psychologists who were involved in torture by designing detention conditions and reinforcement paradigms, locating psychological vulnerabilities of the detainees, and acting as safety officers for CIA agents and military personnel.

    Olson and his colleagues engaged in a campaign for accountability for the APA’s legitimation of torture. After the results of the independent Hoffman Report, the APA changed its ethics policy, prohibiting its psychologists from participating in national security interrogations. 

    Likewise, Jim Roth spoke about his role in drafting a federal-level anti-torture bill for the Senate Intelligence Committee: the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Measure. The legislation, if passed, will act to codify certain limitations on torture and act as a permanent legislation combating torture as an “enhanced interrogation technique.”  It has recently passed the Senate and a congressional reconciliation committee.

    In their conclusion, all three men mentioned that they view their position as activists—not only in bringing the truth to light but also in preventing the use of torture in the future. 
    (Continue Reading)November 24th, 2015
  • Wahutu Siguru on representations of genocide and Mass Violence in the African Media

    The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), the Human Rights Program and the Department of Sociology continued on November 4th its Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV) bi-weekly workshop by hosting PhD. candidate in Sociology, Wahutu Siguru, who presented his research on representations of genocide and mass atrocities by African Press.
    Wahutu’s inquiry focused on the question of how African journalists and media sources write about atrocities that take place on the continent. Journalists are involved in a sort of knowledge production, constructing and giving meaning to reality by framing events. Wahutu therefore suggests that newspapers are repositories of this knowledge; they often represent society’s understanding of contemporary events. Consequently, dominance of foreign news serves to “other” the foreigners, creating a dichotomous world.

    An interesting finding of Wahutu’s research, is that most Africans obtain their images of atrocities in Africa through Western based news agencies. Wahutu also discovered that rank and file journalists in Africa see this as a failure by local media organizations, demonstrating frustration with the New York Times for example for producing inaccurate coverage of African events, but evading criticism due to its esteemed reputation. Wahutu concluded that stories in African newspapers don’t really reflect a truly African media, and outlets like Reuters shape news about Africa more than anyone else.

    In a cross-cultural comparison, Siguru looked at media in Kenya and South Africa, because both of these countries are engaged politically or militarily in the Sudanese conflict. Siguru carried out content analysis of news reports dating from 2004-2005 (these years signifying the 10 year anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda the current conflict in Darfur), and also conducted a series of interviews of South African and Kenyan journalists from 2012-2015. Of the 198 articles collected from 2004-2005 on Darfur in Kenya, 119 came from wire services (e.g. Reuters). Around 24.7% were written by Kenyan journalists and 9.5% were written by journalists from the Global North. Pieces about Darfur were largely derived from wire sources and were seen as necessary due to a lack of financial resources. However, he also found that certain newspapers did have a designated journalist working exclusively on Sudan yet still relied on stories from wire services. In South Africa, he found that readers were largely uninterested in following the atrocities in Darfur, and as a result, wire sources were most commonly published.
    (Continue Reading)November 23rd, 2015
  • "Arts and human rights organizations form a strong Minnesota bond"

    - by John Rash (October 30, 2015)
    From the Star Tribune:

    "A Hmong-American hip-hop/spoken word artist, a Syrian filmmaker and installation artist, and a Somali-born spoken-word artist shared their talents this month as part of the 'Art Illuminating Human Rights' series of talks and performances. The twinning of the arts and human rights reflects the remarkable concentration of those communities in Minnesota. It also speaks to the fundamental nature of both--pursuing the truth of the human condition."

    'It's inevitable that our sectors interconnect,' said Fres Thao, the spoken-word artist and executive director of CHAT--the Center for Hmong Arts and Talent. 'We support one another because as artists we are agents of change who have this platform, this medium, this power, this voice to tell the truth about what's happening in our culture at this time.'" Continue Reading...
    (Continue Reading)November 3rd, 2015
  • University of Minnesota to Host Academic Conference "Mexico: Crisis and Opportunity"

    Mexico is facing a human rights situation of grave proportions: According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 151,233 people have been killed in the past decade in a time of non-war, and thousands of women and girls are sexually assaulted or are victims of femicide. In this critical moment, the Human Rights Program, in conjunction with openGlobalRights, the Stassen Chair of International Affairs, and CIDE (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas) in Mexico, is hosting an academic conference on Thursday, October 29 and Friday, October 30, 2015, to bring attention and further discussion to the status of human rights in Mexico. Titled "Human Rights in Mexico: Crisis and Opportunity," the conference will bring together a talented group of scholars, practitioners, and experts to examine and reflect on a wide range of topics and issues related to the current human rights crisis in Mexico-from the role of civil society to the transnational human rights movements to the monitoring of violations.

    Events on both days will be held in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, with the Thursday portion in the Humphrey Forum Room and the Friday sessions in the Conference Room 180. The conference is free and open to the public. All sessions will be presented in/translated to English.

    The two-day conference schedule is as follows:

    Thursday, October 29
    Location: The Humphrey Forum
    Humphrey School of Public Affairs (West Bank)
    301 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

    9:00am - Welcome and Introductory Remarks
    · Alejandro Anaya (CIDE)
    · Barbara Frey (Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota)
    · James Ron (Stassen Chair of International Affairs, University of Minnesota)
    9:15am-10:45am - Mexico's Human Rights Crisis: A General Overview
    · Moderator: Alejandro Anaya (CIDE)
    · Perseo Quiroz (Amnesty International), "A general overview of the human rights crisis in Mexico"
    · Catalina Pérez-Correa (CIDE), "Extrajudicial executions by the armed forces"
    · Regina Tamés (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida, GIRE), "A general overview of the human rights of women"
    · Paulina Vega (FIDH), "The perpetration of crimes against humanity in the framework of the 'War on Drugs:' What can be done to tackle impunity of international crimes?"
    11:15am-1:00pm - Human Rights of Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons
    · Moderator: Susan Gzesh (University of Chicago)
    · Benjamin Waddell (Adams State University, Colorado), "Emigration, Crime, and Human Rights Violations in 21st Century Mexico"
    · Ariadna Estévez (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México - UNAM), "What do you mean, 'was it the state or was it a criminal gang'? The human rights crisis in Mexico, hybrid power and challenges to asylum"
    · Javier Treviño (CIDE), "The violation of human rights of migrants in transit through Mexico"
    2:00pm-4:30pm - Civil Society, Human Rights, and the Democratic Process
    · Barbara Frey (University of Minnesota), "Changing Mexico's Global Reputation: Transnational Advocacy against Disappearances" 
    · Luis Daniel Vázquez (FLACSO México) (**Presentation in Spanish**), "Calidad de la democracia y violaciones de los derechos humanos" ["Quality of democracy and human rights violations"]
    · David Crow (CIDE), "Do human rights protect criminals? Crime and Attitudes Towards Rights in Mexico"
    · Karina Ansolabehere (FLACSO México), "The judiciary and human rights"
    · James Ron and Kassi Absar (University of Minnesota), "Public attitudes towards local human rights organizations in Mexico"
    Friday, October 30
    Location: Conference Room 180
    Humphrey School of Public Affairs (West Bank)
    301 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

    9:00am-10:45am - The Interaction Between the Global and the Local
    · Moderator: James Ron (University of Minnesota)
    · Janice Gallagher (Brown University), "Citizen action, the rule of law and human rights" 
    · Sandra Serrano (FLACSO México), "Domestic reception of Inter-American jurisprudence"
    · Alejandro Anaya and Natalia Saltalamacchia (CIDE and ITAM), "The limits of the transnational socialization of international human rights norms"
    · Oscar Chacon (National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities), "Opportunities for transnational advocacy"

    11:00am-12:00pm - Discussion: Enforced Disappearances in Mexico
    · Moderator: Karina Ansolabehere (FLACSO México)
    · Michael Chamberlin (Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios)
    · José Antonio Guevara (Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights)
    The conference is co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Center, the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change, the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair in the College of Liberal Arts, la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO-Mexico), and the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation.

    (Continue Reading)October 28th, 2015
  • Human Rights Scholar Discusses Human Rights and Nation Building in Sri Lanka

    According to Professor Deepika Udagama, Sri Lanka is a country of contrasts, demonstrating a liberal ethos in regards to development and social issues but lacking the political capacity to  effectively acknowledge the pluralist nature of its diverse population. Udagama, the Head of the Department of Law at the University of Peradeniya, was featured at the October 7 session of the Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV) bi-weekly workshop, sponsored by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), the Human Rights Program and the Department of Sociology. A specialist in International Human Rights law, Professor Udagama served as Sri Lanka's alternate member to the United Nations (UN) Sub-Commission on the promotion and protection of human rights in the early 2000s and co-authored a report for that body on Globalization and its impact on Human Rights.

    Professor Udagama laid out the historical context of Sri Lanka and its implications for society today.  Colonial powers that ruled the country for hundreds of years, particularly the British, played on the existing cleavages in Sri Lanka between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority while at the same time trying to impose the notion of a unitary nation state.  Following Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, there was significant tension between the different groups, yet the independence constitution of 1946/47 provided for minority protection. Parliament was enjoined from enacting any legislation that would discriminate against members of any community or religious group. The judiciary, however, failed to prevent the the implementation of discriminatory legislation on citizenship and language rights which affected the Tamil community in a very negative manner..  The courts found that issues concerning citizenship to be a political question and ought to be left up to the executive, therefore enabling this process to go unchecked.  Moreover, in 1956, still in the dominion of Britain, the legislature introduced legislation which recognized only one official language, Sinhalese, which served to alienate the Tamil speaking communities in the country. 

    The independence Constitution remained in effect until 1972, when Sri Lanka transitioned into a Republic.  However, due to decades under British rule, government policies entrenched a sense of majoritarianism in the Sinhalese population and in the work culture of public office.  The new constitution did possess a bill of rights, but did not offer any form of judicial remedy.  This phase was marked by a state-oriented constitution.  Unlike the Indian or South African constitutions the Sri Lankan  republican constitution was not drafted with the aid of broad consultations and public interventions , but rather by the government of the day . For those countries, much like the United States, such a document came out of some sort of struggle and as a consequence, the constitution holds almost sacred value.  Sri Lanka on the other hand did not consult the people or typically excluded groups, and as a result the population simply did not embrace this document as a meaningful core text.  They possessed no emotional attachment to it.  Additionally, the constitution stipulated that it gave “foremost place to Buddhism.”  Such vague language failed to provide effective guidelines in upholding principles of religious tolerance.

    By 1978, with a regime change came yet another constitution in the country. Divisive politics and restrictive laws lead the country to a traumatic and bloody civil war from 1983 to 2009 between the state and Tamil rebels.  The state also faced rebellions from the majority community, such as student-led groups, indicating a serious lack of nation building following independence.  In the recent past, the U.N. Human Rights Council investigated and adopted three resolutions in regards to the serious human rights violations in Sri Lanka.  Yet, there was little domestic will to implement those resolutions, and the state's response can be characterized as outright denial of crimes committed during the conflict.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights carried out an investigation and called on the new and more reconciliatory government elected in January, 2015 to establish a domestic inquiry mechanism, a sort of hybrid of domestic and international courts.  Udagama finished her talk by reiterating the high levels of development in Sri Lanka but is failure to progress politically.  The brutality and violence of the civil war period, and during the youth uprisings in the south speaks to a greater pattern in Sri Lankan policy.  Law should be a used as a mechanism to build peace and protect those most vulnerable in society, yet in this case, it was manipulated for violent and intolerant purposes.  The new era in which Sri Lanka finds itself offers an important opportunity to turn the corner toward a constitution-based society that respects the rights of all its diverse communities. 

    We have since learned upon Professor Udagama's return to Sri Lanka that she was appointed as Chair of the National Human Rights Commission. We congratulate her on this recent appointment, and we look forward to her insights and contributions.
    (Continue Reading)October 26th, 2015
  • Sir Nigel Rodley meets with Human Rights Program, Students

    On October 6, 2015, the Human Rights Program, joined by David Weissbrodt of the law school and students of the graduate minor in Human Rights, met for a luncheon discussion with Professor Sir Nigel Rodley, a human rights lawyer, scholar, and activist.

    An early advisor to Amnesty International, Sir Nigel Rodley has been an influential contributor to the global human rights movement of the second half of the 20th century. Within the framework of the United Nations, he served as both the Special Rapporteur on torture (1993-2001) and as a Member of the Human Rights Committee beginning in 2001. He is also the President of the International Commission of Jurists. He has also served in an academic capacity, having formerly taught at Dalhousie University, the New School for Social Research in New York, and the London School of Economics. Currently, he is the Professor of Law and Chair of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex.

    Professor Rodley spoke informally with students from an array of disciplines including law, social work, history, and nursing fields, offering insights on the development of a human rights framework in a global context. Citing his experiences working in the United Nations, he recounted the ways in which topics surrounding human rights moved from a secondary, perfunctory status in interstate and transnational relations to a leading role in shaping not only the ways in which states relate to one another but also the domestic policies and efforts within nations. As he noted, human rights have seen major advancements as an international standard to which governments and their officials can be held accountable for their actions. As such, in his time an activist throughout this important norm-building phase in international human rights, Professor Rodley was able to provide the participants with a unique context for understanding the groundwork on which current human rights efforts and movements are based.

    Question topics ranged from transitional justice to his thoughts on the proliferation of Special Rapporteurs and the impact of the broadening presence and accountability on state participants in the international human rights discourse. He addressed his own longevity in the field, speaking candidly on how he has sustained his "faith" in the process. Responding to a question regarding the conflict in El Salvador, Professor Rodley reflected on a growing trend of ambiguity in state involvement in human rights violations, and how transnational actors perceive accountability in this context. 

    We thank Sir Nigel Rodley for his contributions to the study and promotion of human rights, and we are grateful for his time at the University of Minnesota.
    (Continue Reading)October 22nd, 2015
  • What's in a name? Exploring How We Define Genocide from Lemkin to International Law

    How does the Native American experience line up with legal and other definitions of genocide?  This was the question at the heart of the presentation of Joe Eggers, an interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Studies student who presented his work at the September 30, workshop on Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV).

    Eggers explained the forced assimilation of Native Americans through the American Indian Boarding schools, outlining the various American policies institutionalizing this forced assimilation in the United States, such as the 1882 Code of Indian Offenses and the 1887 Dawes Act.  This sort of legislation and policy often resulted in forcible conversions to Christianity, which was seen as a more “cost-effective” measure than forced deportation or mass executions.  In 1819, the first boarding schools in Minnesota were established in Pipestone and Morris, which have been documented to include physical, sexual, mental and emotional abuse toward the Native children. Part of the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide’s criteria finds the forcible transfer of children from one group to another to be genocide.  However, interest in codifying protection against cultural forms of genocide was largely suppressed by the United States delegation in the creation of the convention.  As a result, this definition fails to capture the mass force assimilation characterizing the colonisation of the Americas. Eggers asserts that this framework does not effectively account for the abuse in the boarding schools, instead citing Lemkin’s definition and the 1994 Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People as more inclusive and appropriate in addressing such moments in history.

    Eggers concluded his presentation by bringing to light the Canadian experience of First Nation peoples.  Canada also instituted a boarding school policy, and in 2008 the government issued the first formal apology, which has resulted in the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission. During this process, the commission discussed the cultural genocide that occurred in these schools, yet this sort of rhetoric has not been employed in the American context.  To conclude Eggers, finds that by extending the definition of genocide to incorporate Lemkin’s cultural dimension, American actions in these boarding schools would constitute genocide.  In his future research, Eggers may explore the disparities between the Canadian and the American approach and try to examine the potential consequences of amending this definition for the various actors involved in the practical arena. 
    (Continue Reading)October 22nd, 2015
  • Blogging the UN: Reporting on the Social Good Summit

    Amanda Kruger, a senior studying political science and history, was selected to blog about the UN’s goals on sustainability in New York City as part of its “Social Good Summit,” involving student activists in promoting positive global change.
    In conjunction with the 70th General Assembly of the United Nations, the Social Good Summit brought together in New York individuals from around the world with the goal of communicating and reporting about the newest goals set forth by the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals. The general theme of the summit was to bring attention to the role that everyone has in making effective change and to bring these new goals of bettering the world to light. Through discussions with a wide range of individuals—from Nelson Mandela’s grandchildren to high office holders within the United Nations to advocates from non-governmental organizations—participants learned hands-on the importance of the interconnected world and individuals’ impacts on it. 

    As a Social Good Blogger Fellow at the summit, Amanda also worked to interpret and frame the discussions and information in a format for social media effective in engaging others and transmitting the new set of goals. An active member in Model United Nations since her freshman year in high school, Amanda believes that this was a great opportunity for her to witness and report on international talks of the global future and apply the skills she has developed in a real-world setting. Though the summit was not specifically focused on promoting human rights, she notes that it nevertheless had a strong presence with discussions focusing on women’s rights, health rights, and environmental rights. Furthermore, the general idea of the new set of goals is that we cannot progress until we adopt and further the rights to all, and the real challenge where everyone can play an impact is bringing the goals home to each of their communities.

    For her future plans, Amanda is currently in the process of applying to law schools and to public policy programs with an international dimension. Ultimately, her career goals are to make a lasting impact to improve the lives of others through international policy making. For students interested in human rights work or international involvement, Amanda recommends joining groups or organizations in and around campus. From campus groups supporting micro financing, UNICEF, and the Peace Corps, there are many ways for individuals to apply their interests in a productive environment.
    (Continue Reading)October 20th, 2015
  • 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
    (Continue Reading)October 19th, 2015
  • Program to Welcome Mexican Scholars and Activists for Dialogue on Human Rights in Mexico

    The Human Rights Program, in conjunction with openGlobalRights, the Stassen Chair of International Affairs, and CIDE (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas) in Mexico, is hosting an academic conference on October 29-30, 2015, to address the status of human rights in Mexico. "Human Rights in Mexico: Crisis and Opportunity" will bring together scholars, practitioners, and experts to reflect on the current human rights crisis in Mexico, including the role of civil society, transnational human rights movements, and the monitoring of violations. The conference is free and open to the public. All sessions will be presented in English.

    Events will be held in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (Humphrey Forum on Thursday, Conference Room 180 on Friday).

    Thursday, October 29
    Location: The Humphrey Forum
    Humphrey School of Public Affairs (West Bank)
    301 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

    9:00am - Welcome and Introductory Remarks
    • Alejandro Anaya (CIDE)
    • Barbara Frey (Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota)
    • James Ron (Stassen Chair of International Affairs, University of Minnesota)

    9:15am-10:45am - Mexico's Human Rights Crisis: A General Overview
    • Moderator: Alejandro Anaya (CIDE)
    • Perseo Quiroz (Amnesty International), "A general overview of the human rights crisis in Mexico"
    • Regina Tamés (Grupo de Información en Reproducción Elegida GIRE), "A general overview of the human rights of women"
    • Catalina Pérez-Correa (CIDE), "Extrajudicial executions by the armed forces"

    11:00am-12:45pm - Human Rights of Migrants and Internally Displaced Persons
    • Moderator: Susan Gzesh (University of Chicago)
    • Benjamin Waddell (Adams State University, Colorado), "Emigration, Crime, and Human Rights Violations in 21st Century Mexico"
    • Ariadna Estévez (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México - UNAM), "What do you mean, 'was it the state or was it a criminal gang'? The human rights crisis in Mexico, hybrid power and challenges to asylum"
    • Javier Treviño (CIDE), "The violation of human rights of migrants in transit through Mexico"

    2:00pm-4:30pm - Civil Society, Human Rights and the Democratic Process
    • Moderator: Leigh Payne (University of Oxford)
    • Barbara Frey (University of Minnesota), "The human rights movement"
    • Luis Daniel Vázquez (FLACSO México) (**Presentation in Spanish**), "Calidad de la democracia y violaciones de los derechos humanos" 
    • David Crow (CIDE), "Do human rights protect criminals? Crime and Attitudes Towards Rights in Mexico"
    • Karina Ansolabehere (FLACSO México), "The judiciary and human rights"
    • James Ron and Kassi Absar (University of Minnesota), "Public attitudes towards local human rights organizations in Mexico"

    Friday, October 30
    Location: Conference Room 180
    Humphrey School of Public Affairs (West Bank)
    301 19th Avenue South
    Minneapolis, MN 55455

    9:00am-10:45am - The Interaction Between the Global and the Local

    • Moderator: James Ron (University of Minnesota)
    • Janice Gallagher (Brown University), "Citizen action, the rule of law and human rights" 
    • Sandra Serrano (FLACSO México), "Domestic reception of Inter-American jurisprudence"
    • Alejandro Anaya and Natalia Saltalamacchia (CIDE and ITAM), "The limits of the transnational socialization of international human rights norms"
    • Oscar Chacon (National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities), "Opportunities for transnational advocacy"

    11:00am-12:00pm - Discussion: Enforced Disappearances in Mexico
    • Moderator: Karina Ansolabehere (FLACSO México)
    • Michael Chamberlin (Centro Diocesano para los Derechos Humanos Fray Juan de Larios)
    • José Antonio Guevara (Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights)

    The conference is co-sponsored by the Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Center, the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change, the Arsham and Charlotte Ohanessian Chair in the College of Liberal Arts, la Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO-Mexico), and the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation.

    (Continue Reading)October 16th, 2015
  • Peace Talk with Atomic Bomb Survivor Michiko Harada

    In commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII and the dropping of the atomic bomb in two cities in Japan, the University of Minnesota was proud to host on September 29, 2015 Ms. Michiko Harada, who travelled for the first time to the United States from Nagasaki, Japan. With the support of the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee, which was celebrating 60 years of partnership and support between the cities, Ms. Harada was able to take the time to discuss not only her story as a hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor) but also her motivation behind and work advocating for peace. 

    At the Peace Talk, Ms. Harada recounted her story of surviving the blast. At just six years old on August 9, 1945, Ms. Harada lived just over 2 miles from its epicenter. While many people were burned alive from the bomb, Ms. Harada survived with only cuts from broken windows. Her father, who was working just across the city  at the time, was forced by the disaster to travel for over 24 hours through  nearby mountains to get to her and the rest of his family.

    In her discussion, Ms. Harada depicted not only in photos and paintings but also through actions what it was like to live through the experience. Wearing a blue-air-raid hat and apron provided to all children in Japan at the time, she showed the audience the protective measures they went through at the time of the explosion. In the coming years, though, Ms. Harada lost many members of her family and friends to radiation poisoning, including her father, and further experienced first-hand the effects through her work in the healthcare field.

    To bring attention to the long-lasting effects outside of health and family, Ms. Harada also discussed the bomb’s role in her goals in advocating for world piece. As one of the few survivors who are still living today, Ms. Harada spoke of the importance that telling stories of the event and teaching and remembering what happened have in pushing for world peace. She was supported by Masanobu Chita, director of the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb, who highlighted some of the exhibits from round the world that have taken place in the past 10 years to document and bring attention to what happened 70 years ago.

    The event closed with an engaging set of questions and further discussion on the movement for peace and remembering the devastation of the atomic bomb.  We thank Ms. Harada, Mr. Chita, the Sister City Committee, and the other partners for their time and dedication. 
    (Continue Reading)October 15th, 2015
  • Applications Invited for Fall 2016 Inaugural Master of Human Rights Class; Faculty Committee Appointed

    In light of the University of Minnesota Board of Regents September vote of approval to initiate a Master of Human Rights (MHR) degree at the University of Minnesota, faculty and staff in the College of Liberal Arts and Humphrey School of Public Affairs have been hard at work preparing the degree for its inaugural cohort in the 2016-2017 year.

    The interdisciplinary degree is designed to provide students with the diverse substantive and methodological approaches necessary for the study and practice of human rights. Throughout the program, students will be able to draw upon and develop these theoretical and practical tools in a wide range of courses, internships, and field experiences available with leading global scholars and activists in human rights. To further develop students’ professional skills, the program also includes a wide range of concentrations in the field of human rights. Whether it is NGO management or the rights of refugees and asylum, students will be able to support their individual expertise and interests as they complete their Master of Human Rights.

    The Faculty Committee for the new Master’s program was appointed by the offices of the Deans of CLA and the Humphrey School. At its first meeting, Lisa Hilbink (Associate Professor, Political Science) and James Ron (Associate Professor, Political Science and Humphrey School) were elected co-chairs of the Master’s faculty. The remaining committee members include:
    • Cawo Abdi, Associate Professor, Sociology 
    • Ragui Assaad, Professor, Humphrey School
    • Alejandro Baer, Associate Professor, Sociology 
    • Laura Bloomberg, Associate Dean, Humphrey School
    • Elizabeth Heger Boyle, Professor, Sociology
    • Karen Brown, Co-Director, Interdisciplinary Center for Global Change
    • Mary Curtin, Diplomat-in-Residence, Humphrey School
    • Ana Forcinito, Professor, Spanish and Portuguese Studies
    • Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program
    • Greta Friedemann-Sánchez, Associate Professor, Humphrey School
    • Deborah Levison, Professor, Humphrey School
    • Samuel L. Myers Jr., Professor, Humphrey School
    • Sarah E. Parkinson, Assistant Professor, Humphrey School
    • Alex Rothman, Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Programs, CLA
    • Joachim J. Savelsberg, Professor, Sociology
    • Melissa M. Stone, Professor, Humphrey School

    Students interested in the MHR should visit its new website and download a brochure for more information. Applications for Fall 2016 will become available in October. Please do not hesitate to contact the admissions office ( or the Coordinator of the Master of Human Rights, Mary Curtin, ( with any questions.
    (Continue Reading)September 30th, 2015
  • New Master of Human Rights at the University of Minnesota

    The Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce that the University of Minnesota Board of Regents voted on September 11, 2015 to approve the creation of a Master of Human Rights (MHR) degree. The two-year interdisciplinary program, jointly offered by the College of Liberal Arts and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, will prepare students with the professional and conceptual knowledge necessary to work in the field of human rights and equip them with the analytical skills and tools critically important to most effectively addressing some of the world’s toughest human rights challenges.

    Looking ahead, we are excited to take the next steps by building an interdisciplinary base of talented scholars, faculty, and leaders in the human rights discipline to lead the program. We also look forward to beginning to promote the degree as we seek out a diverse group of students to admit for the 2016-2017 school year!
    We thank all who have contributed to and supported this project over the years, and we look forward to the continued engagement as we bring the program to life. Please do not hesitate to contact Mary Curtin, former diplomat-in-residence and current Coordinator of the Master of Human Rights, at with any questions.

    (Continue Reading)September 14th, 2015
  • Fulbright Scholar Alejandro Anaya Muñoz at the University of Minnesota

    Visiting Professor Alejandro Anaya Muñoz’s career is a reflection of his dedication to the study and protection of human rights and indigenous peoples in Mexico. Anaya obtained his BA in International Relations from Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico. He holds a Master's in Theory and Practice of Human Rights and a PhD in government from the University of Essex. As of November of 2012, Anaya has been a Board member of the Mexican Commission for the Defense and Promotion of Human Rights, a leading human rights NGO in Mexico. During 2011 – 2015, he was the Director of the “Central Region” campus of the Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), a leading research and higher education institution in Mexico. He is a tenured Professor of International Studies at CIDE. Anaya also served as Associate Professor and Head of the Department of International Studies at the Universidad Iberoamericana, in Mexico City from 2005 to 2008, and Coordinator of the Human Rights Program from 2004 to 2005.  Previously, Anaya served as Assistant Professor in the Department of Social, Legal and Political Studies, at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente (ITESO), from 2003 to 2004. 

    Anaya was awarded a Fulbright grant for 2015-16 to continue his research, engage students in the classroom and disseminate his knowledge more broadly throughout the community here in the Twin Cities.  He plans to teach a course in the Spring 2016 semester examining human rights through an international relations perspective. His current research explores the influence over state discourse and behavior of the UN Human Rights Committee reporting procedure.  In addition to this research and teaching, Anaya will be organizing an academic conference in October (sponsored by both the Human Rights Program and CIDE), which will bring together scholars from Mexico and the U.S. to discuss the human rights crisis in Mexico.  The outcome of the conference is expected to be a book, edited by Professor Anaya, together Barb Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program, and James Ron, professor of political science. 

    From 1996 to 1998, Anaya helped design and carry out human rights workshops with indigenous communities in Chiapas, Mexico, at the Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas Human Rights Centre. These workshops focused on human rights reporting to international organizations, NGOs and funding agencies as well as international lobbying.  Before conducting these workshops, from 1994 to 1995, Anaya carried out training in human rights advocacy for Guatemalan refugees in Chiapas and the process of return for these refugees through the Comite Cristiano de Solidaridad in Comitan, Chiapas.  

    Professor Anaya has published several books and articles concerning human rights, indigenous rights and cultural diversity in Mexico in journals such as the Human Rights Quarterly, the International Journal of Human Rights and the Journal of Latin American Studies. The following is a selection of his academic work, recognition and courses taught:

    Select Publications:

    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, Los derechos humanos en y desde las Relaciones Internacionales [Human Rights in International Relations], Mexico City: Centro de Investigación y Docenia Económicas, 2014.
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, El país bajo presión. Debatiendo el papel del escrutinio internacional de derechos humanos sobre México [The country under pressure. A debate on the role of international human rights scrutiny over Mexico], Mexico City: Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas, 2012.
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, Autonomía indígena, gobernabilidad y legitimidad en México. La legalización de los “usos y costumbres” electorales en Oaxaca [Indigenous autonomy, gobernability and legitimacy in Mexico. The legalization of electoral “usos y costumbres” in Oaxaca], Mexico City: Universidad Iberoamericana and Plaza y Valdez, 2006.
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, “Communicative interaction between Mexico and its international critics around the issue of military jurisdiction: ‘Rhetorical action’ or ‘truth seeking arguing’?” Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 13, No. 4, 2014, pp. 434-455.
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, “Transnational and domestic processes in the definition of human rights policies in Mexico”, Human Rights Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2009, pp. 35-58. 
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz, “Política exterior y derechos humanos durante el gobierno de Felipe Calderón” [“Foreign Policy and Human Rights in the Government of Felipe Calderon”], Foro Internacional, Vol. 53, Nos. 3-4, 2013, pp. 771-793.
    • Alejandro Anaya Muñoz and Olga Aikin, “Crisis de derechos humanos de las personas migrantes en tránsito por México: redes y presión transnacional”  [“Crisis of the human rights of migrants in transit through Mexico: networks and transnational pressure”], Foro Internacional, Vol. 53, No. 1, 2013, pp. 143-181.  

    Awards, recognitions and grants:

    • Member of the National System of Researchers of Mexico's National Council for Science and Technology (CONACYT) since 2005, level 2
    • Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars. Mexico Public Policy Scholar Grant. Woodrow Wilson Center-Mexican Council of Foreign Affairs (Summer of 2008 and Summer of 2012)
    • The British Council. Chevening Scholarship (1998-1999)

    Courses taught:
    • Human Rights in International Relations
    • Human Rights in International and Domestic Politics
    • Introduction to International Relations
    • International Relations Theory
    • International Regimes
    • Research Seminar

    We are excited to host Professor Anaya for the 2015-2016 school year, and we look forward to his contributions to both the University community and the field of human rights!

    (Continue Reading)September 10th, 2015
  • United Nations Security Council Addresses Issues Concerning the LGBT Community

    On Monday the 24th of August, the United Nations Security Council convened for an unprecedented meeting, organized by the U.S. and Chilean delegations to discuss issues concerning the LGBT community. This was an Arria-formula meeting, an unofficial, confidential and non-mandatory gathering of Security Council Members attended by 13 of the 15 members states of the security council (Chad and Angola chose not to participate).  China, Russia, Nigeria and Malaysia, known for their poor records regarding the LGBT community declined to comment.  

    U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson (a long standing proponent for LGBT rights) and Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commision, Jessica Stern addressed the member states, as well as two young men from Iraq and Syria who shared their experiences with those present.  Speaking under the pseudonym “Adnan,” an Iraqi gay man delivered his testimony via telephone, asserting that “ISIS are professional when it comes to tracking gay people.  They hunt them down one by one.”  He spoke to the thorough and sophisticated manner in which ISIS has utilized social media. “When they capture people, they go through the person’s phone and contacts and Facebook friends.  They are trying to track down every gay man.  And it’s like dominoes.  If one goes, the others will be taken down too.” 

    The persecution facing Individuals who identify with the LGBT community in both Syria and Iraq is no novelty.  However, such prejudices have been deeply exacerbated by the ongoing conflict.  Moreover, the extremity of the Islamic State’s brutality has garnered the attention of the international community. Reports have emerged documenting executions of individuals by ISIS accused of homosexuality by stoning, beheading, firing squads and throwing them from buildings--all the while, such acts have been glorified on its massive social media machine.  

    United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, declared the meeting an historic event, as it is “the first time in history that the Council has held a meeting on the victimization of the LGBT persons.  It is the first time we are saying, in a single voice, that it is wrong to target people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.  It is a historic step.  And it is, as we all know, long overdue.”  Power highlighted the scope of LGBT discrimination, which extends beyond the territory of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, but is rather a global human rights issue, and therefore the effort to realize equal rights for LGBT individuals “must be waged within every one of our countries, even those where important progress has been made--and that includes the United States.”  

    The Middle Eastern dynamic of this discussion was illustrated by Subhi Nahas of Idlib Syria, who has since settled in San Francisco after gaining refugee status. Nahas feared for his life due to the presence of the Islamic State and other homophobic, extremists groups in the conflict however, Nahas could not seek refuge in his own home.  According to Nahas, in his society, “being gay means death.”  He bears the scars from his father as evidence of his intolerance.  Nahas also continued to underline the importance of recognizing LGBT rights as universal human rights, hoping his “message will prove that LGBT is not just terminology invented by the West, but there is an LGBT community in the Middle East and in Africa and they stand together and they want their rights too.”

    According to ORAM international, about 400 LGBT Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey, though it suspects a much higher figure since individuals are often afraid to speak out.  Gay women are even less likely to seek refugees status than men, due to an inequity in resources between the sexes, where women are less empowered in many instances (such as needing a male figure’s permission to travel or obtain a travel document).  

    In a press release following the meeting, Samantha Power again highlighted the varying degrees of intolerant societies around the world, including countries where identifying as LGBT or engaging in homosexual acts is criminalised. “Today’s meeting is a sign that this issue is getting injected into the DNA of the United Nations [...] Until today the Security Council had never broached this topic and so this represents small but historic step.”
    (Continue Reading)September 9th, 2015
  • UMN Seeking Human Rights Professors

    The Institute for Global Studies (IGS) in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota invites applications for one or more full-time, tenure-track faculty positions in the broad field of human rights. Appointments will be 100%-time over the nine-month academic year. Appointments will be made at the rank of tenure-track assistant professor, depending on qualifications and experience, and consistent with collegiate and University policy. These will be joint appointments between the Institute for Global Studies and the appropriate disciplinary unit in the College of Liberal Arts. Appointments will begin fall semester 2016 (August 29, 2016).

    Successful candidates will evidence a pronounced interdisciplinary stance in their scholarship.  We encourage applications from scholars whose work addresses the theory and history of human rights, and we also invite applications from candidates with research interests in one or more of the following areas of human rights scholarship: economic/social/cultural rights; intersectionality (e.g., race, gender, indigeneity, sexuality); migration; rights and political theory; laws and institutions/transitional justice; the role of non-state actors; war/atrocities/mass violence; conflict resolution; humanitarian aid; social movements; health/ environment; culture/film/literature/art/representation. The broad scope of this search is meant to indicate our interest in candidates with innovative and interdisciplinary research agendas that would supplement and enhance existing research and teaching in the field of human rights.  Geographic focus is open but we especially welcome applications from candidates whose work addresses human rights in Africa, the Middle East, East or Southeast Asia, or indigenous nations.

    Required qualifications: Ph.D. or terminal degree in the appropriate field is required by the start of the appointment. The successful candidate(s) will show a strong commitment to interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching.

    Candidates will be evaluated according to: a) overall quality of their academic preparation and scholarship or other creative work, b) relevance of their research to the units’ academic priorities, c) evidence of commitment to teaching, and d) strength of recommendations.

    Duties & Responsibilities: Faculty in IGS and the College of Liberal Arts are expected to maintain an active program of scholarly research and publication or other creative work, active engagement in graduate and undergraduate teaching and advising, and service in both IGS and the department of the tenure home. The tenure home will be determined by the chosen candidate(s) in consultation with the respective unit heads, the director of IGS, and the appropriate CLA associate dean(s). The individual’s work effort will be equally shared between IGS and the tenure home; tenure and promotion decisions will involve consultation between each unit.  The successful candidate(s) will be expected to participate in the interdisciplinary, comparative and theoretical dialogues that define the intellectual vitality of IGS and the Human Rights Program.

    The Workload Principles and Guidelines for Regular Faculty in the College of Liberal Arts are available at: 

    Program Description: The Institute for Global Studies, founded in 1998, fosters interdisciplinary faculty and graduate student research on global/transnational themes, serves as the coordinating unit for a range of campus centers focused on global issues, and houses an undergraduate Global Studies major. IGS faculty members hold joint appointments with a range of departments such as Anthropology; Geography, Environment, and Society; Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies; Sociology; and Spanish & Portuguese.  IGS faculty are engaged in a wide range of interdisciplinary research projects including global urbanism, agricultural humanitarianism, education of migrant populations, and the relationship between cultural practice and sovereign power.  Additional information about the Institute is available at http://  IGS houses and supports the Human Rights Program. The Human Rights Program advances human rights scholarship through support for research and publications; educates the next generation of human rights scholars and professionals; and engages with serious human rights issues through timely and meaningful projects, public programs and internships.  Additional information about the HRP is available at  The University of Minnesota has long been at the forefront of human rights scholarship and action.  Faculty working in this area have established international reputations by bringing together scholarly, legal, policy and activist work on human rights around the globe.
    Established in 1868, the College of Liberal Arts supports the University of Minnesota's land-grant mission as home to disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The College of Liberal Arts values diverse cultures, experiences, and perspectives as key to innovation and excellent education.
    The College of Liberal Arts is committed to intellectual freedom, the pursuit of new knowledge, and the belief that the liberal arts are the foundation of academic learning. CLA prepares students to be independent and original thinkers, innovators in their chosen fields; to create meaning in their lives and in their life's work; and to become productive citizens and leaders in their communities and the world.
    Founded in 1851, the University of Minnesota, with its five campuses and more than 65,000 students, is one of the largest, most comprehensive universities in the United States, and ranks among the most prestigious research universities in the world. It is both a major research institution, with scholars of national and international reputation, and a state land-grant university, with a strong tradition of education and public engagement. 

    All applicants must apply online through this link (U of M Job ID 303819).

    To be considered for this position, please click the "apply" button and follow the instructions. You will be given an opportunity to complete an online application for the position and attach a letter of intent and curriculum vitae. Additional documents must be attached by accessing your “My Activities” page. The following materials must be attached to your online application: 1) letter of intent, 2) curriculum vitae, and 3) one article length writing sample or the equivalent.

    In addition, applicants must arrange to have three letters of evaluation sent to <>.  Additional materials may be requested at a later date.  Applications will be reviewed beginning November 15, 2015, and will be accepted until the position is filled.

    The University recognizes and values the importance of diversity and inclusion in enriching the employment experience of its employees and in supporting the academic mission.  The University is committed to attracting and retaining employees with varying identities and backgrounds.

    The University of Minnesota provides equal access to and opportunity in its programs, facilities, and employment without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, age, marital status, disability, public assistance status, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.  To learn more about diversity at the U:

    To request an accommodation during the application process, please e-mail or call (612) 624-UOHR (8647).

    Any offer of employment is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check. Our presumption is that prospective employees are eligible to work here. Criminal convictions do not automatically disqualify finalists from employment.

    The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMTC), is among the largest public research universities in the country, offering undergraduate, graduate, and professional students a multitude of opportunities for study and research.  Located at the heart of one of the nation's most vibrant, diverse metropolitan communities, students on the campuses in Minneapolis and St. Paul benefit from extensive partnerships with world-renowned health centers, international corporations, government agencies, and arts, nonprofit, and public service organizations.
    (Continue Reading)September 3rd, 2015
  • Human Rights Program Celebrates its Three-Year Partnership with Schools in Antioquia, Colombia

    On 30 June 2015, the Human Rights Program recognized the closing of the first chapter of what will hopefully be a long-lasting partnership with schools in the Department of Antioquia, Colombia.  The Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Law Partnership, 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 life-long friendships and partners through mutual respect and empowerment. 

    Beginning in October 2012, the Partnership, commonly referred to as the “Alianza,” developed among five schools: the University of Minnesota; and, in Antioquia, the Universidad Católica del Oriente, the Universidad de Medellín, the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, and the Universidad de Antioquia. The Alianza was conceived with the overall mission of being an interdisciplinary, team-based program working to strengthen the capacity of all partner schools in the teaching, research, and practice of human rights. From this general guideline, three primary goals for the promotion of the Partnership quickly developed: 

    Develop faculty expertise in human rights and the rule of law

    Strengthen the capacities of the Antioquia law schools to better serve vulnerable populations in the areas of legal services and human rights litigation
    Enable students in the partner schools to be better prepared to protect human right in Colombia

    The Alianza carried out a wide range of activities designed to accomplish these goals including enhancing Spanish-language human rights materials on line; providing courses on  human rights by various professors and practitioners; connecting with transnational human rights organizations and experts; providing a scholarship for four faculty members to receive a Master’s degree in human rights; providing exchange programs for faculty and students to observe classes and take part in internships; and applying the knowledge and skills developed through the partnership to human rights situations, issues, and cases. 

    After UMN was selected to coordinate the Antioquia Partnership, the challenge lay in creating a collaborative relationship among the schools to carry out these activities.  Because of the large number of actors involved in the UMN-Antioquia Partnership, a democratic decision-making process was needed to set the Partnership’s priorities, select recipients for externships, design strategic initiatives on issues, and distribute responsibilities.  The Antioquia partner schools, which varied significantly in size and mission, established a consortium for this purpose. Composed of two representatives of each school’s legal clinics, the consortium met regularly in consultation with UMN to make collective decisions about the direction and implementation of the Alianza’s goals and objectives.  The transparency and representative nature of this consortium allowed the voices of each of these distinctive partners to be heard, and served as a model of an iterative and democratic process that added legitimacy to the decisions and actions of the Partnership.

    To support the needs of this large and diverse Partnership, UMN hired a staff of three Colombia-based lawyers, who provided a broad array of services in Antioquia, including coordination of events, meetings, and collaborative legal activities, as well as support for curriculum development, training and human rights expertise.  Over the three years of HED-funded activity, the Partnership benefited from this Antioquia-based team of committed and talented human rights lawyers, which included a General Coordinator, a Legal Clinic Coordinator and a Human Rights Lawyer. The UMN-based staff, including the Partnership directors and Minnesota-based coordinators, met weekly via Google Hangout with the Antioquia-based staff to ensure that activities were proceeding in a timely and effective manner.

    Using this process, characterized by mutual respect and empowerment, the Alianza of the five partner schools developed into an effective and sophisticated human rights program with its own institutional identity, which was in the position to respond in a timely and strategic manner to the pressing human rights issues in the various communities. Working together to create educational programs and advocacy opportunities that promoted human rights in Colombia, the Alianza built synergies among faculty and student groups, legal clinics, national and international NGOs, international organizations and experts, and like-minded government actors.  

    In Minnesota, the most visible presence of the Partnership was from the frequent visits of Colombian law students over the last two years.  The UMN hosted student externs over four semesters in 2013-2015, nine students in total. This experiential learning opportunity was a competitive process for students in the partner schools. The University of Minnesota engaged the prospective externs ahead of their visits, to design meaningful learning opportunities specific to the students’ stated interests and personal/professional goals. Students who were interested in a broad array of topics, such as business and human rights, LGBTQA+ rights, and children’s rights, met with faculty and experts in the Twin Cities who specialize in a these issues.

    The nine student interns included:

    Juliana Vélez, Universidad de Medellín
    Martin Palacios, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
    Sara Mejía, Universidad de Antioquia
    Leidy Baena, Universidad Católica de Oriente
    John Marin, Universidad Católica de Oriente
    Carolina Londoño, Universidad de Medellín
    Verónica Cadavid, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana
    Miguel Arias, Universidad de Antioquia
    Dani Castaño, Universidad Católica de Oriente

    During their time in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul students had the opportunity to observe classes at both the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts and the Law School. They met with faculty and staff at UMN and various other universities, took learning field trips, and worked with the human rights clinics at the UMN Law School.  Each visiting student was required to carry out a 20 hour per week internship with a human rights organization based in Minnesota. Organizations that sponsored the student externs included: The Volunteer Lawyers Network, Immigrant Law Center, The Advocates for Human Rights, and The Prison Nursery Project. These internships helped shape the students’ perspectives and professional capabilities.

    Tying education to advocacy, the Partnership was able to grow through its system of support and collaboration over the years into an effective and sophisticated human rights program with its own institutional identity as a champion of the practical promotion and protection of human rights at the local, national, and international level. In Antioquia, human rights clinics in the partner schools made great strides toward becoming spaces of experiential learning, where students were encouraged to work hand-in-hand with community groups to develop and implement strategic advocacy on pressing issues. This was visible in the work of clinical faculty and students with residents of “La Playita,” a neighborhood deeply affected by flooding and other environmental risks; as well as with residents of “La Argentina” and “El Arrayan” in the community of Nariño, Colombia who, since their forced displacement in 2006, were still residing in informal emergency settlements without basic public services. 

    The work of the Partnership was able to utilize the human rights framework to advocate strategically with various communities for lasting solutions to their human rights challenges. Using this strategic approach, the Partnership communicated its concerns in two important international fora. In 2014, it presented its findings to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“CRC”) with regard to issues facing Antioquia’s children, such as illegal mining work, lack of access to healthcare, environmental pollution, and lack of regulation and oversight in the adoption process. The UN Committee included the Partnership’s concerns in its concluding observations, and, as a follow up, one of the expert members of the CRC visited Antioquia in April 2015 to present her findings in person to a public audience organized by the Partnership. 

    Over the last three years, the Partnership was able to promote the rights of children internationally by appearing twice before the CRC in Geneva, Switzerland. In June 2014, representatives of the Partnership presented their recommendations for ways in which the Colombian government can advance children’s rights in a pre-sessional meeting of the CRC’s members, and in January 2015, two more representatives participated in the CRC’s review of Colombia’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Partnership was the only academic-based group presenting at the CRC review, working alongside other NGO coalitions to provide continued dedication to the support for international human rights. 

    The Partnership was quite active in promoting human rights on the regional level as well. In March 2014, representatives of the Partnership were able to travel to Washington DC to meet with human rights organizations, congressional offices, and media to raise awareness for the rights of workers. The following March, the Partnership was granted a public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to explain the problems of communities facing harm in resettlement processes related to displacement from violent conflict, urban development, or high risk living situations. At the hearing the Partnership targeted the Colombian State's failure to adopt legislative and administrative measures aimed at protecting the rights of those affected by resettlement. Representatives of the Colombian Government also presented evidence to the IACHR at the hearing. A final report is expected within the coming months from the IACHR, and the Partnership will continue to monitor the IACHR’s recommendations and advocate for their implementation.

    At the end of the three-year chapter of the Partnership, the Human Rights Program and the schools in Antioquia can claim several long¬-lasting contributions to protection of human rights in Antioquia and elsewhere, including the formation of human rights leaders and advocates, new and strengthened legal clinics which can carry out effective collaborative casework, and access to resources for teaching, research and advocacy. In addition to these lasting contributions, the partners anticipate an ongoing and productive relationship. The schools and programs are already planning for the future of the Partnership, which includes:

    Joint research initiatives between faculty members underway on domestic violence and the tutelage process in Colombia;

    Collaboration among the partners and NGOs in monitoring the Colombian government’s actions to implement the recommendations of the CRC and the IACHR;
    Invitations to faculty at the University of Minnesota to present on their research; and
    The development of institutional agreements among the partner schools to support faculty and student exchanges

    The Partnership will be shifting its immediate focus as it looks ahead. In the near future, the partners in Antioquia will continue to be committed to working together to implement the recommendations that were drafted with regard to human rights in Colombia. In the long term, the Partnership intends to expand to include faculty and staff from legal clinics in other law schools in the area, bringing together a more robust network of advocates and scholars of human rights, a key aspect of maintaining and growing a successful partnership across continents. 

    We would like to thank all the individuals who have contributed to such a successful beginning of this partnership. Over the years, the Human Rights Program was able to build tremendous relationships, partake in unique experiences, and reach achievements only possible through the support and respect of individuals united in the goal of studying and promoting human rights. As we look forward, we are excited for the many opportunities to come to the Program and our partners in Colombia!

    (Continue Reading)August 12th, 2015
  • The View from Faribault Prison: Human Rights Scribe 2015

    Each week for the last two months, I’ve had the pleasure to teach creative writing to fourteen men incarcerated at Faribault State Correctional Facility, a medium security prison about an hour south of the Twin Cities. As with the other classes I’ve taught in prison, it’s been an incredible experience to work with a group of writers who are so committed to their work and so eager to learn and discuss elements of craft.

    This class was a little different from the ones I’ve taught in the past, primarily because it was focused on more experienced writers, several of whom have many years of writing experience. While I continued to choose our readings and give personalized feedback on student work, the fact that several of the students have been writing for a long time has changed the classroom dynamic somewhat, in that I felt more comfortable ceding some of the responsibility for facilitating the class to the students themselves. One of the best parts of this experience was watching them supporting one another, praising and critiquing each others’ work. I was constantly learning from them, as well: every classroom discussion of a story or essay or poem brought to light something that I had never noticed or appreciated before.

    The dialogue between students was especially fruitful because this class did not focus on one particular genre, but touched on elements of poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. Some students worked entirely in a single genre, but many branched out and tried something new. One student, who focuses primarily on song-writing and slam poetry, wrote and revised a beautiful short story; another student, who is working on a memoir, turned his attention to poetry for a few weeks before combining elements of both genres in a moving and thoughtful lyric essay. The students said that this “cross-pollination,” as they put it, gave them a greater appreciation for work in other genres and added some zest to the conversation.

    Last week, on the last day of class, each writer stood in front of the room and read aloud from a polished piece that he had been working on. It was a powerful experience to listen to them present writing that they had labored over and of which they felt proud.

    Many people in our country, including President Obama, are beginning to pay more attention to issues of mass incarceration and to point out that the way we treat people who are incarcerated is often profoundly dehumanizing. I’ve never been more convinced about the value of working in prison and attempting to counteract their dehumanizing influence through artistic self-expression. After the final class at Faribault, we shook hands and said our goodbyes. Many of them thanked me for coming into the prison to teach. I thanked them, as well, because I’m sure I learned as much as any of the students did and because the experience of teaching in prison is humanizing for me, too.

    I’m very grateful to the Human Rights Program for providing the support that made these classes possible. Now that I’ve finished with the teaching portion of my fellowship, I will turn my attention to writing. I’m happy to have another month before classes begin to work on an essay about my experiences and the importance of arts education in prison more generally. I will also be helping to organize a public reading of student work, which will take place at the end of October.
    -By Mike Alberti, 2015 Human Rights Scribe
    (Continue Reading)July 31st, 2015
  • Director Barbara Frey Speaks to Prospective CLA Students

    As a part of the Sneak Preview program for prospective 2016 freshmen, Human-Rights-Program-Director Barbara Frey presented a seminar engaging students interested in the University of Minnesota's College of Liberal Arts with and introduce them to the study and field of human rights. 

    In a day of campus activities, information sessions, and tours, a group of high school juniors and seniors were able to take a moment and listen to Director Barbara Frey speak on the opportunities on campus and within the community surrounding human rights--as well as its contemporary history. In her seminar, Frey was able to touch on the various opportunities on campus and around the community for students to be involved in the human right discipline: in the Global Studies major, in the Human Rights Program, and in various human rights organizations around the Twin Cities. To provide context to the work being done in human rights, she continued with an outline of the various mechanisms and characteristics of human rights in international law and politics, engaging students with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights booklet, the development of the relationship of human rights between and among state and non-state actors, and the characteristics of classifying "human" rights. To close, the seminar was opened up for discussion, allowing for interested students to connect with others and have any specific questions regarding the program or study and promotion of human rights answered.
    (Continue Reading)July 10th, 2015
  • Former Student Advisory Board Member Awarded Fulbright Scholarship

    Erik Katovich, a May 2015 graduate of the University of Minnesota, and former member of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, has begun his adventure as a Fulbright Scholar in São Paulo, Brazil. With a B.S. in economics and minors in mathematics, Spanish, and history, Erik plans to continue his work in the field of economics, with a focus on development, as both a student and a researcher.

    As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, Erik studied abroad early and extensively. Following his return from his second trip abroad in Spain, he became interested in studying the neighboring language of Portuguese. Due in part to his love of travel and languages, Erik developed a deep interest in the rich and complex literature, culture, and history of Brazil and the development challenges the country faces.

    Among those challenges are the balancing of development, growth, and consumption with equality and human rights. On a more practical level, Erik further developed his interest in promoting and studying human rights from his internship experiences working with ESL learners and asylum-seekers and his time living abroad. As such, he has become actively involved in the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, serving the program for multiple years. Just this past year he was able to apply his desire in raising awareness of human rights issues and constructing workable solutions to its related issues by taking part in efforts to raise awareness for International Human Rights Day in December and in a clothes drive project for recognition of International Women's Day in March.
    As a way to combine his interest in Brazil and in continuing his travels abroad with an application of his studies, Erik successfully applied for a scholarship through the US federal government's Fulbright Program to take part in a larger ongoing project hosted at the State University of Campinas in Brazil that focuses on comparing the development of labor markets in Brazil and the United States over the past few decades. For his part of the project, Erik will work with household survey and census data to measure the relationship between educational attainment and funding and uneven growth in productivity in various occupations, subsequently leading to changing forms of inequality throughout the economy. With a major policy goal in Brazil of addressing the right to an access to education, this work is inherently pertinent to the field of human rights. The results may demonstrate to policymakers the importance of funding education, or it may reveal the ways in which education policies drive inequality. Nevertheless, it should raise awareness for ways in which lawmakers can refine investment and efforts to better address and reduce inequalities in the country. The project's efforts will be an important contribution to Brazil's national debate over how to navigate the effects of the world economy and development on its citizens’ education and living standards. 

    Through the program, Erik hopes to further hone his approaches to economic research and to further understand the role of the economy--both in Brazil and worldwide--in the field of human rights. As a Fulbright Scholar, he hopes to build connections and communication with activists and students and to deepen his knowledge of other countries, cultures, and languages.

    Following his Scholarship, Erik aims to pursue graduate school for a PhD in applied economics or a related field with the help of his various experiences and interests. We commend Erik on his achievements and contributions, and we look forward to seeing his contributions to the field of human rights and beyond. 

    To learn more about the Fulbright Program, click here

    (Continue Reading)June 30th, 2015
  • Director Barbara Frey and Professors Robert Stein and David Weissbrodt Receive Center for Victims of Torture Annual Eclipse Awards

    On 23 July 2015, the Center for Victims of Torture published the following article to its 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.
    (Continue Reading)June 29th, 2015
  • 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.
    (Continue Reading)June 18th, 2015
  • 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.

    (Continue Reading)June 8th, 2015
  • Graduate Minor Spotlight: Damir Utrzan

    Damir Utrzan, PhD student in Family Social Sciences and a student of the human rights minor, was recently awarded two human-rights-related fellowships for the upcoming year. During the summer, Damir will be working under a Human Rights Fellowship through the Human Rights Fellowship Program at the University of Minnesota Law School, and in the upcoming school year he will work on his dissertation with the support of the Minority Fellowship Program through the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Both fellowships will support him in building links to and support for minority communities in the Upper Midwest through his interdisciplinary efforts in providing counseling services to those who have faced serious human rights violations.
    Originally from Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Damir and his family immigrated first to Germany following the Bosnian War and then to the United States. After completing undergraduate work in philosophy and human development, Damir began his Master's in marriage and family therapy at Northwestern University. Through his education, he became involved in human rights efforts through a practicum internship at the Mental Health Rights Clinic and Marjorie Kovler Center in Chicago, which both work to end torture worldwide through advocacy, education, and training.

    More specifically, his specialization in family social sciences has allowed him to research and develop an understanding of the crossroads between clinical work and human rights. His primary focus is on the ways in which interpersonal relationships play a role in both the mental health issues that may arise and the coping and recovering mechanisms necessary following human rights violations. With the classes and opportunities he has developed through his minor in human rights, Damir has been able to extend his studies further into how such relationships and mental health are affected by political and social processes, such as through efforts to receive asylum in the United States.

    Through his Human Rights Fellowship, Damir will be able to develop both hands-on and academic skills in the field of human rights. He will continue his clinical work at the Center for Victims of Torture by providing psychological services, testing, and assessments to a wide range of victims of human rights violations--especially social, cultural, and economic minorities. He will also assist clients with their asylum claims through providing expert testimony and attending interviews and judicial hearings. He will also be working on two journal articles this summer incorporating experience, research, and empirical studies on various aspects of human rights work and clinical treatment related to refugees and asylum seekers.

    For the greater 2015-2016 school year, Damir will be able bring into his academic studies his work with minorities' rights and counseling, thanks to the support of the Minority Fellowship through the American Association. Through the Fellowship's mission to not only prepare Marriage and Family therapists with skills to become culturally competent but also provide access and opportunities to such support to underserved groups and individuals, Damir will be able to apply his experiences and knowledge to his dissertation work, providing a platform for increased awareness and a voice to minorities facing issues related to and stress on mental health. We look forward to his contributions to both disciplines and commend him on his achievements.

    The Human Rights Fellowship Program aims to foster links between communities in the Upper Midwest and human rights or social justice organizations around the world. Through these partnerships, fellows return with a stronger commitment to a lifetime of work related to human rights and social justice and contribute to communities in the Upper Midwest by sharing different experiences and raising awareness and support for human rights issues.

    The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is a professional association for the field of marriage and family therapy. Representing more than 50,000 therapists in North America and around the world, it supports students with its Minority Fellowship Program to develop the skills, expertise, and understandings necessary to help assist minorities--both ethnic and underserved. For more information, click here.
    (Continue Reading)June 3rd, 2015
  • Human Rights Program Supports Student Investigation of Children Incarcerated with their Mothers

    In most countries of the world, mothers are permitted keep their infants and young children with them in prisons. The well-being of children whose mothers are incarcerated is a relatively unseen, understudied phenomenon with evident developmental and human rights implications.

    There are prison nurseries in nine states in the United States: New York, Nebraska, California, Washington, Ohio, Indiana, South Dakota, Illinois, and West Virginia. According to Sarah Diamond, Ph.D. and Jasmine Orwish-Gross, the nurseries allow mothers to parent their infants, usually in a separate unit, for a fixed period of time.

    Fascinated by the implications of this issue, Julie Matonich, a Minneapolis lawyer who has represented criminal defendants with small children, joined with others in the community to form an organization called the Prison Nursery Project. "These arrangements certainly have profound impacts on the women and their children," noted Matonich, "and we all have a stake in understanding what conditions and outcomes are in the best interest of these families." PNP has a top-notch advisory board of scholars, activists and criminal law experts, to frame the human rights issues involved in these situations in the U.S. and on a global basis.

    This summer, with the assistance of the Human Rights Program, the Prison Nursery Project (PNP) is drawing on the energy and talent of an interdisciplinary team of students from the University of Minnesota to conduct an in-depth report the phenomenon. The student researchers include Ethan Scrivner (Law), Ashir Kane Risman (Public Policy), Veronica Horowitz (Sociology), Jaleesa Wright (Family Social Science), Vered Windman (Humphrey Fellow), and Melanie Paurus (Global Studies). The students will work as a team to carry out inter-disciplinary research what is known about the lives of children living in prison nurseries. They will collect and analyze academic and professional information and will make recommendations to PNP about how to proceed with their advocacy.

    The work of the summer team builds on the research contributions of Dani Castaño and Professor Carolina Rojas of Universidad Católica de Oriente in Colombia who mapped out the laws and practices with regard to prison nurses in their country. Castaño was a student visitor at the University of Minnesota in spring semester 2015 as part of the UMN-Antioquia law school partnership.

    Professor James Ron of the Humphrey School, and Barbara Frey of the Human Rights Program, are both members of the PNP board and are happy to see the involvement of these University of Minnesota students in the research. "The students bring distinct academic strengths and skill sets to the project," says Ron, "and they must learn to operate as a think tank to present their best collective findings and recommendations to this start-up organization." In the end, the summer consultancy should prove to be a "win-win," according to Ron. "PNP will gain the information it needs and the students will gain the kind of experience that sets them apart in the field of human rights."

    (Continue Reading)June 2nd, 2015
  • Undergraduates are Recognized for their Exceptional Work in Human Rights

    HRP Awards 2015_opt.jpgOn May 8th, the Human Rights Program, in collaboration with the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, held an awards ceremony to recognize the tremendous work of undergraduate students in the field human rights. Alongside the work of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, the event celebrated the contributions made by students Aisha Galaydh and Kenneth Gonzales with the Inna Meiman Award and Sullivan Ballou Award, respectively.

    Following opening remarks by Professor Alejandro Baer, Professor Lisa Hiblink of the Department of Political Science delivered the keynote address titled "Beyond the Transitional Paradigm: The Human Rights Challenge for Millennials." In her speech, Hilbink discussed the challenges faced today in the development and promotion of human rights standards as they compare to other times, such as during and following what is now known as Democracy's Third Wave. Most importantly, Hilbink acknowledged the importance of a continued drive for and interest in human rights, which matches closely with the descriptions of the awardees for the annual human rights awards.

    Given in recognition of the friendship between Inna Meiman, a Soviet era Jewish refusenik repeatedly denied a visa to seek medical treatment, and Lisa Paul, a graduate of the University of Minnesota who fought on her behalf, the Inna Meiman Human Rights Award recognizes a University of Minnesota student who embodies a commitment to human rights. From her work in the community to her advocacy on campus and leadership in cultural clubs, Aisha Galaydh, the 2015 winner, has shown to embody the spirit emphasized in the award. Not only does she recognize the presence of human rights efforts but she also has been able to play an active role through these avenues in disseminating knowledge, awareness, and patterns for improvement.

    Likewise, the Sullivan Ballou Award, named after Major Sullivan Ballou, who killed in the U.S. Civil War, celebrates those who act from the heart--those who provide compassion, services, and advocacy to their local communities through their actions, words, or presence. The 2015 awardee, Kenneth Gonzales, has dedicated his studies and time to his passion in advocacy for various minorities in various contexts. Be it in Greek Life, regional cultural and ethnic summits, or activities in the local community, Gonzales has shown a strong dedication for the advancement of and support for rights, recognition, and protections for those whose voice is not normally heard.

    The luncheon also highlighted the accomplishments of the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board. This past year, the Advisory Board was involved in many events and campaigns to raise awareness of human rights. In December, it took part in the International Human Rights Day Panel, which discussed issues, advancements, and characteristics of human rights issues past, present, and future, and the Board took part in a clothes drive campaign to recognize International Women's Day on March 8th. Additionally, its members were recognized for their commitment to human rights, in general, with a special acknowledgement of graduating seniors: Patrick Alcorn, Joe Fifield, Erik Katovich, Kailey Mrosak, Dani Prigozhina, Kayla Sloane, and Annie Wood.

    We commend the work of all these students to the field of human rights, and we look forward to what will come of their contributions.
    (Continue Reading)May 22nd, 2015
  • Graduate Student Ore Koren Explores the Use of Reparations as a Response to Mass Killings

    Resized-EAN7N.jpgOn May 7, Ore Koren from the departments of Political Science and Applied Economics led the final Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence workshop, an initiative of the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. In this final installment, Koren presented his quantitative research, which analyzed the patterns of rarity of state reparations as a remedy to victims around the world following instances of mass violence.

    Beginning by laying out the theoretical discourse surrounding reparations and his assumptions based off the literature, he remarked that reparations appear to be a rare policy, but the presence of such laws has increased over time. He cited the various theoretical explanations for the adoption of a reparations policy. One school of thought finds policy imitation is the driving force in this process, because reparations work in the favor of regimes who are seeking legitimacy within their own polity but also beyond its borders. Other schools of thought see reparations policies as a reflection of norm diffusion-the right to remedy has become more and more internalized as "normal" or "appropriate." As a result, the rarity of reparations occurs either because norm pressure is greater for certain countries or because many states prefer to adopt retributive forms of justice, such as trials. This speaks to the hard vs. soft law dichotomy in international legal debates. Hard law, more commonly referred to as retributive criminal justice, represents a loss of sovereignty, where as soft law, often reparative or restorative justice reflects non-binding normative responsibility.

    Consequently, Koren seeks to account for the increase in the likelihood of reparations as a policy adopted for a specific end in comparison to other policies. How can we understand the spread of reparations as an international norm? Koren hypothesized that more democratic liberal regimes will be more likely to adopt a reparations policy and countries that have been members of similar international organizations for a longer period of time might be more likely to adopt certain policies earlier. Furthermore, following an examination of the legal norms perspective, Koren hypothesized that perpetuating regimes that stay in power will be more likely to provide reparations for their crimes in comparison to new regimes. He also expected to see that such a law or policy is more likely to increase over time due to regional diffusion or international precedent.

    In his statistical analysis, Koren adopted the accepted definition of reparations as "any law legally providing some financial amends to victims of crimes perpetuated by the state and mass killing as the target killing of at least 1,000 non-combatants." Koren synthesized the data set from the Transitional Justice Research Collaborative, created by Professor Emerita Kathryn Sikkink of the University of Minnesota and Professor Leigh Payne of the University of Minnesota and the University of Oxford; mass killing data from Valentino and Ulfelder; and data from Freedom House. His research comprised of 79 cases of mass killing with the year the killing ended until the reparations law passed as his unit of analysis. In his study, he accounted for perpetrating regimes, WTO membership, GDP, regional reparation precedent, international precedent and countries with civil versus common law. The countries in question came from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe as a reference category.

    The statistical testing found that wealthier countries are more likely to adopt reparations policies. The more reparations laws in existence or international precedent also increased the likelihood a state would implement such a policy. However, he found very weak correlation in regards to regional effects. Democratic countries were more likely to carry out reparations, and countries with a perpetuating regime significantly increased the time until a reparations law was passed. WTO membership and regional reparations precedent significantly increased the time before a law was passed. Countries demonstrating strong civil liberties increased the time before a reparations law; however countries with a higher score for political rights (freedom house) had a much shorter length of time before reparations were introduced. To conclude, Koren found that reparations are in fact a rare diffusive event and the evidence supports this claim.
    (Continue Reading)May 21st, 2015
  • International Prosecution of the Violations of the Islamic State

    fatou.jpgOn 8 April 2015 Chief Prosecutor to the International Criminal Court (ICC) Fatou Bensouda issued a statement in regards to the alleged crimes committed by the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. Following her arrival to the court in the summer of 2014, her office has received immense pressure to address these systematic atrocities characterizing the conflict. The Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) has been accused of perpetuating a series of internationally recognized crimes, including mass executions, sexual slavery, rape, gender-based violence, torture, forced recruitment of children, and the persecution of ethnic and religious minorities. Bensouda recognized and acknowledged the severity of the situation in Iraq and Syria, which serves to threaten regional and global peace.

    In her statement, Bensouda highlighted the legal barriers to prosecuting the Islamic State, as neither Syria nor Iraq is party to the Rome Statute (the founding treaty of the ICC), giving the court no jurisdiction over crimes committed in these territories.

    The ICC was formed through the Rome Statute of 1998. With 123 states party, the Rome Statute established an international tribunal in The Hague, The Netherlands to try individuals on cases of international war crimes, the crime of genocide, crimes of aggression, and crimes against humanity. As an intergovernmental organization, its jurisdiction is not primary but complementary. First and foremost, states have the initial authority to try a criminal before the ICC can step in. However, if the government is either unable or unwilling to prosecute an individual, the case can move to the ICC.

    There are three points of general application of referral to the ICC. The first is referral by the Security Council regarding any state member of the United Nations--regardless of its status of statute ratification or support/rejection of such jurisdiction. This was the case in Libya and Darfur, Sudan.

    Secondly, Bensouda's office has jurisdiction over state-based referrals, wherein states party to the Rome Statute may refer their own situations (as was the case in Uganda) or the situations of another state party to the statute. This type of jurisdiction only applies to crimes allegedly committed by perpetrators who are nationals of a state party or that have been committed in the territory of a state party to the ICC. This would allow the ICC to prosecute foreign nationals who have traveled to the region to join the Islamic State (such as Tunisia, Jordan, France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Australia). However, such a move would largely exclude individuals with high-ranking leadership positions in IS who are most complicit in crafting the policies responsible for these crimes, as their citizenship lies elsewhere. This proves problematic as the court was created to prosecute those who bear the most responsibility for the gravest crimes, not solely low-level perpetrators.

    Finally, the third potential route to prosecuting IS perpetrators is through Chief Prosecutor Bensouda acting propio motu, or on her own initiative. The ICC Prosecutor has the authority to act on her own initiative over crimes committed by nationals of a state party or in the territory of a state party, regardless of the support of the state(s) under discussion. This is how the ICC became involved in prosecuting crimes in Kenya.

    Alternatively, there is a separate mechanism by which non-state parties can refer restricted jurisdiction to the ICC over a subset of crimes within a specific time period. This is how the Court became involved in Cote d'Ivoire, before it became a full member. Syria and Iraq could take this route, although it looks like an unlikely scenario, as state leaders are hesitant because of the chance of illuminating their own violations when under the spotlight of the court.

    Based on the structure of the court and its statute, Bensouda found the jurisdictional limits to be too narrow at this point, and called for "renewed commitment and a sense of urgency on the part of concerned states [to] help identify viable avenues." Although it is the duty of the international community and activists in the field of human rights to maintain a sense of accountability, it is not necessarily feasible at this moment.

    Yet, as Florencia Montal, PhD candidate in political science at the University of Minnesota and former intern at the ICC under former-prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo, explains, what is often less discussed is that jurisdiction and the sovereignty associated with it do not have to come as an indivisible national unit. The ICC can be asked to examine crimes committed in a specific region of a country. This was the case of the Sudan referral by the Security Council, she acknowledges, by which the ICC received jurisdiction over crimes committed in the Darfur region. Therefore, spillover anxieties can be calmed by restrictively delimiting geographical and temporal jurisdiction, meaning the path to accountability in the region is not necessarily a dead end.

    Nevertheless, this is not meant to discourage the existence of criminal responsibility for these grave violations of international law. As Montal recommends, advocates should still be taking an active response in protection of human rights and in documenting violations. The best steps forward for the ICC and international community may be to prepare for prosecution in the future--wherever and whenever it may be. As such, activists should be supporting those in the field--be it NGOs, individuals, or government officials--as they document the violations committed by IS through interviews, photographic and visual records, or other means. This is not a time to sit still. Rather, the reactions to the current situation are a call for renewed efforts in promoting, supporting, and advancing human rights.

    -written by Cameron Mailhot and Marie-Christine Ghreichi
    (Continue Reading)May 18th, 2015
  • Commemorating 100 Years of the Armenian Genocide

    armenian.jpgOn April 24th, in memory of the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Program, the Department of Sociology, and the Ohanessian Chair hosted a conference to promote understanding of mass violence, in general, and the Armenian Genocide, in particular, and analyze the implications of such events in a public context. The first session of the conference consisted of three different speakers who spoke on the topic of survival, trauma and resilience.

    According to the speakers, the Armenian Genocide that took place 100 years ago not only resulted in the death of 1.5 million people but also left long-term imprints on the mental health of Armenian citizens. The pain and suffering that this genocide caused is still present today and is the main contributing factor to post-traumatic stress disorder that is seen in many Armenian citizens. In order to begin the healing process, the speakers argued, it is necessary for the world to truly acknowledge the genocide that took place.

    In the second morning session, the speakers focused on the issues surrounding Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide and the strained relationship between the two countries. Two students from Armenia spoke to the universal repercussions of denial, citing Adolf Hitler's speech to his armies prior to the invasion of Poland in 1939: "Who after all remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?" In addition to state actors, the first student called on civil society to harness the power of ordinary people and to promote global political will to act. This also requires a dialogue between academics from both countries, between the Diaspora and the Turkish people as well as their respective governments. Recognition would enable the Armenian people to heal from the trauma, but equally important, would enable peaceful co-existence between Armenia and Turkey. The second student discussed Turkey's modern form of denial by speaking to Turkey's rhetoric of the "shared pain" of Armenians and Turks, wherein a sense of a common loss during World War I has been developed as a way to divert the label of genocide. Ultimately, he found this comparison was untenable, as the Turks did not suffer systematic mass killing and deportations, which continued after the time frame of the First World War. The final speaker for this session discussed the "Armenian Holocaust" in the framework of international law, contextualizing the rise of international instruments such as the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide and international judicial systems to bring about justice. This stimulated a series of questions concerning the geo-political barriers to recognition, the uniqueness of each act of genocide and whether different forms of justice (such as truth telling) would be more effective.

    The afternoon's first session consisted of undergraduate students from the University of Minnesota, Exeter University in the UK and University of Wisconsin, La Cross showcasing their work concerning mass violence. The first student presented her work from her senior honors thesis, which examined how transitional justice mechanisms affected social cohesion in the context of post-genocidal Rwanda. She focused her presentation on the punitive and restorative forms of justice implemented specifically in the traditional, Gacaca courts. Another student presented his preliminary work regarding the British perceptions of genocide and mass atrocities in the Sierra Leonean Civil war from 1997-2002. Through his work, he has been able to find that the Cold War context has failed to frame the conflict correctly. It is this failure that has motivated him to look at conflicts based on identity rather than ideology to better understand the civil war. The final student in this session discussed her research on the implications of translating texts of mass violence, using Elie Wiesel's Night as a case study. Though she argued that translation is a powerful tool for the production of knowledge, she demonstrated how this process can transform the essence of a piece of writing and how the text is "watered down" for readers who do not have a direct connection to the violence, creating greater disconnect. Therefore, according to her claims, series of ethical issues arise in the translator's ability to uphold the intentions of the author.

    The fourth and final session focused on the causes of genocide and its prevention. The first speaker discussed patterns of past episodes of genocide to determine common causal agents and to predict and prevent future mass atrocities. She contended, through the eight stages of genocide, that all genocides are unique, but comparison is a useful tool in genocide prevention and explains the unique nature of each case. She also spoke to the already existing and deeply flawed warning systems, calling on the United Nations to seek a more effective method of predicting such acts. The final speaker of the day presented his early findings in comparing the genocide of Native Americans and Armenians by exploring the role of nationalism in this genocidal violence. He investigates this question through the rise of nationalism, the process of "othering" and the use of propaganda. His research indicates that nationalism served to reject individual cultural identity and is a key factor in the path towards genocide. In these cases he found parallel patterns of minority persecution, leading to dehumanization. Both cases also demonstrate the role of religious ideology in creating a cohesive message of majority "unity" and expansionist policies.

    The conference concluded with some words from Professor Bedross Der Matossian who spoke to the double-edged sword of collective memory, which can lead to healing and peaceful relationships but can also lead to future atrocities, keeping the cycle of violence alive when abused. He reviewed the various theories regarding the causes of the Armenian genocide, concluding that the regime of the Young Turks was desperate to maintain an imperial form of nationalism and the territorial integrity of the Empire. Finally, he encouraged everyone to promote prevention through increased education and understanding.

    -written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi and Anna Pogatchnik
    (Continue Reading)May 1st, 2015
  • Professor Alejandro Baer and graduate student Yagmur Karakaya speak on the politics of Holocaust memory in Spain and Turkey

    holocaust.jpgProfessor Alejandro Baer from the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and Yagmur Karakaya from the Department of Sociology led the penultimate session of this series of HGMV workshops by presenting their work on Holocaust memory politics in Spain and Turkey. Particularly relevant due to the timing of Holocaust Remembrance Day and the Day of the Republic of Spain and the criminal implications of their work in Turkey today, Baer and Karakaya spoke on the effects of recognition and memory of genocide, in general, and the Holocaust, in particular, in the countries of Spain and Turkey.

    Karakaya began by explaining how various governments and civic institutions choose to commemorate the Holocaust and how this has perhaps developed with the encouragement of transnational institutions like the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe. Karakaya laid out the debate surrounding whether such memory is transcending the nation-state with two schools of thought. Academics of cosmopolitan memory theory posit that societies have increasingly adopted universal and ethical criteria in memory discourses, demonstrating a shift towards heightened awareness of injustice. The Holocaust is the central paradigm for this process to proliferate on a global scale. This theory is challenged by critical genocide scholars who find that the Holocaust's iconic status promotes a false universalism and obscures other genocides and forms of violence.
    In order to explore and address these issues, Baer and Karakaya wished to pose a series of research questions. How has the Holocaust been contextualized and rendered meaningful in different countries? How do these transnational, top-down initiatives interact or conflict with national and local contexts? How is the Holocaust understood and made meaningful in remembrance ceremonies? How can we link Holocaust remembrance to other traumatic histories?

    In their preliminary findings, Baer and Karakaya focused on Argentina, Spain Germany, the US and Turkey as case studies. These countries were chosen due to a direct historical connection to the Holocaust or because they have integrated into the international network of Holocaust memory and possess their own memory debates. The speakers utilized various qualitative research methods, such as extensive study of the literature, video analysis, ethnography analysis, speech and discourse analysis, interviews and groups discussions. In the Spanish case, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust and crimes against humanity was established in 2005. This served to deeply polarize the left and right in Spain, reinstating civil war divisions, with the remembrance ceremony becoming a battleground for the different narrative debates. The Turkish case is the only Muslim country to participate in Holocaust remembrance, and has so since 2011.

    Baer and Karakaya observed the initiative as an instrument to gain leverage in the international community, but can be useful for Turkey to examine its own violence record. Baer and Karakaya came to three main conclusions: Turkish officials involved in the ceremony frequently reiterated the tradition of tolerance in the Ottoman Empire, specifically in regards to the Sephardic Jews, emphasizing the harmonious nature of Istanbul, which they see as the cradle of civilization. Second, they observed a sort of silence in regards to minorities that have suffered in other conflicts. This manifests itself through the perpetuation of this notion of innocence of the Jews of Europe, expressing their victimhood without guilt. This creates implications for other minorities and their seemingly "deserved" fate, alluding to the Armenian case in WW1. Third, they discussed the "Turkification" or "muslimization" of the Holocaust in Turkish commemoration contexts, which often emphasizes the role of Turkish Ambassadors who saved Jews and the plight of Turkish Jewish citizens who died in the Holocaust.

    According to their general findings, Holocaust memorialization is used as a tool in national memory conflicts. The Holocaust exists as a memory paradigm and not as a shared memory. They also observed a Europeanization of national and local memories for geo-political ambitions (EU membership) and the control of memory production. The group discussion found that such ceremonies push for action and increased education but can also provoke neo-nationalism, which is affirmative and not critical of their own narratives of mass violence.
    -written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi
    (Continue Reading)May 1st, 2015
  • Mike Alberti, the Human Rights Program Scribe for 2015, to continue his work with the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop

    mike.jpgMike Alberti, the Human Rights Scribe for 2015, is a second-year Master of Fine Arts candidate in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Minnesota. Alberti comes to the fellowship with an interest in the connection between writing and expression for prisoners in Minnesota. For the past year, he has been working with a group called the Minnesota Prison Writing Workshop (MPWW), a local non-profit organization that provides creative writing classes in Minnesota state prisons. The Scribe fellowship will allow him to continue teaching in prison over the summer, as well as to assist with administrative duties, including helping to organize a public reading of the work of incarcerated writers.

    "Writing is one of the few opportunities that incarcerated people have for self-expression and exploration, one of the few avenues of empowerment in a extremely disempowering environment," Alberti said. "I believe that the work MPWW does is part of a larger moral vision, a vision which recognizes that all people - even those who have committed crimes - are deserving of dignity and respect. This vision is the essence of human rights, and I am very honored to be able to continue this work through the Scribe fellowship."

    Alberti has an extensive background in writing and public service. He has written for various news outlets and has worked to raise awareness of rights around the world, having worked with shelters and groups to assist with the struggles of many Latino migrants and having advocated for the rights of small communities in Honduras. Alberti has published most recently as a student on issues related to employment, education, and health.

    The Scribe fellowship was established by the Human Rights Program and Creative Writing Program in the Department of English in January of 2006 to provide support each year for a Master in Fine Arts student in the field of human rights. The goal of the fellowship is to allow a student to become engaged in specific issues of and with the individuals involved in the public human rights work of the Human Rights Program. Through such experiences, the Scribe will be able focus on a narrative and write to a broader audience on the various matters of concern related to the complex dimensions of human rights.
    -written by Cameron Mailhot
    (Continue Reading)May 1st, 2015
  • Graduate and Undergraduate Students to Investigate the Effects of Incarceration on Children

    incarceration.jpgThis summer, five students from colleges in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area will begin their work at the new, Minneapolis-based non-profit organization, Prison Nursery Project. The focus of their work will be on investigating the impact of incarcerating mothers with their young children in prisons throughout the world, with the overall goal of documenting and bringing to light the serious developmental and human-rights-related implications of such imprisonment.

    The students who have been awarded a full-time internship at the Prison Nursery Project come from various disciplines. The project will include two undergraduate students, Melanie Paurus and JaLeesa Wright, who have prior experience in research on families, prison systems around the world, and documentation of issues related to human rights.

    Additionally, the project will include graduate students from the Department of Sociology (Veronica Horowitz), the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (Ashir KaneRisman), and the Law School (Ethan Scrivner). Veronica will bring experience from her prior work on punishment and predictors of incarceration, as well as on programs serving low-income families. Ashir has extensive experience working to improve the criminal justice and penal policies. Ethan has done extensive work in human-rights-related fields including an internship at the Advocates for Human Rights and the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and has experience working with juvenile court appearances during his judicial externship.

    The team will work under the auspices of the Human Rights Program. They will also work closely with faculty of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Human Rights Program, as well as board members of the Prison Nursery Project with experience in criminal justice and human rights issues.
    (Continue Reading)April 28th, 2015
  • Author and activist Bryan Stevenson speaks on injustice and change in the United States

    bryan.pngAs part of the University's Guy Stanton Ford Lecture Series, author and activist Bryan Stevenson spoke to a full crowd at Northrop Auditorium on issues surrounding contemporary and historical injustice in the legal system of the United States. Bryan Stevenson is the Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative, working primarily to advocate for young children, juveniles, and adults who are facing mandatory life sentences and/or a death penalty.

    In his talk, Stevenson used portions of his personal narrative to focus on various issues and inequalities in the American justice system and highlighted ways in which we can make positive changes. From his time in college to his experiences in law school, in the field, and as an activist, he explained how he has come to learn that there are four parts necessary for change: proximity, narrative change, lasting hope, and involvement in uncomfortable situations.

    Proximity, for Stevenson, is the first step in order to ensure lasting improvements. Through his work, he has realized that activists must be proximate to issues that matter to truly understand the nuances and cases necessary for change. From such experiences, he explained, individuals are able to gain a better understanding of the narratives of the issue and ways in which they can disseminate knowledge to transform the conversation. However, he notes that advocates for change must protect their hope, as he believes that "injustice prevails where hopelessness persists." Finally, he emphasized that in order for effective, real change to occur, people must be willing to do uncomfortable things, because society, he argues, will not change on its own and it is through these uncomfortable actions that people can overcome unwarranted standards of inequity, discrimination, and unfairness.

    The lecture concluded with a question-and-answer round moderated by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Karen Hanson. The discussions were fruitful and covered a wide range of critical concerns of injustice, such as the orientation towards finality over fairness in the justice system.
    -written by Cameron Mailhot
    (Continue Reading)April 9th, 2015
  • Carrie Oelberger presents research findings on International Grantmaking at the Humphrey School

    grants.pngEarlier this semester, Carrie Oelberger presented her research project called "A Thousand Wildflowers or a Formal Garden? International Grantmaking and the Structuring of Transnational Society" at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The project addresses the way in which foundations disproportionately disperse the majority of their grant money to NGOs in first world countries rather than concentrating on giving money to organizations located in developing countries. She questions if grant giving takes the organized form of a metaphorical garden or if funding is more scattered and diverse, as in a field of wildflowers.

    In her talk, Dr. Oelberger discussed the impact of NGOs in development and how such impact heavily relies on the funding they receive from various foundations. Carrie observed that the majority of money foundations grant is given to NGOs based in countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and undertake development work abroad, the majority of whom are first-world countries. Only 14% of the money foundations give are granted to organizations outside of OECD countries and do work domestically. Her observations led her to question the attachment patterns between foundations and the NGOs they support.

    Oelberger hypothesized that uncertainty and risk heavily influence who foundations choose to fund. Therefore, NGOs that have personal networks with foundations are more likely to receive funding. Furthermore, Dr. Oelberger identified three ways in which foundations can find NGOs with which to partner. They can either renew relationships with organizations with which they already work, visit organizations in developing countries and make assessments about their willingness to partner with these organizations, or consult other foundations to inquire about which NGOs they partner with. However, in order to avoid risk, foundations usually either renew existing relationships or consult other foundations rather than finding new foundations in developing countries that may need funding. Thus, Dr. Oelberger observed that those organizations that already have funding acquire more, while those who do not have relationships with foundations continue to experience lack of funding.

    The data Dr. Oelberger collected supports her hypothesis. The data shows that nearly 10 times as much money is given to NGOs in OECD member countries than non-OECD member countries. The majority of grants given outside of the OECD were to NGOs with which the foundation already had a relationship. However, over two thirds of foundations support NGOs in non-OECD countries that have not been previously funded.

    Dr. Oelberger hopes that her work will contribute to distinguishing between NGOs in non-OECD countries that have received funding due to being referred to from a different foundation and those that foundations have independently found and taken initiative to fund. In the future, she hopes to do more research on foundations' subjective perceptions of risk and the organizational frameworks that make foundations more likely to explore new NGOs to fund rather than funding those who already receive multiple grants.

    Carrie Oelberger is an Assistant Professor in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. She holds a PhD in Organization Studies from Stanford University and is a Professor of Nonprofit and Public Management and Leadership. Her research focuses on the influence that work has on the private lives of those working in careers that focus on public service as well as how the institutionalization of scholarship and philanthropic investment have affected the organization within the prosocial domain.
    -written by Mary Mikhaeel
    (Continue Reading)April 8th, 2015
  • Call for Nominations: 2015 Human Rights Awards

    2015awards.pngEach spring, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies celebrate the tremendous work of students in human rights with the Inna Meiman Award and the Sullivan Ballou Award. Faculty, staff and students are encouraged to nominate an undergraduate student who has truly been impressive in their human rights work. Self-nominations are also accepted. The awards will be given out at a luncheon ceremony on Friday, May 8th.

    Applications and Nominations due April 15th at 5pm.

    Letters of nomination (750 words or less) and résumé/CV should be submitted by email to the Human Rights Program or delivered to the Human Rights Program office 214 Social Sciences. Self-nominations must include a letter of recommendation.
    For more information please call 612.626.7947 or email
    (Continue Reading)April 2nd, 2015
  • International Symposium sheds light on memory, transition, justice, and representation in post-Communist Europe

    sympcam.pngEarly in March, we welcomed several of the foremost experts and scholars on post-Communist Europe to the University of Minnesota to engage in a three-day discussion about social memories and human rights in the region. Organized within the IAS "Reframing Mass Violence Collaborative" by the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies from March 4-6, scholars from the U of M and other U.S.-based and international institutions engaged in lively exchanges aimed at creating a better understanding surrounding the re-interpretation and reframing of the atrocities and the transitional justice mechanisms adopted afterwards.

    Noted historian John-Paul Himka of the University of Alberta, opened the symposium with an evening keynote address on the reception of the Holocaust in post-Communist Europe, in general, and Poland and Ukraine, in particular. In the address, Himka examined the contested shaping of social memory of domestic actions and involvement by individuals and Communism in Eastern Europe during the time of mass atrocities.

    Sessions over the next two days covered different aspects of contested memories in post-Communist European countries. In reference to vernacular memory in Germany and Poland, Lars Breuer of the Free University of Berlin addressed how victimhood is remembered through mapping the various ways in which conflicting memories is dealt with in a transitional context. Likewise, Professor Matti Jutila of the Department of Political Science discussed memory of past genocides in the "European double genocide thesis," which holds that the crimes committed by the Communist regimes in Europe deserve equal attention as those committed during the Holocaust. In an analysis of the 2008 documentary The Soviet Story, which argues for greater recognition of the Soviet violations, Jutila contended that such an acknowledgement must be done in a non-nationalistic or politically-motived manner, which the documentary fails to meet. As such, this bias creates an atmosphere of innocence in both the past and present for and by those who committed violations.

    Next, scholars addressed the topic of memory in the states and regions of the former Yugoslavia. Social anthropologist Sarah Wagner of George Washington University put forth a narrative on the emerging role of international forensic investigation as a form of intervention in transitioning and post-transition states. Specifically within the context of social memory of the missing individuals of Srebrenica, Wagner discussed the way empirical evidence has helped to establish a common memory among the various individual and sides of the conflict. Political scientist Jelena Subotic of Georgia State University spoke from her recent work on a "mythologized" Communist past created in the former Yugoslavia as a mechanism used in the rise of nationalism, war, and violence in the late 1980s.

    The second afternoon session, a "Thursdays at 4" event in the Institute for Advanced Studies, was filled by guests wanting to hear speakers on the current conflict in Ukraine. Historian George O. Liber was joined by Himka once again and J Brian Atwood, chair of the Global Policy area of the Humphrey School of Public, to discuss the events leading up to, the causes for, and the perspectives of the various sides involved in the struggle. Liber spoke on the issue in terms of the response by Vladimir Putin and Russia's foreign policy, while Atwood, with the help of his many years of experience in the federal government, focused specifically on the views and role of the United States.
    The final day was composed of discussions with an interdisciplinary mix of scholars. The morning session, "Law and Memory in Transition" was focused, much like the morning session of the previous day, on the role of memory and justice. Ryan Moltz of the department of sociology, Adam Czarnota of the University of New South Wales in Australia, and Nadya Nedelsky of Macalester College each addressed how various societies of Eastern Europe established systems of rule of law, national remembrance, justice, and rights as they transitioned from Communism. Moltz's presentation specifically addressed the divergent choices on enacting vetting policies in Croatia, Serbia, and Macedonia, whileCzarnota spoke on the role of time in studying law and Nedelsky investigated the reasons for and implications of the influence of a positive perspective of the past fascist regime. Michal Kobialka and Margarita Kompelmakher, both of the department of theatre arts and dance, closed the symposium with a session on the politics of art and representation. Through this panel, Kobialka's examined theatre as a mode of suffering and memory as it balances the perversion of artistic esthetics, conventions, and the culture industry. Kompelmakher told of her experience seeing the award-winning, underground Belarus Free Theater and the story of its efforts to represent the Belarusian people and its social memory in spite of the control imposed by the government of Belarus on other registered theaters.

    Overall, the symposium provided a great platform for discussion, learning, and debate surrounding memory, transition, justice, and representation in post-Communist Europe. From the political appropriation of memory through stories, art, and law to the fragile balance of societies experiencing transitions, the event brought to light not only the issues of the past and steps that remain but also the progress that has been made in various sectors and disciplines to address and study these topics. We thank all the participants and guests who made this event possible, and we look forward to future advancements and developments as they relate to these important areas of focus.
    -written by Cameron Mailhot
    (Continue Reading)March 30th, 2015
  • Graduate student Amber Michele examines the effects of counterterrorism initiatives on local Muslim communities

    amber.JPGAs part of the first workshop of the Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence Studies Interdisciplinary Graduate Group workshop series, Amber Michele, a graduate student in the interdisciplinary Master of Liberal Studies program delivered a talk on "American Islamic Organizations: Response Narrative to Counterterrorism Initiatives." Michele's current research examines how counterterrorism initiatives impact Muslim organizations in America and is particularly interested in examining how the pressure of policing destabilizes Islamic civil society in the U.S. Michel works extensively with local Muslim communities on issues of civil rights, law enforcement and discrimination.

    Michel found herself at an advantage, by living in the Twin Cities, to study how counterterrorism measures impact local Muslim communities. Michele's research involved analyzing national Muslim institutions and conducting personal interviews with local members of the Muslim community, administrative members of local organizations that identify as Muslim, and organizations directly involved in supporting or opposing counterterrorism initiatives. Her research led her to pose a fundamental question: How does a community that is under intense scrutiny respond both organizationally and individually and what is the impact of such a response?

    Michele assumed that Muslim communities would be strongly against counterintelligence initiatives as they invade their rights to privacy. However, through her research, Michelle was able to categorize the Muslim community's response to counterintelligence measures as accommodationist. Accomodationism is a concept that finds its origins in the period after the Civil War when Southern white leaders and African American leaders came to an agreement that black workers would submit to white political rule if the Southern whites would agree to grant them basic education and due process in the law. Michel argues that those in the Muslim community have adopted this notion and therefore, do not strongly resist counterintelligence initiatives. Instead, the Muslim community is working hard to tell their own narrative of American allegiance, their own condemnation of terrorism and their activism in de-radicalization programs.

    However, Michel hypothesizes that the messages displayed by larger Islamic organizations of overall acceptance of counterintelligence results from outside pressures and policing and does not necessarily represent the main sentiment of the average Muslim citizen. While websites of national organizations seem to tell a story of de-radicalization and acceptance of counterintelligence, the sentiment in personal conversations portray a different narrative. There also seems to be general consensus that U.S. foreign policy needs to take into consideration the opinions of the local Muslim communities.
    For a full schedule of Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies workshops in the spring semester, click here. All workshops will be held in room 710 of the Social Sciences building.
    (Continue Reading)March 12th, 2015
  • 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.

    (Continue Reading)March 6th, 2015
  • Human Rights Program works to improve the situation of children's rights in Colombia

    crc.jpgFor years, the Department of Antioquia, Colombia has been torn apart by armed conflict, displacing thousands of its residents. Consequently, many of the children living in the region have suffered from violence, homelessness, sexual exploitation, inadequate housing, and haphazard adoptions in which the state has carelessly placed children in harmful circumstances. Additionally, Antioquia's children have also been impacted by environmental pollution, illegal mining work, lack of access to healthcare, and child marriages. In an attempt to improve the situation in Antioquia, La Alianza submitted a shadow report to the Committee on the Rights of a Child (CRC) with recommendations outlining ways in which the Colombian government can work to advance the rights of children in the region.

    The Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, or La Alianza, is a multi-year initiative coordinated by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program. La Alianza connects both the Human Rights Program and the University of Minnesota Law School's Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic with four partner law schools in Antioquia, Colombia (La Universidad de Antioquia, La Universidad de Medellín, La Universidad Catolica del Oriente, and the Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana). The group was formed to strengthen the capacity of the four law schools in Antioquia to teach, research, and provide clinical legal representation toward the promotion of international human rights and the rule of law.

    The findings of the group regarding the situation of children's rights in Antioquia are disheartening. The government is not allocating enough resources to protect the rights of children in these areas, and those that exist are typically underfunded and understaffed. Many children in the area find themselves forced into child labor and consequently do not receive proper education. Furthermore, children whose parents have been displaced are often haphazardly placed in the foster care system or put up for adoption. Rather than taking the time to find each child a home, the state puts them in poor housing, violating their right to be heard and to due process. Once children are placed in a home, their situation is never reassessed to determine if they are in a healthy environment. Many children in the area are also suffering from respiratory and other diseases due to pollution and lack of access to clean water.

    La Alianza brought these and many other issues to the attention of the Committee on the Rights of the Child when it submitted its shadow report in March 2014. In response, the CRC invited La Alianza to a pre-session committee meeting in June to discuss the situation in Colombia. During the pre-session, the Colombian government took the opportunity to respond to concerns brought to their attention by the CRC. Noting Colombia's response, La Alianza submitted another shadow report for the Committee session on Colombia in January. The shadow report contributed significantly to the Concluding Observations adopted by the CRC in its recent session. Many of the CRC's concluding observations are directly related to issues addressed by La Alianza in its reports. These include insufficient resources and lack of access to the judicial system among others.

    In response, the CRC has recommended that the state ensure effective implementation of current legislative measures as well evaluate current legislation to ensure that children are provided with and have access to adequate resources. The CRC has also asked Colombia to ensure that businesses are adequately held accountable for their use of child labor and to closely monitor the implementation of these measures. Furthermore, the CRC has taken into account La Alizanza's concerns about marginalization of children, especially girls, and has called for Colombia to take measures to eliminate such inequality. The CRC has also looked into La Alianza's concerns about children not being a priority in the legal system.

    The Human Rights Program is pleased with the Concluding Observations released by CRC as it has highlighted a number of concerns outlined by La Alianza in its shadow reports.
    -written by Mary Mikhaeel
    (Continue Reading)March 2nd, 2015
  • UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership granted hearing before Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

    colombia2.jpgOver the past months, the University of Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership has been working on the issue of forced resettlement in Antioquia, Colombia. Legal clinics operating in Medellín and supported by the Partnership have worked with victims who have been forcibly relocated, often as a result of armed conflict. In particular, the clinics have targeted the Colombian state's failure to adopt legislative and administrative measures aimed at protecting the rights of those affected by resettlement. After submitting a petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) at the end of 2014, the Partnership has recently learned that they will be granted a hearing in Washington DC on March 19th, 2015.

    According the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there are over five million victims of forced displacement in Colombia. This number, while considerable, only represents a portion of the people who have been forced from their homes. In Colombia, and Antioquia specifically, the Partnership supported clinics have been working with victims who were forcibly displaced due to violent conflict, urban development, and high risk living situations. Without adequate measures in place to support these peoples' rights, they often face significant human rights violations. Among these violations are: (i) invasive, traumatic, and in many instances violent resettlement processes (forced evictions); (ii) failure to consider the social and cultural dynamics of forced resettlement populations and the individual conditions of those affected, many of whom are victims of armed conflict or persons living in poverty; (iii) the imposition of settlement into shacks and other precarious living situations that do not meet conditions of what is considered decent housing; (iv) the use of false, manipulated, and fragmented information during these processes and (v) the exclusion of families from census information which inhibits their access to subsidies offered by the state and also signifies that many of them are never guaranteed a solution to their housing dilemma.

    In the Partnership's petition to the IACHR, they emphasized the relevance of these issues, especially in a post-conflict country. The UMN-Antioquia partners also emphasized that resettlement processes have a large impact on the social, cultural, and economic parts of people's lives. For these reasons, the Partnership underscored that a hearing before the IACHR was not only relevant, but necessary. Being granted a hearing means that the Partnership will have the opportunity to bring attention to these issues in an international forum and that the Colombian state will be have to respond.
    Since receiving the news that a hearing on the issue has been scheduled, the Partnership immediately got to work organizing strategies for the event, as well as putting together a delegation of experts who will testify. The Partnership will be sending students and faculty from clinical programs at the University of Antioquia, University of Medellin, and the University of Minnesota to Washington DC to speak before the IACHR, organize meetings around the issue, and work to get the word on the lack of effective resettlement policies.

    The University of Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership is a three year initiative made possible by a $1.25 million grant from Higher Education for Development (HED) through USAID. The initiative links the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program and the University of Minnesota Law School to four partner law schools in the Colombian Department of Antioquia: the Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, Universidad Pontifica Bolivariana, and the Universidad Católica del Oriente. The initiative has three main objectives:

    • To strengthen the institutional capacity of the Antioquia law schools to train future legal practitioners in human rights by expanding the curriculum and developing faculty expertise in human rights and the rule of law.

    • To strengthen the capacities of the Antioquia law schools to better serve vulnerable populations in the areas of legal services and human rights litigation.

    • To enable students in the Antioquia law school consortium to be better prepared to protect human rights in Colombia.

    To achieve these objectives, the Partnership funds and coordinates intensive human rights externships to Minnesota, courses in Antioquia, human rights legal clinics who develop projects, and much more.
    (Continue Reading)February 27th, 2015
  • Author Séverine Autesserre examines the role of local knowledge in peacebuilding efforts

    sev.pngOn February 9, the Minnesota International Relations Colloquium hosted a discussion with Séverine Autesserre, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Columbia University, about her recently published book, Peaceland: Conflict Resolution and Everyday Politics of International Intervention (Cambridge University Press, 2014). While Dr. Autesserre specializes in international relations and African studies, her current research examines how everyday elements influence peacebuilding interventions on the ground.

    Dr. Autesserre has conducted extensive fieldwork between 2010 and 2012 with a primary case study on the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo as well as comparative research in Burundi, Cyprus, Israel and the Palestinian Territories, South Sudan, and Timor -Leste. Prior to conducting research for her recently published book, Dr. Autesserre wrote another book on local violence and international intervention in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Dr. Autesserre has won numerous awards for her work including the 2013 African Politics Conference Group's Best Article Award, a nomination for the 2007 APSA Helen Reid Award for Best Dissertation in International Relations, and the Presidential Research Award at Columbia University. Her current work won the 2012 Grawemyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order, as well as the 2011 Chadwick Alger Prize for the best book on international organizations and multilateralism. In addition, she contributes extensively to The Guardian, Washington Post, and Al Jazeera among other publications.

    Dr. Autesserre's book is a commentary on the 15 years she spent studying international peacebuilding initiatives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In it, she argues that everyday practices, habits, and narratives of organizations and peacekeepers on the ground strongly impact the effectiveness of international intervention efforts. During her stay in Congo, she observed different third party groups in the area intervening as peacekeepers. She recognized that these groups were operating in ways that are inefficient, ineffective and at times, counterproductive. Autesserre observed a large disconnect between the members of the community and the peacekeepers; rather than interacting with community members and asking for their input, peacekeepers implemented their own tactics, disregarding the culture and ideas of the people living there. Many groups focused on macro-level national and international solutions to problems while ignoring everyday practices that greatly influence the success of peacekeeping efforts. While this is important, Dr. Austesserre notes the ineffectiveness of using large scale, general solutions that are not tailored to fit individual communities.

    Seeing a large gap in existing research on the specifics of peacebuilding and everyday practices, she began her research on the habits and narratives of the people in small communities and how the peacekeepers affected them. Dr. Austesserre concluded that peacekeeping interveners often constrict knowledge by acknowledging what seems to be true only on an institutional level. Other sources of knowledge from local individuals are often neglected. Therefore, peacekeepers generally have little knowledge of the area in which they are going. It then becomes problematic when peacekeepers enter an area where they are meant to provide expertise, yet, they themselves know nothing about the location. This also creates problems as peacekeepers very rarely have the correct skill-set to thrive in the culture they are entering, including the ability to speak the language. Often, their detachment from the situation creates resentment among the local population. Therefore, by ignoring the culture and input of the local communities, peacekeepers unintentionally construct a hierarchy that minimizes local input.

    Austesserre recommends that in order to make peacebuilding more effective, international peace interventions must rekindle the balance between local and institutional knowledge, change recruitment to require peacekeepers to be familiar and comfortable with an area and culture, involve local partners, and ask for tools and ideas from local communities. Being more aware and inclusive of local populations will break boundaries between them and the peacekeepers and create a more effective process with sustainable results.
    -written by Mary Mikhaeel
    (Continue Reading)February 27th, 2015
  • HGMV Workshop: Demystifying the role of images in interpreting violence

    images.jpgImages of violence have become a constant in international discourse. Videotaped beheadings are used to manipulate outrage. Advocates of global action against the violence in Syria try to raise the stakes with a provocative photo of children in a cage.In the midst of this global debate played out in images, the Holocaust, Genocide and Mass Violence workshop considered the question, what role should photographs of violence play in our own pedagogy? Do photographs assist our understanding of the violence that often at the core of our work or do they just provoke emotions that cloud and confuse our analytical understanding of human rights violations?

    On February 12, 2015, the HGMV workshop, an initiative of the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, discussed the ethical complexities of showing violent images in scholarly or public work. The group used an article, "Photography, War, Outrage," by philosopher and gender theorist, Judith Butler, to stimulate discussion. Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program began with a personal anecdote about an image she presented at a UN conference to highlight her study on gun violence and human rights. The image depicted a child soldier, who was black, bearing a gun evidently heavier than his physical ability to hold it. Frey noted that her intent was to demonstrate the power of the weapon, as a small child becomes physically threatening only when wielding a firearm. This photo however, was ill received by committee members from the Global South, as it appeared to reinforce the violence associated with these countries, seemingly ignoring the gun violence and the gun manufacturing prevalent in the Global North.

    Frey's story served to demonstrate the importance of contextualizing images. The group engaged with Butler's views: Does a photo in and of itself carry an interpretation? According to Frey, images do possess an interpretive power, which serve to reinforce or enforce a narrative of events. However, these narratives may communicate in ways that diverge from their original intent, due to each viewer's personal perspective. The discussants examined the intent of the photographer critically. A photo alone may not interpret events, but photographers - such as the embedded photographers cited in Butler's essay - may frame their subjects in a specific way that suggests an interpretation.
    The group touched on the problematic nature of using photography as evidence in criminal proceedings, and also in documenting human rights violations. Photos can be persuasive in creating a narrative, but can give us an indirect visual of events. For example, we often see the "blank eyes" or "gaunt faces" of victims, but rarely the actual act of violence. The group explored the reality we assign to a photo that we do not assign to an artist's piece of work. The photo does not speak for itself in the same way a narrative or piece of art can; it requires an external marker to explain what we are looking at.

    The discussion moved to the ethics of using violent images for educational purposes. Some felt that such images are designed to reveal the level of violence more effectively than narrative can do, suggesting that without the image, the weight of the subject cannot be fully grasped. One view described violence as theatre, with a very calculated audience, but using such images is not extending this theatre but is a means to explain this violence. This view also stressed the need to humanize perpetrators. By demonizing these individuals, we distance ourselves from them and in doing so, allot them too much power. Another view found that these images are crucial for Western and perhaps sheltered audiences, who are less likely to have experienced such atrocities and will not appreciate the depravity of these crimes. Butler also raises the issue of evoking sentiment with images, which she feels only stalls critical thinking. Some views in the group corresponded with Butler's analysis, while others found that without a certain degree of shock, students will not be engaged enough to think critically.

    Perhaps one of the largest debates of the conversation was whether displaying images of violence empowers the gaze of the perpetrators. By putting the audience in the vantage point of the perpetrator, are we extending the dehumanization of the victims and triggering a fascination or fetishization of violence? Is it fundamentally immoral to project these images? Should people enter the death camps of the Holocaust through the lens of the perpetrator?

    In examining the development of public executions throughout history, one view asserted that violence is part of the human experience and stepping away from this experience is a way of saying "no we shouldn't see it," and in a sense reserving this information for those in privileged positions. Others disagreed, stating that there is rather a delicate line in utilizing such images. From an activist's perspective, images possess a powerful role in shaming governments for their crimes. Showing such photos may have a utilitarian value, yet one must be conscience of their audience. One must ask the questions, why am I showing this? What needs to be seen? What contextualization is required?
    The group agreed that photos must move beyond sensationalizing, re-traumatizing or shocking the audience. Showing the depravity and inhumanity of the crimes only privileges the perpetrators. A participant noted that violence is part of life, but viewing such images is not a part of life--rather, it is a modern phenomenon. The accessibility of violence through modern communications means that we have become habituated to images of violence politically and morally, particularly youth who have always lived in a world of social media.

    The group also discussed structural forms of violence, which are not typically visualized in terms of physical violence though they can have physical impacts as seen in images of starving children. There are well known ethical dilemmas in foregrounding victim's images, because such images are often exploited for increased fundraising and support of one's cause, while the subject of the photo has no say in how they are represented.

    In the end, this discussion seemed to be searching for a fine balance between fetishizing violence and demystifying it.

    The workshop will meet again Thursday, February 26th to discuss "Violence at the Periphery: Spain, the Balkans and the Creation of Europe."
    -Written by Marie-Christine
    (Continue Reading)February 23rd, 2015
  • International Symposium-Contested Past, Contested Present: Social Memories and Human Rights in Post-Communist Europe

    symp.pngThis international symposium will examine the dynamics of public remembrance in post-communist Europe as it reaches beyond the role of legal tribunals, truth commissions, official apologies, lustration and reparations and into less formal forms of memory, including museums, film and television series, and visual art. The highlight of the symposium is the keynote address by John-Paul Himka, Professor of History and Classics, University of Alberta. Professor Himka will discuss recent political, social and cultural developments that have facilitated a more nuanced understanding of the complexities and discontinuities in representations of the Holocaust and the role that memory plays in contemporary discussions of national identity in Eastern Europe.

    The full schedule of the symposium is pasted below:
    March 4, Wednesday
    7:30 PM
    Keynote Lecture
    John-Paul Himka (University of Alberta): "Bringing the Past Back to Light: The Reception of the Holocaust in Post-Communist Europe"
    Location: Best Buy Theater, 4th Floor of Northrop, 84 Church Street SE, Minneapolis
    Welcome: Barbara Frey (Co-Chair of IAS Collaborative)
    Introduction: Evelyn Davidheiser (University of Minnesota)
    March 5, Thursday
    Location: 1210 Heller Hall,271 19th Avenue S, Minneapolis
    9:00 - 9:30 AM
    Welcome and Introductory Remarks
    CLA Dean John Coleman
    Alejandro Baer (Co-Chair of IAS Collaborative)
    9:30 - 11:30 AM
    Session 1: Competing Images of the Past: Stalinism vs. Nazism
    Lars Breuer (Free University of Berlin): "Victimhood in Vernacular Memory in Germany and Poland"
    Matti Jutila (University of Minnesota): "Constructing Genocidal Marxism in Post-Communist Europe"
    Respondent: Alejandro Baer (University of Minnesota)
    1:30 - 3:30 PM
    Session 2: Accounting for the Past: Truth and Justice in the former Yugoslavia
    Sarah Wagner (George Washington University): "Recognizing Srebrenica's Missing: The Sociopolitics of Forensic Intervention"
    Jelena Subotic (Georgia State University): "The Mythologizing of Communist Violence"
    Thomas C. Wolfe, (University of Minnesota): "History, Truth, and Method: Comments on Forensics and Justice"
    Respondent: Barbara Frey (University of Minnesota)
    4:00 - 5:45 PM
    Session 3: The Ukraine Conflict: Contested Past, Contested Present
    An IAS "Thursdays at Four" event
    John-Paul Himka (University of Alberta): "The History behind the Regional Conflict in Ukraine"
    George O. Liber (University of Alabama - Birmingham): "The Ukrainian Revolution of 2013-2015 and the Russian Response."
    J. Brian Atwood (University of Minnesota): "The US perspective on the Regional Conflict."
    Respondent: Mary Curtin (University of Minnesota)
    March 6, Friday
    Location: 1210 Heller Hall, 271 19th Avenue S, Minneapolis
    9:00 - 11:00 AM
    Session 4: Law and Memory in Transition
    Ryan Moltz (University of Minnesota): "Lustration in the Former Yugoslavia"
    Adam Czarnota (IISL, Spain): "Collective Memories and Post-Communist Legal Institutions"
    Nadya Nedelsky (Macalester College): "The Struggle for the Memory of the Nation: Slovakia's Confrontation with its Competing Pasts"
    Respondent: Joachim Savelsberg (Co-Chair of IAS Collaborative)
    11:30 AM - 1:00 PM
    Session 5: The Arts and the Politics of Representation
    Michal Kobialka (University of Minnesota): "Of Contested Pasts and Contested Presents: Tadeusz Kantor's Theatre and the Politics of Representation"
    Margarita Kompelmakher (University of Minnesota): "Universality from the Margin? Performing the Explicit Body in the Belarus Free Theater's Trash Cuisine"
    Respondent: James Dawes (Macalester College)
    Sponsored by the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Cosponsored by the Institute for Advanced Study, the Institute for Global Studies, Center for Austrian Studies, Department of Political Science, Department of History, Center for Jewish Studies, European Studies Consortium and the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation.
    (Continue Reading)February 20th, 2015
  • StarTribune lauds U's role in protecting human rights

    3figures.jpgOn 29 December 2014, the StarTribune published the following article in its Op-Ed section:

    Urban and economic planners increasingly speak about "clusters" of industries driving, and even defining, a region. Think Silicon Valley or the burgeoning med-tech industry thriving in multiple Minnesota communities. The same concept seems to be in effect locally regarding advancing global human rights. The latest indication is the recently announced collaboration between the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent, international organization that documents human rights conditions and presses for "positive and sustainable change."

    The link between documentation and action is essential, and so it's notable that Humphrey School graduate students will help HRW evaluate its research and advocacy work.

    "HRW is one of the world's most important human rights groups; it sends the tone for most other like-minded groups," Prof. James Ron, who teaches international studies at the Humphrey School, told an editorial writer. "Whatever changes we help HRW come up with now will likely spread to other groups around the world."

    Beyond the Humphrey School, the U is involved in human rights research and advocacy through its Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Human Rights Center, and the Program in Human Rights and Health.

    The concept is "ideas and action," said Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program. "Not only taking steps to protect people, but taking the best steps possible."

    The U's involvement in human rights bolsters, and is bolstered by, Minnesota-based nongovernmental organizations such as the Center for Victims of Torture, the American Refugee Committee and the Advocates for Human Rights, among others.

    Just a quick scan of the headlines shows that a global focus on setting and implementing human rights standards is necessary. Consider the allegations of horrific crimes committed by totalitarian states like North Korea and Syria, as well as in failed states filled by nihilistic groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

    And while not nearly as extreme, there's unfortunately room for improvement right here in the United States, as evidenced by revelations in the U.S. Senate's report on torture.

    Reports of ongoing human rights violations might create a sense of hopelessness for some Americans. But the work being done to chronicle those violations is a sign of progress that human rights leaders, including many in Minnesota, are taking necessary steps -- "ideas and action" -- to improve matters.
    This article was originally published by the Star Tribune here.
    (Continue Reading)February 2nd, 2015
  • Visiting Carnegie Scholars will work on human rights issues

    carnegie.pngThe University of Minnesota and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs are excited to host Meriem El Haitami and Dr. Rachid Touhtou from Morocco as visiting scholars for the 2015 Spring term. As recipients of the Andrew Carnegie Centennial Fellowship in Support of Visiting Scholars in the Social Sciences from Arab Universities, they will work with Humphrey School Professor James Ron on human rights issues specific to their interest.
    The Human Rights Program talks to the two scholars about their work at the Humphrey School, their research interests, and how they see their time at the University contribute to their work. Here are excerpts from the interview:

    Could you tell us about your work at the Humphrey School?

    Dr. Rachid: My work at the Humphrey School would involve working on a research project related to the civil society in Morocco and mainly the human rights sector under the supervision of Dr. James Ron. I will first attempt to map the literature on civil society actors, their trajectories, their discourses and how they use the human rights approach in their activism. Secondly, my research will also see through all the existing data, surveys and literature for human rights research in Morocco, the issues covered so far and compare it to the research done on human rights at the Humphrey School. The purpose is to write an academic paper where we attempt to review, compare and bring original contribution on human rights activism and discourses in Morocco.

    Meriem: My work at Humphrey includes working on a proposed research that explores the dynamics of female activism within Islamist groups in Morocco's (post) Arab Spring. I will also work with Professor James Ron on a survey on human rights activists and the public that he conducted in Morocco and eventually co-author an article based on the data.

    Could you elaborate on your specific research interests and its implications for Morocco and the region as a whole?

    Dr. Rachid: My research on social movements is an attempt at understanding their repertoires, forms of activism and historicity. Social movements in Morocco are much politicized actors within the arena, their influence on the political culture has proved very challenging to the regime throughout history, including the pre and post Arab Spring eras. Social movements in Morocco are getting globalized in the sense that their agendas are linked to region (the Maghreb) as well as the world (anti-globalization, anti-capitalist, anti-war).

    Meriem: My doctoral research explores the ways female embodied religion and activism are debated and shaped by different religious and political actors. I try to capture the diversity of contemporary female Islamic leadership and the novel constructs of religious feminist expression in contemporary Morocco. I am particularly interested in the mainstreaming of gender approach to Morocco's counter-radicalization strategy that is closely associated with the state's discursive use of religion to underscore Morocco's 'exceptionalism' in the region. I focus on religious reform that Morocco launched in 2004 (as a result of the terrorist attacks that hit the country in 2003) and the deployment of female imams as active actors in preserving the country's 'spiritual security'. I argue that this contributes to promoting the role of religious actors in local, national, and international life, from providing religious and social counseling to their communities to shaping larger social and political debates. They become a model of faith-based engagement and constitute potentially important partners in promoting socio-political cohesion and maximizing opportunities to include religion as a development model as it touches on areas of socio-economic development and women's empowerment.

    What are some of the other movements affecting (in a positive sense) women's political and religious participation in the Middle East North Africa region? What has been your experience with women's rights in the MENA region?

    Dr. Rachid: Women's rights in the MENA region are a very complex issue where various layers interfere, mainly the religious and the political. The issue is becoming visible in the public sphere though there are regressions in the area of economic, political and civil rights. The issue is evolving in a region where radicalization, lack of good governance practices and absence or strong presence of states coexist to make women's rights a pressing issue in the region.

    Meriem: Popular mobilization generated by the Arab Spring has also forged new modes of female political expression. Women- especially young female activities- have played a central role in street protests and in the creation of a virtual public sphere through social media, as well as the physical public sphere, this has created competing counter publics that subvert mainstream political action. This also provides a nuanced perspective on women's activism and challenges the monolithic view of women's experiences and socio-political activism in the MENA region.

    How do see the time that you spend at the University of Minnesota contributing to your work?

    Meriem: The Carnegie Fellowship will offer me an opportunity to interact with other scholars and colleagues and thus develop my cross-disciplinary interests. It will also help me contribute to contemporary debates on women's religious activism in the MENA region, as well as provide insight into subfields within the broader study of religion and politics.

    Dr. Rachid: This is a great opportunity for me here at all levels. At the intellectual level, this is a good place for intellectual development, being exposed to experts and multinational researchers. At the professional level, it will give me the opportunity to develop my research internationally, and measure my work in comparison to other experts. At the personal level, I am sure I will make new friends, new connections and enjoy the place which is a great city with great people.
    (Continue Reading)February 2nd, 2015
  • 'Ideas and action' will guide the U's collaboration with Human Rights Watch

    hrw.jpgThe University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs, the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Human Rights Center, and the Program in Human Rights and Health will work with renowned international human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) to evaluate the organization's research and advocacy work. The collaboration is made possible through the structure of a Capstone project conducted by graduate students enrolled in their final semester in the Humphrey School and other programs including the Human Rights Program.

    As part of this Capstone, students will document the various ways in which the organization collects its data, evaluate its research methods, and offer recommendations for improvement.
    Students will first identify the ways in which HRW collects its data, including confidential interviews with witnesses, officials, security force personnel, key informants, and vulnerable populations, as well as satellite images and quantitative data. Students will also interview members of HRW's global research team exploring the pros and cons of each method, finally drawing on best practices from other organizations and on scholarly literature to evaluate HRW's practices, and suggest new areas for investigation. Students will work with James Ron, Humphrey School faculty member and Harold E. Stassen Chair and Mary Curtin, diplomat-in-residence.

    The initiative has been lauded by the University as well as the rest of the Minnesota community as identified in the piece describing the significance of this collaboration and of human rights 'ideas and action'.

    Established in 1978, Human Rights Watch is a nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization made up of roughly 400 staff members around the globe. Its staff consists of human rights professionals including country experts, lawyers, journalists, and academics of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Each year, Human Rights Watch publishes more than 100 reports and briefings on human rights conditions in some 90 countries, generating extensive coverage in local and international media. It meets with governments, the United Nations, regional groups like the African Union and the European Union, financial institutions, and corporations to press for changes in policy and practice that promote human rights and justice around the world.
    (Continue Reading)January 1st, 2015
  • Soft Vengeance: The story of Albie Sachs and his fight against the apartheid regime

    albie sachs.jpg On November 13, the University of Minnesota hosted a screening of the film "Soft Vengeance" followed by a discussion with filmmaker Abby Ginzberg . The event was part of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change distinguished lecture series. The documentary focused on the life of jurist and activist, Albie Sachs and South Africa's fight against the apartheid regime. At a young age of 17, Albie Sachs attempted to start a movement by purposely sitting on a non-white bench.

    He was arrested but was sent home since he was a minor. The incident didn't stop him from striving for people's rights and freedoms. He became a lawyer at the age of 21 and supported people who were committed to ending the apartheid. In 1980, he was imprisoned in solitary confinement where he was tortured through sleep deprivation. He was released after 168 days and was then exiled from South Africa.

    Albie Sachs moved to London where he raised two children and worked on becoming a writer. However, he longed to go back to South Africa. He went to Maputo, Mozambique to continue his work where he soon became a target of the South African government's repressive measures. On April 7, 1988 Albie Sachs was hit by a car bomb placed outside his car by a South African security worker. The attempted assassination cost Sachs his right arm and the sight of one eye. Sachs spent a year recovering in a hospital in England.

    During his imprisonment, exile, and recovery, several other leaders working to end the apartheid were either targeted to be assassinated or imprisoned. It was after Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years of imprisonment that Albie Sachs returned to South Africa. On returning, they began working on creating the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. A Constitutional Court was also established and Albie Sachs was appointed to one of the positions.

    The documentary brings to the fore the struggle of the people of South Africa and the invaluable contribution of activists like Albie Sachs in restoring values of dignity, equality and freedom in the country.
    -written by Mariah Berner
    (Continue Reading)November 23rd, 2014
  • Panel discusses University's role in effecting social justice and global change

    icgc.jpgAs part of the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change, the University of Minnesota hosted a panel discussion titled "Social Justice and Global Change: The University's Role" on November 14. The discussion focused on the University's role in effecting social justice and positive change in the world. The panel was chaired by Raymond Duvall, Professor of Political Science and ICGC Affiliate Faculty, University of Minnesota and included prominent speakers like August Nimtz, Professor of Political Science and ICGC Affiliate Faculty, University of Minnesota, Naomi Scheman, Professor of Philosophy and Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies and ICGC Affiliate Faculty, University of Minnesota, Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program and ICGC Affiliate Faculty, University of Minnesota and Suren Pillay, Associate Professor, Centre for Humanities Research, University of the Western Cape.

    Pillay opened the discussion with a cautionary note articulating that intellectuals can often be dangerous when trying to influence the world. Referring to history and going as far back as 1515, he talked about how Bartolomé de las Casas advocated in his early writings the use of African slaves instead of native Americans in his pursuit to end native American slavery. Pillay emphasized how many interventions in the past have thus had the opposite effect even though they were based on the logic of doing good.

    Addressing the apprehension surrounding the term social justice, Frey defined it as fairness in economic and social equity among individuals and groups. She suggested a three pronged strategy for delivering social justice and global change: convening, creating and challenging. While differentiating between good and bad convening, she underscored the need to invite key actors, doers and skeptics to engage in meaningful debate based on research. She also highlighted the University's role in creating global citizens. In her third and final element, she explained how challenging is often a two way process: as a faculty member she is challenged by questions posed by students coming from diverse academic backgrounds but also realizes that to be effective as teachers, faculty members need to be able to explain their work to the outside community and not just students.

    Professor Scheman discussed how global change and social justice are connected and highlighted the University's role in doing what is 'trustworthy'. She argued that striving for absolute excellence and doing things for the sake of ranking takes attention away from being a University situated in a particular community setup. She also argued in favor of responsibility as opposed to accountability suggesting that accountability applies to institutions that are comparable and generic.

    Describing himself as a product of the civil rights and the anti-colonial movement, Professor August narrated how many social justice movements began on campus and then took shape in communities. He cited the Cuban Revolution as an example of this phenomenon.

    While recognizing the growing concern about social justice in and around the University, the panelists provided diverse perspectives on addressing the issue and suggested possible means for effecting positive change in the world.
    (Continue Reading)November 21st, 2014
  • Israel-Palestine: Working towards a non-violent conflict transformation

    compeace.pngOn October 8, the University of Minnesota hosted Combatants for Peace as part of a series of events to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Members of Combatants for Peace work towards building peace and understanding between Palestinians and Israelis by breaking the cycle of violence. During the event, the speakers shared their stories of what led them to pursue nonviolent means and reach an understanding between the two sides.

    Chen Alon, Co-founder of Combatants for Peace and theatre activist, discussed how he realized that fighting only prolonged the advent of peace. Alon, a former veteran, grew up believing that the Jewish state was surrounded by enemies and that he must protect it. He was drafted in the military in 1987 and saw it as the greatest honor. One day he arrested a ten-year- old child. As he was looking at the child, he began to question his involvement in the military. Continually, in 2001, during a strategy of siege and block, he was positioned at a roadblock when he was asked to allow a taxi full of sick Palestinian children to get to the hospital. At that moment, his wife called to speak about his three-year-old daughter. Alon realized that the Palestinian children were as human as his own. He realized that he was de-humanizing himself by de-humanizing the Palestinians. Alon left the army and is now active in creating alliances with Palestinians to work against injustice and oppression.

    Bassam Aramin, Co-founder of Combatants for Peace and a Palestinian activist, experienced the same desire for peace between Palestinians and Israelis. Like Alon, Aramin become involved in the Palestinian struggle at a young age of seventeen when he was caught planning an attack on the Israeli troops and then spent seven years in prison. On 16 January 2007, Aramin's ten-year-old daughter was shot by an Israeli soldier outside her school. Aramin knew revenge wasn't the solution and wanted to set an example for his eldest son. Aramin believes that forgiveness is the first place for healing as it is a way to clean your heart and make peace with yourself. For this reason, when Aramin encountered his daughter's assassin in court, he told that he had forgiven him.

    In summary, the event highlighted that peace can be achieved through understanding, self-realization, and forgiveness. Most importantly, it underscored the need to question one's actions while remembering that everybody is as human as the others.
    -written by Daniela Prigozhina and Halimo Ismail
    (Continue Reading)November 12th, 2014
  • Former Student Advisory Board member Christie Nicoson awarded for her commitment to the advancement of peace

    Christie Nicoson3.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce Christie Nicoson as the recipient of the 2015 Rotary Peace Fellowship. Christie is the Program and Operations Director at World Without Genocide, a human rights organization headquartered at William Mitchell College of Law, St. Paul, Minnesota. She is one of fifty individuals selected this year from around the world for a fully funded academic scholarship. Christie will start her master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden in fall of 2015.

    Christie currently assists Minnesota Senator Sandy Pappas with the international program Forward Global Women, a convening of women peace makers from Middle East and North African countries. At World Without Genocide, Christie organizes educational events, supports advocacy initiatives, and engages community members to build an anti-genocide constituency to stand up for human rights both locally and globally. She previously worked with an organization in Mombasa, Kenya to combat sex trafficking and to provide support for trafficked women. Christie is also a 2014 Carl Wilkens Fellow, a network of professionals building the political will to end genocide. Through this fellowship, she raises awareness about the impact of climate change on global conflict and the use of food as a tool of genocide. As a volunteer, Christie coordinates service projects between Habitat for Humanity, World Without Genocide, and a local Rotary Club. She was named Citizen of the Year in 2014 by the Minneapolis University Rotary Club for her service to the community.

    Christie graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2013, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Global Studies. As a University student, Christie served on the University of Minnesota Human Rights Student Advisory Board and directed a youth mentoring program at the YMCA.
    (Continue Reading)November 7th, 2014
  • Panel explores the role of theatre in forging new narratives around separation barriers

    berlin.pngAs part of its ongoing "Thursdays at 4" series, the Institute for Advanced Studies, in collaboration with the Human Rights Program, held a panel discussion titled "Cracks in the Wall: 25 Years After Berlin" on November 6. In light of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the panel discussion brought to the fore possible ways to animate the ruptures of divided groups.

    Speakers Matthias Rothe of the German, Scandinavian, and Dutch Department; Chen Alon and Sulaiman al-Khatib of Combatants of Peace; and Mona Smith, a Dakota Multimedia Artist, were able to highlight the unique efforts that help provide a new perspective and forms of memory surrounding the events of the Berlin Wall, the Israel/Palestine division, and the US/Mexico Border.

    The discussion emphasized the role of theatre, film, and art in representing the division of Germany through Sonnenallee and series of plays, the theatre work done with students, civilians and other combatants by Combatants of Peace to bring together people and understand the Israel-Palestine conflict, and ways to interpret and develop an awareness of the nature of the relations created by the walled border between Mexico and the United States.

    The next installment of the series will be held on Thursday, November 13 at 4:00 PM in Crosby Seminar Room, Northrop Auditorium. This panel, "To Embrace Failure? A Multi-Disciplinary Re-Thinking," will touch on the understanding and role of failure in inquiry and processes across disciplines.
    (Continue Reading)November 7th, 2014
  • Malala and Satyarthi: Shaping the discourse on gender equality in education

    malsat.png Although a number of initiatives spearheaded by international organizations like the UN and UNESCO to promote gender equality in education have seen some success, the overall state of gender equality and education rights in the world remains deplorable. With women constituting nearly two-thirds of the world's illiterate population, a world with equal access to education for women remains a distant dream. The Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Malala Yousafzai, an impassioned teenager from the Swat Valley in Pakistan and Kailash Satyarthi, a child rights advocate from the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, therefore, has immense potential to shape the future of gender and education rights in the coming years.

    The Human Rights Program presents perspectives from students and faculty on why they view the Nobel Peace Prize as a water-shed moment in the struggle for gender and education rights globally.

    Amy Kaminsky, Professor of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies University of Minnesota

    Malala Yousafzai's own courage is deeply admirable, and she is a wonderful symbol; but it should not be necessary for girls to brave threats and acts of violence to attend school. It is no secret that women's literacy has extraordinary effects on the quality of life for society in general, from public health to the economy to sustainable development. But women have a right to education for its own sake and for their own good, to make their own lives richer. Education brings economic benefits, of course; but literacy, numeracy, and knowledge of the world beyond one's gates enriches individual lives and allows women and girls to dream, imagine, invent, and create.

    The work of Malala's co-winner, Kailash Satyarthi, in ending child labor reminds us that girls can be kept from school because of exploitation grounded in poverty and exacerbated by gender norms and flat out sexism. His campaign to save children from slavery is a precondition to their even imagining that education is within their reach.

    Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, Co-Director, Human Rights Center, University of Minnesota

    Nobel Peace Prize Activists Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satvarthi have taken great physical and psychological risks for standing up for all children's rights to education, regardless of their economic, social, cultural or political situation. Few of us realize the risks these young people have taken to advocate for the right to education. At the same time, their leadership is creating space for us not only to work for gender equality in access to education, but to lift off the veil of gender-based violence, discrimination, bullying, and sexual harassment occurring in our schools across the globe and recognize the historical trauma endured by many of us. I believe that these leaders are calling on us to stand up and make sure that all children are able to receive not only primary education, but secondary education, in a learning environment that is respectful of human rights and embracing non-violence, equality, and non-discrimination as core principles.

    Patrick Finnegan, Assistant Director of Research & Development, Human Rights Center, University of Minnesota

    Malala Yousafzai's story of standing up for girls' education in the face of powerful and violent opposition is an inspiring story, but one that also reveals how much work is left to be done to achieve substantive equality in education.

    Education is vital to economic mobility and research suggests that the education of women and girls in particular is one of the surest ways to rapidly increase a society's social and economic development. In many places in the world, however, women and girls face barriers to education and thus to economic and social mobility. In Pakistan, for example, girls may be pushed to drop out of school in order to perform household chores or marry at a young age.

    Such barriers are by no means confined to the global south; in the United States, for example, far fewer women than men receive math and science degrees, with many women finding gender-based hostility in those fields an obstacle to their progress. Such barriers in part contribute to wage gaps, with women in full time jobs earning 78% of what men typically earn.

    In spite of these persistent obstacles, the world has seen tangible progress in the past decade. According to the World Economic Forum, 105 countries have experienced an increase in male-female equality since 2006. As the examples above illustrate, however, there is still a long road to travel.
    The year 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely ratified treaty in the world. In continuing to advocate for equality of educational access, it is important to recall that Article 29(1)(d) of the Convention states that education must be carried out in the spirit of equality of the sexes (among other things). Human rights treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, can be a key advocacy tool in the struggle for educational equality for women and girls.

    Mariah Berner, Freshman studying Psychology and Biology, Society, and Environment

    Although Millennium Development Goals and other initiatives have seen success in improving access to education worldwide, gender disparities in education remain largely unaddressed. Women constitute almost two-thirds of the world's illiterate population. This halts their progress creating lack of opportunities and resources to improve their lives. The number of girls dropping out of school continues to remain higher than that of boys. Malala has sought to address these issues by amplifying and advocating the attainment of gender equality in education. She is an inspiration for the young and the old alike.
    (Continue Reading)October 31st, 2014
  • Frey speaks at the 4th meeting of the International Working Group on Leprosy and Human Rights in Morocco

    iwg.png Today, freely available multi-drug therapy has ensured that leprosy does not pose a serious public health concern. However, the stigmatization of millions of people affected by the disease remains largely unaddressed. This work was taken up by the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the early 2000s. Their work led to the adoption of Resolution A/RES/65/215 by the UN General Assembly in 2010 which outlined the "Principles and Guidelines for the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and Their Family Members". It was followed by the Nippon Foundation's initiative in 2011 to disseminate the Principles and Guidelines throughout the world.

    The International Working Group (IWG) on Leprosy and Human Rights was born out of a resolution adopted at the first symposium organized by the Nippon Foundation at Rio de Janeiro in 2012. As a member of this International Working Group, Barbara Frey, Director, Human Rights Program, University of Minnesota, delivered the following speech at the Middle Eastern Regional Symposium on Leprosy and Human Rights held in Rabat, Morocco on October 28, 2014.

    "I would like to extend my thanks to the organizers of this Middle East Regional Symposium on Leprosy and Human Rights, especially to the Government of Morocco, the Nippon Foundation, and Mr. Sasakawa, the World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador. I am honored to be invited to speak today on behalf of the International Working Group on Leprosy and Human Rights. The Working Group was established in 2012 to consider methods of implementation of the "Principles and Guidelines for the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and their Family Members," (which were just presented by Mr. Sakamoto.) Members of the IWG, representing various geographical regions and expertise, and including persons affected by leprosy, have been working since then, with the support of the Nippon Foundation and a National Advisory Group in Japan, to develop a plan for effective follow up of the Principles and Guidelines.

    Endorsed by the UN General Assembly in December 2010, the Principles and Guidelines represent a landmark achievement in affirming the human rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The international instrument consists of two parts: the Principles, which restate and recognize the most basic human rights that extend to all persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The second part consists of the Guidelines, which elaborate in concrete terms the responsibilities of States to promote, protect and ensure the realization of all human rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members. The Principles and Guidelines confirm and build upon the core international guarantee of non-discrimination which is so deeply embedded in human rights law. The Principles and Guidelines set forth the standards of behavior that have been deemed necessary for States to achieve their responsibility to prohibit all forms of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

    The Principles and Guidelines have their roots in the UN Charter, by which each state has acknowledged its common faith in "fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small." The global commitment to human rights cannot be achieved if the rights of any particular group of people are not fully respected and protected. The centrality of the principles of equality and non-discrimination in international human rights law and the adoption and endorsement of the Principles and Guidelines by the UN Human Rights Council and the General Assembly mean that these standards carry authoritative weight in international law. These measures can be therefore used as a measure to assess State practice.

    There are many actors who must be involved in ensuring that the standards in the PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES are carried out. First and foremost are States, which have the primary obligation to respect, protect, fulfill and ensure human rights for all. As such, States are called upon to modify, repeal or abolish existing laws, regulations, policies, customs and practices that discriminate directly or indirectly against persons affected by leprosy and their family members. All parts of government, including the executive, legislature, and judiciary, as well as local governments, and institutions under the control of governments, must act in conformance with the Principles and Guidelines. Governments should also take steps to ensure that the rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members are protected in the private sphere through appropriate regulations related to the actions of individuals, groups and private enterprises. The International Working Group recommends that States, therefore, adopt and carry out their own national plans of action and collect information regarding the actual status of implementation of the Principles and Guidelines.

    To assist with this process, the International Working Group has prepared a "Suggested Framework for National Plans of Action" for States to use in their own domestic contexts. The elements of this suggested framework include the following:
    • A clear statement of objectives
    • A timeframe for achieving the stated objectives
    • Cooperation with stakeholders, most importantly with persons affected by leprosy
    • Law reform, including repeal of laws that directly or indirectly violate the rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members; and the removal of discriminatory and offensive language;
    • Provision of remedies, including judicial remedies
    • Special attention to women, children, the elderly and other vulnerable populations
    • Rights related to the family, including the right to marry and raise children, and support for reunification of family members separated as a result of past policies and practices;
    The Framework for National Plans further includes:
    • An emphasis on inclusion and participation in the community,
    • The rights to political participation, to work, education and training;
    • The right to health, including early diagnosis and prompt treatment for leprosy, free medication, counseling and rehabilitation;
    • The right to an adequate standard of living and social security;
    • And a plan for awareness raising to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons affected by leprosy and their family members.

    In addition to States, the UN General Assembly also encouraged other actors to give due consideration to the Principles and Guidelines in implementing policies with regard to persons affected by leprosy, including relevant UN bodies, specialized agencies, funds and programmes, other intergovernmental organizations and national human rights institutions.

    Of course, persons with leprosy themselves must be central actors in implementing the PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES. The right of persons affected by leprosy to be actively involved in decision-making processes is underscored in the Principles and Guidelines with regard to policies and programs that directly concern their lives and the lives of their family members. The affected individuals are powerful agents of social change who should act, individually and collectively through their respective local, national and international organizations to claim and implement their human rights.

    To ensure effective implementation, the International Working Group further emphasizes the importance of awareness-raising activities to be carried out by all sectors. States are encouraged to work together with national human rights institutions, NGOs, civil society and the media to foster respect for the rights of persons affected by leprosy and their family members. Civil society organizations and social institutions, including schools, religious communities and centers of art and culture are critical partners in helping to remove the misconceptions associated with leprosy and in raising public awareness about the disease and its impacts.

    In addition to these domestic-level activities, the International Working Group has concluded that the P&G are most likely to be given effect if States are called upon to take specific implementing actions, including conducting studies, collecting and analyzing data, bringing these instruments to the attention of various governmental offices and reporting back to a specified international body. To ensure these measures are taken by governments to implement the P&G, the International Working Group further recommends the establishment of a follow-up mechanism at the international level that would have the authority to monitor the actions of States. Drawing upon the experience of independent committees of experts that function to monitor the implementation of international human rights treaties in the UN as well as the International Labour Organization's Conventions and recommendations, the INTERNATIONAL WORKING GROUP recommends that the UN Human Rights Council request its Advisory Committee to study and recommend an appropriate follow-up mechanism at the international level.

    The International Working Group further recommends that whatever follow-up mechanism is created be empowered to distribute as soon as possible a questionnaire to States in order to collect data regarding the actual practice of States in implementing the P&G. To assist with this data gathering, the International Working Group has prepared a draft questionnaire which can be adapted for this purpose. The questionnaire calls for information with regard to the following topics: (i) basic epidemiological and clinical management status of leprosy, (ii) healthcare, (iii) abolishment of discriminatory laws, (iv) establishment of a national committee, (v) awareness raising, translation and dissemination of the Principles and Guidelines; (vi) reporting to international human rights bodies, and (vii) adoption of a National Plan of Action.

    In sum, the 2010 endorsement of the Principles and Guidelines by the UN General Assembly represented a significant turning point in the recognition of the full human rights of all persons affected by leprosy and their family members. These standards have been welcomed by tens of millions of persons who have endured the stigma associated with this disease. The Principles and Guidelines provide the international community with a solid base from which to work together to ensure the full realization of immediate and effective elimination of discrimination resulting from leprosy. We look forward to working with the international community in the next phase of effective implementation of these critical standards. On behalf of the IWG, I thank you for your support and participation in this historic process."
    (Continue Reading)October 31st, 2014
  • Professor Fran Quigley assesses the role of human rights in rebuilding Haiti

    un2.jpgOn October 22, the Twin Cities community and the University of Minnesota students, faculty, and staff spent the afternoon listening to Fran Quigley, a clinical professor of law at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, and a specialist in human rights advocacy. Using his book, How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: The Lawyers, the Activists, and the Grassroots Movement, as a framework for discussion, Quigley educated and engaged his audience on the Haitian cholera epidemic and its implications with respect to human rights.

    Briefly outlining the context of the recent human rights violation, Professor Quigley explained that after Hurricane Tomas struck Haiti in November of 2010, the United Nations sent Nepalese troops to assist in providing disaster relief. However, the UN failed to screen the troops for disease, thus allowing soldiers infected with cholera to inhabit the country. As a result of poor infrastructure and negligent human waste disposal practices at the UN base, cholera bacteria infected the water of the Artibonite River, contaminating a major source of water for many Haitians. He explained how the United Nations, regarded as the universal protector of human rights, largely perpetuated the violation of those rights in Haiti in 2010, and is yet to claim responsibility. To date, over 700,000 Haitians have been infected with cholera, and the disease has taken nearly 8,600 lives. In his discussion, Quigley also touched on additional human rights violations affecting Haiti such the prevalence of sexual assaults and the lack of adequate shelter, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Tomas.

    After providing several personal anecdotes and a basic understanding of the epidemic, Quigley stated that Haiti is in desperate need of individually enforceable rights and rule of law. By developing government transparency, responsibility, and accountability, as well as by creating and enforcing building codes, emergency response programs, and public safety systems, Quigley believes Haiti will come closer to prosperity. Actors such as the United States Congress, Parlement Haitien, UN member states, scientists, Partners in Health, media outlets, grassroots organizations, and over 30,000 combined petition signers are working diligently to hold the United Nations accountable for the outbreak of cholera in Haiti.

    Bringing the issue closer to home, Quigley outlined the role that the United States can play in providing justice to Haitians and helping to rebuild Haiti. As a large world power and the primary financial contributor to the United Nations, the U.S. has the capacity to support the passionate grassroots activists of Haiti by amplifying their voices on a global scale. While stating that it is necessary for corrupt governments to be challenged and punished, Quigley also explained why it is imperative that Americans exhibit utmost humility and "take the passenger seat" to Haitians, allowing them to determine their country's priorities. He encouraged all in attendance to write to congressional representatives and join Minneapolis' own Haiti Justice Alliance to raise awareness and enact change for the people of Haiti. At the very least, he stressed the importance of becoming educated and educating others on the cholera epidemic and other issues that currently plague Haiti. As Professor Fran Quigley fervently expressed, charity does not create human rights; governmental and systemic change does, and we can all be part of the solution.

    The event was organized by undergraduate senior Natalie Miller, leader of the Cholera Accountability Project and member of the Haiti Justice Alliance. The event was presented by the Haiti Justice Alliance in partnership with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program.
    -written by Monica Delgado
    (Continue Reading)October 30th, 2014
  • Human Rights Program welcomes a new Student Advisory Board

    sablunch.png The Human Rights Program is excited to welcome a new Student Advisory Board. As a diverse cohort committed to human rights practice and scholarship, it will coordinate a number of human-rights activities and events on campus. In addition to providing direction to the staff, the members will also assist in disseminating human rights scholarship in the graduate and undergraduate student community thereby enhancing the educational experience for all. Here's a snapshot of the Student Advisory Board member profiles.

    Monica Delgado, a freshman studying Political Science and Global Studies, is interested in exploring issues connecting human rights and public health, immigration, and law. Halimo Ismail, a sophomore majoring in Chemistry, is interested in raising awareness about human right issues related to race and religion. Mariah Berner, a freshman studying Psychology and Biology, Society, and Environment, is interested in working in the field of education rights. Liz Hoke, a biology sophomore, is interested in learning about the process and efficacy of human rights advocacy. Laura Dahl, majoring in Neuroscience, is interested in looking at international health and women's health rights. Elsa Ericson is a senior majoring in Global Studies with a focus on Human Rights & Justice and Europe with a minor in German and Psychology. Her interests lie in the area of food security and access to health care in communities. Erica Schultz is a senior pursuing a B.S. through the Inter-College Program with concentrations in Global Studies, Nonprofit Management, and Youth Studies. Her coursework helped stimulate her interest in the area of immigrant and refugee rights. Daniela Prigozhina is a junior majoring in Economics and Political Science with an interest in women's rights. Patrick Alcorn is a senior studying Global Studies focusing on human rights and justice in the Middle East. His human rights interests lie primarily within the realm of immigrant and refugee rights in the United States, and equal access to education. Annie Wood is a senior majoring in Political Science and Global Studies and minoring in Spanish. The opportunity to serve the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board aligns with Annie's passion for community engagement and advocacy. Joseph Fifield is a senior majoring in Gender, Women's and Sexuality Studies and Global Studies. Joseph will continue his activism work through his membership with the Student Advisory Board. Kailey Mrosak is a senior majoring in Global Studies with a concentration in Human Rights and Justice and the Middle East. Her passion lies in fighting for women's rights globally.

    With such a vibrant Student Advisory Board, there is a lot to look forward to. Keep an eye out for all the exciting Student Advisory Board events!
    (Continue Reading)October 29th, 2014
  • Sullivan Ballou Award recognizes the outstanding work of Amy Cosimini in human rights

    amyc.jpgThe Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies are thrilled to announce Amy Cosimini as the recipient of the 2014 Sullivan Ballou Award for her outstanding work in promoting and protecting human rights. Amy is a PhD candidate in the department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at the University of Minnesota where she researches the relationship between human rights and memory production discourses in Southern Cone literature and popular culture.

    During the summer of 2014, Amy participated in a 5-week internship with the Fundación Maria de los Ángeles (Foundation Maria de los Ángeles) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Founded in 2007 by Susana Trimarco, the Foundation provides necessary assistance to victims of human trafficking. As an intern with the organization, she worked closely with the Foundation's press and communication team preparing press releases, working on community outreach, and designing promotional materials for many of the Foundation's formal events.

    Amy earned her B.A in Political Science and Latin American Studies at Macalester College and her M.A. in Hispanic Literature and Culture at the University of Minnesota. She has also published a paper on the use of national dances as political propaganda, and is currently working on a project that investigates how institutionalized transitional justice mechanisms in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay dialogue with various forms of cultural production to produce cultural memory narratives that (re) frame national memory policies.

    The Sullivan Ballou Award is supported by the Sullivan Ballou Fund and is named after Major Sullivan Ballou, an Army soldier killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in the U.S. Civil War. The award honors Major Ballou's memory by recognizing a student who devotes heartfelt energy to promote human rights.
    (Continue Reading)October 22nd, 2014
  • The Act of Killing: Reflections on the documentary

    act of killing.jpgOn October 16, students, faculty, and the greater University of Minnesota community attended a screening of the critically acclaimed documentary The Act of Killing. The powerful film documents former Indonesian death squad leader Anwar Congo and other gangsters as they re-enact the torture and mass killings they committed in North Sumatra in the 1960s and attempt to come to terms with the atrocities. The film-screening was followed by an enlightened discussion led by expert panelists Catherine Solheim, Rosa Garcia-Peltoniemi, and Simon Robins.

    Robins, a Research Fellow at the University of York Centre for Applied Human Rights in the United Kingdom, questioned whether the narrative of the film can be trusted as an accurate account of the mass atrocities. He explained that the power of the film's imagery is the way in which it blurs the lines between reality and artifice, challenging dominant notions that people are either good or evil. As Anwar grapples with both guilt and pride over his actions, the film shows that the truth is not that simple. Garcia-Peltoniemi, emphasized that the film allows viewers to talk about the thoughts and feelings of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity and to understand such violence from their perspective. A Senior Clinician at the Center for Victims of Torture, she spoke about the need to recognize the psychopathic and narcissistic behavior of Anwar and the other leaders as well as the methods used to justify crimes like torture, including moral disengagement, dehumanization of victims, and euphemistic labeling of violent acts. Solheim, an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Social Science, added another layer to the discussion by stressing that violence, and the memory of violence, is a collective process that is difficult to separate from the individual. The fact that the gangsters of the mass killings fifty years ago are the celebrated political leaders of Indonesia today shows how easily violence can become systemically justified and reframed in its aftermath. The institutional refusal to confront the truth is clear in the ongoing lack of accountability for the crimes, and many societal problems in Indonesia today are rooted in the denial of this history.

    There was consensus among the panelists and the audience that it is important for the film to gain exposure in Indonesia and for Sumatrans to carry the truth of their own history forward. However, the most crucial take-away from the event was the universality of the narrative. Even thousands of miles away from North Sumatra, we live with the ramifications of the killings, as well as mass violence committed anywhere in the world. As moderator Pauline Boss poignantly stated, we all have the potential to become an Anwar.

    The event was organized by graduate student Damir Utrzan and co-sponsored by the Department of Family Social Science, the Center for Victims of Torture, and the American Psychological Association, Division 56 on Trauma Psychology.
    -written by Kailey Mrosak
    (Continue Reading)October 22nd, 2014
  • Professor Brian Atwood leads US delegation to an international human rights conference in Poland

    atwood.pngProfessor Brian Atwood, the chair for Global policy at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota, led the US delegation to the Human Dimension Implementation Meeting (HDIM) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) held in Warsaw, Poland, from September 22-October 3. Other key members of the delegation included Ambassador Daniel Baer, U.S. Permanent Representative to the OSC; Ira Forman, Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism; Thomas Melia, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Ambassador David Killion, Chief of Staff, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and Lynne A. Davidson, Senior Advisor to the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State.

    The annual meeting serves as a platform for 57 OSCE participating countries, civil society, and international organizations to collaborate to advance human rights and fundamental freedoms. Participating countries and organizations take stock of impending human rights commitments and associated challenges, share good practices and make recommendations for further improvements. This year's meeting was held against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine and other world events that necessitated the implementation of commitments in the area of human rights.
    Professor Atwood is a former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Assistant Secretary of State for Legislative Affairs. He also served as the first president of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.
    (Continue Reading)October 8th, 2014
  • Activist and Jurist, Albie Sachs, reflects on Human Rights in Post-Apartheid South Africa

    ALBIE PHOTO.pngOn October 2, 2014, the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change hosted honored guest, former South Africa Constitutional Justice Albie Sachs, who delivered a lecture concerning the "Challenges and Successes in Post-Apartheid South Africa." Dr. Albie Sachs is a highly distinguished human rights defender and opponent of the South African apartheid regime. The writer, lawyer and former South Africa Constitutional Court Justice's passion for human rights work began at the age of 17, when he participated in the Congress of the people at Kliptown, and eventually went on to serve the South African Constitutional Committee and the National Executive of the African National Congress (ANC) during South Africa's transition to democracy. In 1994, President Mandela appointed Dr. Sachs to serve on the new Constitutional Court.

    Dr. Sachs began his discussion of post-apartheid South Africa by outlining the formation and inauguration of the Constitutional Court. He stressed the powerful nature of the Court, comparing it to the United States Supreme Court. Yet, unlike the US Supreme Court, the South African Constitutional Court has the capacity to expand upon its rights "more comprehensively" as he framed it, even to the point of declaring certain elements or the entirety of the Constitution unconstitutional. Dr. Sachs frequently spoke of the fundamental values essential to a successful, democratic constitution, and how the new South Africa initially struggled to find a unified and cohesive conception of what these values should be. He labeled one camp "group A," referring to the ANC, who firmly held that the Constitution ought to be drafted in a way to protect the minorities. The other camp, or "group B," felt that such a Constitution drafted by a self-appointed group, without a democratically elected mandate from the people would prove to be illegitimate and possesses no real authority. Dr. Sachs, along with the audience, concluded that both camps were in fact justified. In order to accomplish both visions, Dr. Sachs supported what he called "accommodation" rather than "compromise," as accommodation indicates a desire to respect and protect one another: it signals a country based on inclusion, in which "we can live together" in harmony. The new leaders of South Africa then underwent a two-stage process, in which they drafted an interim Constitution to be in place until the general elections. A conscious effort was made to consider the concerns of both camps in drafting the initial version. In order to determine whether the new parliament had complied with the interim constitution, the Constitutional Court was created. The parliamentarians were given two years to draft an official constitution for the new democracy. Their initial version was in fact deemed unconstitutional by the Court on certain counts and was amended before it was officially made law. According to Dr. Sachs, this action elevated the status of the Court and the Constitution. He expressed great pride that the Constitution was drafted and accepted by the South African people, rather than having been crafted in a foreign western country, like many modern constitutions are today.

    Dr. Sachs' pragmatic but unconquerable optimism for his country characterized the remainder of his talk as he outlined the achievements and set backs present in South Africa today. He did not deny the vast and pervasive racial inequality that remains, the growing economic gap between classes, the immense corruption of state officials and the general lack of security experienced by most citizens in South Africa. However, he commended his country for its survival and its continued existence, the centralized education system, the unified army structure, the advancement of the economy, the existence of social welfare, improvements in hunger and housing opportunities for the poor and an overall sense of freedom. Sachs observed that "people who say nothing has changed in South Africa mean nothing has changed in their own heads," adding that the vibrant politics and civil society of South Africa will only be bolstered by the "Born Free" generation of the post-apartheid era, whom he believes possess the necessary creativity and mechanisms to deal with the current issues.
    Dr. Sachs also stressed that a state cannot function on ideals alone, but requires strong institutions that respect everyone, including minorities and especially the opposition. If the state does not give a voice to the opposition, some one else will, presumably another hostile actor that could pull a country into civil war, which we see happening all across the African continent. Furthermore, the state must do its best to provide remedies within the judicial process, or else bitterness may find other, more destructive outlets. In the question and answer portion, Dr. Sachs expanded on the unique strengths of the South African Constitution. Seen as one of the most progressive in the world, it preserves not only civil and political rights but also a number of social, economic and cultural rights, including its forward-thinking stances on capital punishment, same-sex marriage, gender equality/gender-based violence and shelter. Under the Constitution, South Africans therefore, have "the right to be different," and this he deems is in fact crucial to the health of the nation. In line with his overall pragmatic optimism, Dr. Sachs concluded that the fight for the Constitution should allow us to be "basically" optimistic for the future of South Africa.

    The Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change is hosting a screening of Dr. Sachs's life, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa on November 14 from 4:00 to 6:00 pm in Cowles Auditorium - Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
    Written by Marie-Christine Ghreichi
    (Continue Reading)October 8th, 2014
  • Barbara Frey Speaks on the Uneven Role of Human Rights Advocacy in Mexico

    BarbF.jpgAs part of the first workshop in a series initiated by the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Studies (HGMV) Interdisciplinary Graduate Group, held on October 2, Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program, led a talk and discussion on her investigations on the role of human rights advocacy in México.

    Her chapter, accepted for final edit to Palgrave McMillan's The Social Practice of Human Rights, provided great insight into the "uneven" nature of human rights advocacy.

    Explaining that there are four main actors in human rights including including independent human rights NGOs, national human rights institutions, international NGOs, and funders, Frey highlighted the obstructive role of governmental human rights institutions and that of influential donors, primarily from the global north, in the progression of human rights. Her findings further pointed towards the prominent role of "clientelism" and "corporativism" in México, which had the potential to mask, frame, and redirect the nature of human rights advocacy. Frey continued by laying forth how these issues had affected the efforts towards institutional reform in the Mexican criminal justice system. The discussion and comments that followed were indeed fruitful, allowing for opinions and input to not only help Frey improve her chapter but also help improve others' understandings of the current nature of human rights.

    The HGMV Interdisciplinary Graduate Group was founded to foster interdisciplinary conversations on the subject areas of Holocaust studies, genocide and memory, peace and conflict studies, human rights, nationalism and ethnic violence, representations of violence and trauma, conflict resolution, transitional justice, historical consciousness and collective memory. Angele Carter from the Department of Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies will lead the next workshop titled "Re/Imagining PTSD: Toward a Cripistemology of Trauma," on October 16th at 3:00 pm in 710 Social Sciences.
    (Continue Reading)October 6th, 2014
  • Graduate minor student promotes the rights of internally displaced persons in Colombia

    sarah.jpgSarah Hoffman, a current graduate minor student in Human Rights and a doctoral student in Nursing, completed a six-weeks' fellowship at the Grupo de Acciones Públicas de Icesi (GAPI), Human Rights Law Clinic, Universidad Icesi, Cali, Colombia in July 2014. Under the guidance of Diana Quintero, Director of the Human Rights Legal Clinic, Sarah worked on promoting the right to health of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Colombia and Cali. Specifically, her work focused on supporting the development of a strategy to access information regarding the rights of IDP children, promoting dialogue across disciplines and identifying new avenues for protecting and promoting their health.

    During her stint with GAPI, Sarah was actively involved in planning an interdisciplinary conference involving members from Icesi to generate dialogue around human security and develop recommendations for local policy makers to comply with international human rights standards. Her work on the assessment of the situation of the right to health of displaced children in Cali is of immense significance for GAPI in identifying relevant benchmarks for evaluating local policy regarding the right to health of displaced people. At the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) Conference held in Bogota, Colombia on July 16, Sarah presented her views on the structure of the US refugee resettlement policy by using the documented experiences of the Burmese Karen refuge population. Her presentation explored the opportunities and challenges of the US refugee health policy as it contributes to third country resettlement.

    During her stay in Cali, Sarah also identified the need for international advocacy in reinforcing the Colombian process of adopting the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights - a vital component of the international human rights protection system.
    "My fellowship experience with Diana Quintero at the Universidad Icesi was outstanding. I feel much more confident in my understanding of the international human rights framework, particularly after having the opportunity to apply norms and standards to the case of IDP children in Cali, Colombia," says Sarah as she sums up her experience in Cali.
    (Continue Reading)October 6th, 2014
  • Program collaborates on shadow report to the U.N. Committee Against Torture

    tamms2.jpgAs the United States enters a year of increased scrutiny with regard to the protection of human rights by several U.N. monitoring bodies, Program staff is playing an important role in addressing the government's responsibilities under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Claire Leslie Johnson is serving on the US Human Rights Network's CAT Task Force and is collaborating with regional partners on the drafting of a shadow report to the Committee Against Torture to be submitted on behalf of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR).

    The other partners in this initiative are the Human Rights Program at the University of Iowa, the National Immigrant Justice Center, Tamms Year 10, People's Law Office, and the Children & Family Justice Center at Northwestern University.

    The shadow report will cover issues ranging from the Chicago Police torture cases, arbitrary detention of immigrants and juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) to solitary confinement and racial discrimination. The regional collaboration on advocacy in these areas intensified 3-4 years ago as an outcome of a MCHR strategic meeting in Chicago which focused on ending cruel and inhuman treatment by US officials, and builds on the experience and expertise of Coalition members. The immigrant detention section of the report will highlight the issue of sexual assault in detention and the situation of transgendered individuals. The JLWOP section will raise the need for retroactive sentencing for people who were sentenced as juveniles to life in prison without possibility for parole. The section on solitary confinement will discuss issues of solitary confinement being used in prisons throughout Illinois (and the Midwest).

    The Midwest Coalition for Human Rights is a network of over 50 organizations, service providers and university centers working to promote and protect human rights in the Midwest region. This soon to be submitted shadow report is the next step in a long march of bringing local human rights issues before the international community. In December 2013, the MCHR submitted a report to the UN Human Rights Committee detailing similar concerns. In the past, the Midwest Coalition's work has resulted in recommendations by the U.N. Committee Against Torture calling on the U.S. government to investigate and prosecute those responsible for the torture of more than 100 African-Americans in the 1980s and 1990s by the Chicago police. It has also contributed to a National Immigrant Justice Center report on Human Rights Violations in the US Immigration Detention System that was submitted to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review in 2010.
    (Continue Reading)September 24th, 2014
  • Human Rights Program Welcomes Visiting Colombian Scholars

    colombia.pngHuman Rights Program faculty, staff, and students welcomed four visiting scholars from Medellín, Colombia in early September. These visits were made possible through the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Externship Program - a key component of the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership (or Alianza). The Program provides an opportunity for the Colombian scholars to complete four to six-week externships in Minnesota each semester with the goal of enhancing skills and knowledge in international human rights law and advocacy.

    Two of the visitors, Carolina Lodoño Escudero and Verónica Cadavid González, are law students at the Universidad de Medellín and the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, respectively. During their six week stay in the Twin Cities, Carolina and Verónica are auditing human rights courses at the University of Minnesota and participating in externships at local NGOs - Volunteer Lawyers Network and The Advocates for Human Rights. "Classes here are very different from those in Colombia. Students participate actively in the classes," says Carolina when asked about her reaction after she was introduced to the University of Minnesota. "The teaching methodology followed here is very good," adds Verónica.

    A third visitor, Astrid Osorio Alvarez , is a newly hired staff person for the Alianza and former legal clinical professor at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. Astrid is working closely with the UMN Human Rights Litigation and International Legal Advocacy Clinic directed by Professor Jennifer Green to advance ongoing collaborative work on cases to advance the rights of children and displaced individuals in Colombia. "We have initiated a joint project with the Human Rights Clinic led by Professor Green. I'm really amazed by the enthusiasm shown by the students here on the proposed rights issues of the children in Colombia," says Astrid.

    The fourth visitor, Zeller Álvarez Urrego, is the Antioquia-based coordinator for the Partnership. While in Minnesota, Zeller is meeting with project staff and faculty clinicians and students to support the strengthening of academic and administrative work of the Partnership. He is especially grateful for the opportunity to connect with the many faculty members and students focused on human rights.
    Astrid, Carolina, and Verónica are very excited about their stay in Minnesota and plan to make the best use of the educational opportunities available to them here. They look forward to absorbing new skills and knowledge that will enable them to become leaders in the movement to enhance human rights in Colombia. "The Externship Program gives me an opportunity whereby my academic study goes hand-in-hand with work at a local NGO. When I go to Colombia, I will know how to integrate work and academics," says Verónica.
    (Continue Reading)September 22nd, 2014
  • More options for students interested in human rights studies

    modimage.jpgHere's some exciting news for human rights studies enthusiasts. Course offerings in the area of human rights continues to grow at the University. Professor Frey's International Human Rights Advocacy course (GLOS 5403/LAW 6058), is moving to the Spring semester. One of the three core courses for the graduate minor (but open to all graduate students), it examines the theoretical basis of the human rights movement, the nature of organizations in the human rights field, their strategies, tactics and programs. In addition, a new three-credit graduate level course on human rights research methods will be offered by Shannon Golden, PhD. This course will be offered by the Human Rights Program with a Global Studies course listing.

    A new core course, "Topics in Sociology: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Human Rights," (SOC 8090), commenced this Fall. The course, offered by Professor Elizabeth Boyle of the Sociology Department, is open to graduate students from across the University of Minnesota. While approaching human rights issues from a variety of theoretical and applied perspectives, the class engages deeply with social science approaches to human rights. This new class is offered in addition to the core "International Human Rights Law" course (LAW 6886), taught jointly by Regents Professor David Weissbrodt, Dorsey & Whitney Professor Fionnuala Ni Aolain, and Human Rights Program Director Barbara Frey.

    In addition to these courses, there are more than 35 courses from several University colleges and departments listed on the Human Rights Program website that deal with some aspect of human rights and which are pre-approved as electives for those pursuing the graduate minor in human rights.
    (Continue Reading)September 22nd, 2014
  • Genocide and its Aftermaths: Lessons from Rwanda

    A Series of Events to Commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Genocide in Rwanda
    Sponsorship made possible in part by the Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of The Minneapolis Foundation.
    Learn more

    (Continue Reading)September 19th, 2014
  • Considering the Intersection of Gun Violence & Human Rights

    150507_Knotted_gun_sculpture.jpgHow can human rights advocates work to prevent gun violence? This was the motivating question for a strategy session hosted by the Human Rights Program recently, with the support of the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, the Advocates for Human Rights, and the U.S. Human Rights Network.

    A hot-button issue in today's society, gun violence takes on many forms, such as gang violence, domestic violence, and police brutality, and affects certain groups in particular, such as children, minority groups, and victims of domestic violence. The issue, seemingly a constant in the daily news, caught the nation's eye in particular this summer, when Michael Brown was tragically shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Amnesty International's presence as an international monitor during the days of protests following Brown's death demonstrated new interest in by the human rights community in gun violence in the U.S.

    The HRP's event focused on bringing human rights and gun safety advocates operating from a variety of perspectives together to discuss successful domestic and international strategies to reduce gun violence.

    The discussion opened with Professor Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program, who had carried out a seminal United Nations study on the linkage between gun violence and human rights. Frey pointed out that states do in fact have a responsibility to protect the security of persons who live under their control, including taking common sense steps to prevent foreseeable human rights violations committed with firearms. Frey brought attention to the Principles adopted by the U.N. Sub-Commission on human rights which explain more specifically the kind of steps governments need to take to reduce violations committed with firearms.

    The seminar considered two locally affected communities, North Minneapolis and Southside Chicago. With regards to the situation in his North Minneapolis community, former City Council Member Don Samuels explained the prevalence of gun violence and how that violence had consistently been ignored by policy makers. He connected the gun violence situation in his community to ongoing and systemic racial inequalities and segregation across the Twin Cities, and shared some of the creative strategies he has engaged in to highlight the tragedy in his community. For example, Samuels is well known for the vigils he carried out at the sites of every gun death in his community. His protests included day-long fasts, and he carried them out throughout his career as a City Council Member.

    Ms. Veronica Morris-Moore, leader of an organization in the Wood Long community in Chicago, Fearless Leading by the Youth (FLY), described how gun violence has become normalized in her community. Ironically, the South Side of Chicago, a community severely affected by gun violence, does not have a trauma center. FLY is engaged in a campaign to open a center at the University of Chicago to shorten police and ambulance response times, thus reducing the number of fatalities from local area shootings. Presently, ambulances carry gun victims to Northwestern University's trauma center in downtown, over ten miles from the Southside community. To inhabitants of the area, the lack of a trauma center seems like deliberate message that the government does not want to provide help to those people who cannot pay for services, despite the obvious need.

    Heather Martens, Director of Protect Minnesota, discussed local political strategies on reducing gun violence, including the legislature's recent adoption of stricter standards on gun possession by persons with records of domestic violence. Amnesty International's Ernest Coverson, who was in Ferguson, MO, reported on developments in the Michael Brown case.

    These local perspectives were coupled with presentations on international strategies for reducing gun violence. Mr. Arthur Kamm, an independent gun safety advocate, discussed how to best to align gun control with other human rights issues. Noting the disproportionate impacts of gun violence on communities of color, Kamm, suggested that increased political representation in those communities will strengthen the political will in the U.S. for common sense gun reforms.

    Ms. Rebecca Peters, Senior Associate for Surviving Gun Violence and consultant for Amnesty International USA, talked about the role of community-based organizations in international society. Peters discussed the work of IANSA (International Action Network on Small Arms), a conglomerate of hundreds of organizations which has worked effectively to develop norms in the U.N. system including the Programme of Action to prevent illicit transfers and the Arms Trade Treaty, to prevent governments from transferring weapons that will be used to violate human rights. Regarding non-state armed actors, IANSA advocates for the development of additional screening measures and a more thoughtful process for acquiring and purchasing firearms. They have found, through the use of numerous surveys, that lengthening the process for obtaining a firearm is often a deterrent to its use in carrying out violence.

    Professor Jennifer Green from the University of Minnesota Law School, discussed the outcomes of her clinic's work with UN human rights bodies on gun violence in the U.S. Advocacy by the law students has resulted in increased visibility of states' policies on gun availability and use. The Human Rights Committee, for instance, issued findings and recommendations on the U.S.'s most recent report, emphasizing the need to curb gun violence, including reviewing "Stand Your Ground laws to remove far-reaching immunity and ensure strict adherence to the principles of necessity and proportionality when using deadly force in self-defense."

    The conference was a valuable initial step in building partnerships in using the human rights framework to address gun violence.

    -Written by Isabella Nascimento
    (Continue Reading)September 3rd, 2014
  • A Busy Year for the United States before International Human Rights Mechanisms

    UNHRC-OHCHR_CI.jpgIn the upcoming months, the human rights record of the United States will come under scrutiny by several U.N. monitoring bodies, including the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Committee against Torture, and the Human Rights Council. These mechanisms provide a consolidated period of opportunity for advocacy on a range of human rights issues occurring in the U.S. or being carried out by U.S. officials abroad.

    Both of the previously mentioned Committees are made up of independent experts to monitor State parties' implementation of the particular international human rights treaty related to their respective field of knowledge. More specifically, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination oversees the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), and the Committee against Torture monitors activity relating to Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Human Rights Council, different in nature from the Committees, is an inter-governmental body made up of 47 states (elected by the UN General Assembly) that together lead the Universal Periodic Review mechanism through which the human rights situation in all 193 UN Member States is assessed.

    The Human Rights Program is engaging with these mechanisms by coordinating and contributing to the shadow reporting process and other forms of advocacy, particularly in the context of CAT. Specifically, the HRP's Claire Leslie Johnson is acting as the co-chair for the US Human Rights Network's CAT Task Force. She is joined in this work by Antonio Ginatta, Director of Advocacy for US Programs at Human Rights Watch.

    The purpose of the CAT Task Force is to coordinate civil society participation in advocacy as it relates to CAT, including drafting and presenting shadow reports before the Committee with supplemental information about torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in the U.S. and abroad. Human rights abuses of this nature occur regularly in the context of the national security, immigration detention and deportation, and criminal justice systems and institutions. The Task Force will also help coordinate advocacy based on the Committee's recommendations to the U.S. government following the review, which is scheduled for November, 2014.

    The CERD (August 13-14, 2014), CAT, and UPR (April/May, 2015) sessions follow close on the heels of the recent review of the U.S. record with regards to its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) before the Human Rights Committee, which occurred this past March. The timing of the review of the U.S. record by each of these four mechanisms in unusually close. On the one hand the unique timing provides an opportunity for a consolidated period of dialogue on the promotion and protection of human rights by the U.S. government. On the other hand, it presents a challenge to the ability of civil society organizations with limited capacity to participate fully, since they have to keep track of and respond to multiple mechanisms simultaneously.

    The CAT Task Force is made up of 14 members representing diverse organizations, communities, and human rights issues across the U.S. The Task Force meets several times a month via conference call to envision, plan, and coordinate civil society in advance of the November session. The Task Force is interested in involving a broad array of organizations and individuals in CAT advocacy, and in particular aims to draw new people into the process. By doing so the Task Force hopes to be able to present a broader and more comprehensive array of concerns to the Committee next fall.
    The Task Force's main focuses currently are on publicizing the opportunity to submit shadow reports to the Committee and explaining the process for doing so. Civil society "shadow reports" are meant to fill in any gaps and elaborate on the U.S report to the Committee, which was submitted last December, 2013. Shadow reports are due to the Committee by October 17th or by mid-September to the US Human Rights Network for anyone who would like to submit their report as a part of the Network's compilation.

    Additional Resources:
    "Guide to International Human Rights Mechanisms," The Advocates for Human Rights
    "10 Steps to Writing a Shadow Report," The Advocates for Human Rights & the US Human Rights Network
    "How to Get Involved in the US CAT Review," US Human Rights Network
    "How to Get Involved in the US ICERD Review," US Human Rights Network
    "2014/2015 USHRN UN Human Rights Mechanisms Calendar", US Human Rights Network

    -Written by Salma Taleb and Claire Leslie Johnson
    (Continue Reading)July 7th, 2014
  • Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership Bids Farewell to Clinical Coordinator, Diana Quintero

    Diana Photo.pngIn June the Human Rights Program and our many partners at the University of Minnesota and in Antioquia that comprise our Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership (or "Alianza") bid farewell to our esteemed Clinical Coordinator, Diana Patricia Quintero. Diana was deeply engaged with the development of the Alianza starting in October of 2012 and has been a key contributor ever since. Her efforts on the project focused mainly on enhancing the capacity for human rights legal clinical work at the four Antioquia schools engaged in the Partnership. In particular, she focused on providing the schools with resources and support to advance methodology and pedagogy in the areas of strategic litigation on behalf of vulnerable communities, individual case acceptance and advocacy, and community outreach and education on behalf of vulnerable populations.

    Thanks in large part to Diana's leadership, the Alianza experienced tremendous success in its first two years. From the offset, Diana played a key role in build trusting relationships between and among our partner institutions in Antioquia. She oversaw the development of a new Human Rights Legal Clinic at the Universidad Catolica de Oriente and helped facilitate the construction of an academic network in Antioquia which now holds weekly meetings to discuss collaboration, strategy, and methods as they relate to human rights education. Additionally, she orchestrated important collaborations on case work between the University of Minnesota and our partners in Antioquia, including on the La Picacha case - which addressed the needs of an economically disadvantaged community in Medellín faced with displacement due to environmental challenges - and advocacy before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the myriad of human rights issues facing children in Antioquia and Colombia more broadly. Finally, Diana engaged directly in educating Antioquia law students by leading courses and workshops on human rights subjects and building an online library of Spanish-language materials for human rights research and education.

    Diana's passion, ambition, and relentless optimism and will be sorely missed by members of the Minnesota and Antioquia human rights communities. We wish her the very best as she returns to her hometown of Cali, Colombia where she will continue to do human rights work as a professor in the School of Law & Social Sciences at Universidad ICESI.

    Written by Claire Leslie Johnson
    (Continue Reading)June 17th, 2014
  • HRP is thrilled to announce Jason Zencka as a 2014 Scribe for Human Rights

    The Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce Jason Zencka--an MFA candidate in fiction writing at the University of Minnesota-- as a 2014 Scribe for Human Rights. The goal of the Scribe for Human Rights Fellowship is to use creative narrative to reflect the different faces of victims of human rights abuses and to provide a broader array of professional experience to graduate student writers. It tries to create a platform for human rights advocacy through creative art.

    Zencka graduated from the St. Olaf University with a B.A in Classics. After graduating, he worked as news reporter for a small newspaper in Wisconsin before moving to Washington D.C., where he spent four years working for the Public Defender Service as an investigator.
    Zencka will spend this summer writing a fictional play, The Plea, in which he will discuss the issue of incarcerating an overwhelming percentage of the U.S population. During his time with the Public Defender Service, Zencka witnessed the inside workings of the incarceration system, granting him a deeper understanding of the human consequences associated with high incarceration rates. Inspired by this experience, Zencka chose to focus his creative pursuits on the ethical and humane dimensions of this issue. "The play makes use of the radical idea that the men and women we incarcerate - even those who have done terrible things - still suffer the full range of human feelings. Their humanity doesn't disappear when we stop seeing them. The play is an effort to see these people, to open a window into the hole into which we are throwing almost one percent of our adult population." explained Zencka.
    "Working under the banner of the Human Rights Program is an honor. I am thrilled to be invited to take part in the rich and impassioned conversation on human rights the Scribe Fellowship has been hosting for years." stated Zencka.
    Written by
    Salma Taleb
    (Continue Reading)June 12th, 2014
  • A Path to Peace for South Sudan

    South Sudan Article.pngThe Human Rights Program continues to stay updated with the events occurring in South Sudan, a conflicted region where the HRP has carried out human rights work in the past. Read about HRP's past work with Child Protection International and its Save Yar Campaign. Six months into the civil war in South Sudan, the crisis continues to intensify despite peace overtures made far away from the front lines in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa. A fragile peace agreement signed last month between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President turned rebel leader, Dr. Riek Machar, has not yet been fully implemented. A report published by the Enough Project presents a guide to the fundamental issues that must be addressed to end South Sudan's new civil war and establish peace and security. The report draws on a wealth of research and analysis from policy and advocacy groups, South Sudanese intellectuals and civil society, and Enough Project conversations over the past six months. Read the report.

    (Continue Reading)June 10th, 2014
  • 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.

    (Continue Reading)June 10th, 2014
  • UMN Develops Spanish-Language Resources for Online Human Rights Library

    umsmlogo.gifVisit the online library.

    Over the course of this past year, the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership has working to develop access to Spanish-language materials through the Online Human Rights Library. The online library is a great way for the partnership to share information pertinent to Colombia, human rights issues, vulnerable groups, human rights institutions, among humanitarian law, and among other important topics, in a very user-friendly way.
    Under the Colombia category, the website is designed for people to familiarize themselves with the Colombian partners involved in the project; accordingly, the webpage includes a country profile, the Colombian Constitution, and the International Human Rights treaties that Colombia has ratified. The vulnerable groups section offers information on children, internally displaced people, people living with disabilities, women, elderly, indigenous populations, and populations at environmental risk.

    The partnership works to provide materials online both in Spanish and in English, in order to increase opportunity and accessibility to this information, a particularly important goal of the project in that it facilitates dialogue, participation, and inclusion across its various other initiatives. In total, approximately 3,040 Spanish-language materials have been made available in the UMN Human Rights Library to both the University of Minnesota and Antioquia law school students and faculty. Through these efforts, this library has become a great resource for both the U of M and our Colombian counterparts. We hope to continuously add to this bank of information, and wish it to be a sustained reservoir of knowledge following the project's conclusion. Check out the online library

    Written by Isabella Salomão Nascimento
    (Continue Reading)June 9th, 2014
  • The U of M commemorates the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda through event series

    176.jpgOn April 16, 17 & 19, the U of M held a series of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda that took the lives of an estimated 500,000-1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The commemoration began with the public conference, Genocide and its Aftermath: Lessons from Rwanda, featuring an opening address by Taylor Krauss, founder of Voices of Rwanda, an organization dedicated to filming testimonies of Rwandans to inspire a global sense of responsibility to prevent atrocities.

    Krauss theorized that the final stage of genocide is to eliminate its trace, erase its history, so that it is made complete. As such, Krauss has been working since 2006 to film the testimonies of survivors in order to remind us what aftermath really means. He shared excerpts of three of these testimonies, demonstrating survivors' essential need to remember. Krauss concluded his address stressing that listening is not a passive act, it demands a response, reminding the audience that many nations still harbor perpetrators of this horrific crime. See the opening address here.
    The first panel, which followed Krauss' address, was titled Rwanda 1994 and its Representations. It examined the failure of nation-states to intervene in Rwanda, the use of commemoration to promote peaceful coexistence, the response of the international human rights community to the genocide, and the narrative on 'lessons learned' surrounding genocide today. The panel was chaired by University of Minnesota Humphrey School Dean, Eric Schwartz, and panelists included University of Minnesota Law School Dean, David Wippman, Director of Research at the Rwandan National Commission for the Fight against Genocide, Jean-Damscene Gasanabo, Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, Curt Goering, and Badzin Fellow, Wahutu Siguru. See the first panel here.
    The conferences' second panel, Immediate Aftermaths: Justice, Redress and Memory, explored the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, Gacaca courts, memory, identity, and memorials. The panel was chaired by the University of Minnesota Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Director, Alejandro Baer. Panelists included Director of the University of North Dakota (UND) Center for Human Rights & Genocide Studies and Former Legal Officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwand, Gregory Gordon, McKnight Professor of Sociology, Chris Uggen, University of Minnesota Sociology Ph.D. candidate and future Ohio State Assistant Professor, Hollie Nyseth Brehm, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education at St. Cloud State University, Dan Wildeson, and Brandeis University Sociology Ph.D. candidate, Nicole Fox. See the second panel here.
    The final panel, Long-term Implications: Impact, Prevention and Intervention, dealt with the long-term implications of interventions, or non-interventions, on societies that have experienced genocides. The panel was chaired by the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program Director, Barbara Frey. Panelists included Professor of Sociology of Latin America and Director of the Latin American Centre at Oxford University, Leigh Payne, University of California Sociology Ph.D. candidate, Marie Berry, Professor of Political Science at the University of Arkansas and a leading scholar in genocide education, Samuel Totten, and Professor of French and Francophone Studies at Macalester College and co-founder of the Interdisciplinary Genocide Studies Center in Kigali, Rwanda, Jean-Pierre Karegeye. See the third panel here.
    Finally, Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, delivered the evening Keynote Address. Dieng addressed the lessons learned of past failures to intervene in the crime of genocide, acknowledging that the United Nations and its member states have not been as effective as they could have been and discusses how current and future atrocities can and should be treated. He discussed the importance of the work of Special Adviser's Office in predicting and preventing mass atrocity, by raising the alarm early to situations that could lead to genocide and by coordinating with all stake holders within and outside of the United Nations to prevent genocide quickly and effectively. Mr. Dieng also called attention to the fact that the public has a role in the process. He noted a special emphasis on young people, with programs planned to allow their voices to be more widely heard in the international political and humanitarian arena. See the keynote address here.
    The public conference was followed the next day by a student conference at Coffman Union. Twelve students participated from across the country and world. Students presented papers on three panels, whose themes were Sexual Violence in Mass Atrocity, Western Involvement and Representation of Genocide and Mass Atrocity, and Genocide around the World. Specific topics included Valparaiso student Kayla Nomina's presentation of political cartoons and how they represented genocide and mass atrocity, University of Minnesota student Selena Ranic's presentation on sexual violence and gender discrimination in mass atrocity and Swarthmore University student Daniel Hirschel-Burns' presentation on civilian self-protection.
    The final event was an Educator Workshop, held on April 19th. The workshop was conducted by leading genocide scholar Samuel Totten. More than 40 local teachers attended, from elementary, high school and college levels. Totten discussed the meaning of genocide, its legal framework, his past work in Rwanda and his current work in the Nuba Mountains in Sudan. Teachers were encouraged to explore their knowledge of genocide and mass atrocity and discuss ways to effectively bring this knowledge to the classroom.
    These three events, hosted by the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Institute for Global Studies brought together research, practice, academia and activism. Both speakers and attendees were able to participate in all events through questions, public receptions and one-to-one interactions. This commemoration drew attention to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and how the genocide continues to affect daily life in Rwanda today. It also drew attention to other current atrocities happening around the world. With a focus on "Lessons from Rwanda", we hope that the ideas discussed at this series of events will bring about positive change in how atrocities are viewed, represented and responded to in the future.
    To view videos and photos from the events, click here.
    Written by Kaela McConnon
    (Continue Reading)June 9th, 2014
  • Students in Antioquia and Minnesota Collaborate on Community-Based Clinical Cases

    la picacha.pngOne of the major accomplishments of the UMN - Antioquia Human Rights Law Partnership thus far has been the work done in regards to the joint clinical cases that both the Colombian universities and the University of Minnesota have been working on, in particular the ongoing case of La Picacha.

    Within the country of Colombia, the state of Antioquia, and the city of Medellin, La Picacha is a very large river, which since 2011 has flooded annually, leaving the city residents of Medellin at great risk, particularly in the neighborhoods of Altarista, Belén, and Laureles-Estadio.

    The cooperative clinical case undertaken by the partners included in the project aims to raise awareness to the problem occurring in the communities effected by the flooding, as well as object to a mandate court order, which will be explained in further detail later in this piece.

    Known as "La Quebrada La Picacha" [roughly translating to the "Broken" La Picacha], the river flooding and subsequent inappropriate action taken by the Colombian government has violated their international responsibilities in the treaties that they are party to, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Discrimination against Women.

    On August 2, 2013, the Medellin Oral Administration Court Twenty-Four ordered the arrangement and advancement of "the evacuation of homes and infrastructure in general at high risk and the associated relocation and all measures it deems effectively avert the imminent danger that threatens the inhabitants of the areas identified." However, this court decision was issued without any dialogue with the "inhabitants" of those high-risk areas. By excluding the community members from a negotiation, or even a conversation, the court decided that the best option for the people of Medellin would be to uproot them from their homes and relocate them to another region of the city. This decision has proven to be misguided, and has thus led to much resistance among the residents effected by the flooding.

    Unfortunately, Medellin is heavily overrun by gangs, each of which controls separate regions of the city, and relocating a gang into a territory of another potential rival gang could even further endanger the lives of the inhabitants. Moreover, under international legal standards, the government must supply equal quality or better housing and access to education as was provided in a person's previous place of residence, making the task increasingly difficult for the Municipality of Medellin. However, despite the challenge this presents for Medellin, all of these things could have been remedied provided the city government had initially taken the proper technologically preventative measures against the flooding of La Picacha or had spoken with the residents of the affected areas.

    Therefore, the clinics have taken up a popular action against the Municipality of Medellin, demanding that the government recognize the community's right to security and disaster prevention, the right to a healthy environment, the right to a balanced ecology, and the management and rational use of natural resources. When the clinical cases first brought the La Picacha issue to attention, there had already been a couple of solutions proposed. First, the construction of parallel roads to La Picacha was suggested, and second, the construction of a linear park alongside La Picacha. Neither of these proposed remedies, though not entirely sufficient to improve the situation, have manifested into any concrete action being taken. As of now, the only enacted remedy has been the case of forced evictions, and the people of Medellin have clearly objected to this option. Hopefully, the city residents and the government will soon sit down and collaborate on a possible solution to the continuous threat that is La Picacha. But until then, the clinical students of both the Colombian universities and the University of Minnesota will be working at increasing public awareness of the problem and letting the government know that their actions neither go unnoticed nor lack repercussions.

    Written by Isabella Salomão Nascimento
    (Continue Reading)June 9th, 2014
  • Scholar Gabriel Gómez visits the U through the UMN - Antioquia Human Rights Partnership

    10394508_504850862977448_1399930758647928571_n.jpgGabriel Gómez is a professor at the University of Antioquia (U de A) whose invaluable insight and leadership has been an important contribution to the University of Minnesota - Antioquia Human Rights Law Partnership. Learn more about the partnership. In the dynamic international collaboration to develop human rights curriculum, Gabriel's input has enriched the conversation and the project as a whole through his focus on network-building, sustainability, and the enhancement of interdisciplinary human rights study.

    Gabriel has been involved with the project since its inception, as he participated in the initial conversations with USAID evaluating the capacities of human rights law curriculum in different areas of Colombia, which assessed a variety of elements such as available human rights courses, resources, and faculty in order to map Colombian universities' needs relating to human rights. He was thrilled to discover that the University of Minnesota had been chosen as the American institution to be partnered with the Antioquia schools, as he was familiar with several UMN faculty and identified many similarities between U de A and the University of Minnesota.

    Throughout the partnership's subsequent development, Gabriel has taken a "behind-the-scenes" role in supporting its initiatives. He has provided critical support for the clinic programs at U de A and was curious to know more about how legal clinics functioned in the U.S., so that expertise might be shared between members of the partnership. Recently, he was chosen to travel to the United States to work alongside University of Minnesota faculty and staff, observe the operation of human rights legal clinics and curriculum at the U of M, share his research at leading human rights conferences, and strengthen human rights networks across the partnership.

    While in Minnesota, Gabriel participated in the Law and Society conference--a conference that brings together thousands of legal scholars and includes hundreds of panels to discuss issues of critical concern--among other clinics and workshops. However, his overarching aspirations in traveling to the University of Minnesota through the partnership were to build relationships between human rights professors and to fortify U.S. - Colombia human rights networks. He views such networks as key to the project's sustainability--as the principle element that will allow the initiatives started under the partnership to further develop and expand following the end of USAID and HED involvement. These networks allow for the dynamic exchange of information regarding how programs work in different social contexts, facilitating the sharing of ideas, wisdom and advice from multiple directions in order to improve the human rights efforts at all the universities involved in the project. Gabriel feels that some of the greatest benefits of the project thus far have been the increased interaction and solidarity among the universities in Antioquia, as well as the heightened emphasis on interdisciplinary and critical approaches as necessary supplements to human rights legal clinics. He looks forward with excitement to what the partnership may accomplish in the future.

    The Human Rights Program feels honored to have hosted such a distinguished and dedicated human rights advocate and scholar as Gabriel, and wishes him safe travels on his return home to Medellín on June 5th. We are so very grateful for all he has contributed during his time here, and are thrilled to continue his mission of network-building among human rights actors at the U of M and with our partners abroad.

    Pictured in the photo from the left is Professor Barbara Frey, Diana Quintero, Gabriel Gómez, Zeller Alvarez Urrego, and Claire Leslie Johnson.

    Written by Anna Meteyer
    (Continue Reading)June 6th, 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.

    (Continue Reading)May 28th, 2014
  • Lecture on grave exhumations in Spain unearths the dynamism of memory restoration processes

    ferrandiz-2.jpg Watch the lecture online.

    On May 8th, 2014, the U of M hosted honored guest Francisco Ferrandiz of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) as part of the in-public, one-credit course "Reframing Mass Violence: Human Rights and Social Memory in Latin America and Southern Europe." Ferrandiz's lecture Exhumations, Memory, and the Return of Civil War Ghosts in Spain investigated the connections between the anthropology of the body, violence and social memory in the context of the current exhumations of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). In his talk, Ferrandiz unearthed the complexity and dynamism of the process of grave exhumations--a process that has largely focused on the abandoned graves of civilians killed during the Francoist rearguard by paramilitary groups. Since 2000, the exhumation of mass graves from the Spanish Civil War and the Post-War years has become a central element in highly charged social and political debates in the country surrounding the nature of the armed conflict and the dictatorial regime following it.

    After the fall of Franco's regime, Spanish society emphasized the need for collective reconciliation, passing amnesty laws and focusing on the rebuilding of democracy. Few questions were asked, and no responsibility was assigned. However, the atrocities of the Civil War and Post-War years were not to be entirely forgotten, as they proved to be sedimented in the shared memory of Spanish society, and despite efforts to submerge these memories as part of a definitive past, demands for justice following Francoism gained visibility in their push for grave exhumations. The process of grave exhumation proved to be a highly effective way for forcing into the public arena neglected topics of past violence and oppression, challenging an unspoken, widespread understanding that silence was the price to be paid for the building of social order after the fall of Francoism.
    Since 2000, grave exhumations in Spain have captured the public's fascination, a fascination reinforced by the new popularity of forensic science TV-shows and widespread media coverage. The unearthing of buried bodies has come to represent the resurfacing of social truths that had previously been obscured, as these graves provide the site for a collective refocusing on the past, and thus create an avenue into historically taboo conversations. As more graves are exhumed, the Spanish geographic landscape becomes a physical "memory-scape," representing a national quest for truth restoration.
    Although exhumations have become a crucial tool for symbolic reparation and have triggered claims for justice for the crimes committed and now unearthed, the social process unleashed by their opening extend far beyond the grave sites and is quite complex, propelling the surfacing of a broader, fragmented and heterogeneous political culture regarding the memory of the defeated in the war. This emergent political culture is expressed in multiple acts of 'memory recovery' and 'dignification' of the diverse victims of Francoism, such as concerts, homages, book publishing, street renaming, battleground tourism, pressure over Francoist monuments, or even academic conferences. Particularly striking is the transformation of memory production that has taken place through the use of new technologies, as online social networks become political models, and memory sharing and circulation become digitalized. The unprecedented digital element of the memory restoration process adds new iconographies and means of exposure to the dynamics of the surrounding political culture.
    This "memorial movement" as Ferrandiz termed it has been laregly characterized by human rights language, thus positioning itself within a larger, global conversation on human rights, bringing to the dialogue a discussion on the political and social power of grave exhumations in demanding rights and justice. But the grave exhumation process in Spain has linked itself to the global arena in other ways as well; many in Spain have adopted the terminology of "disappearances", popularized in Latin America following periods of terror and violence perpetrated on behalf of states across the region. The adoption of such vocabulary has received mixed feedback, also becoming yet another focal point of contentious debate in the social process of memory restoration. Some find the sharing of language to symbolize a crucial element of global networks, in that it provides a cohesive, global linguistic platform that can act as a base of understanding for human rights activists to convene, strategize, and express solidarity. Others stress the importance of nuances of each localized context of violence and attrocity, which run the risk of being undermined or neglected when not understood through the lense of each locale's particular traditions, customs, culture and history.
    The dynamic human rights conversation that has emerged along with bodies, memories, and political culture in the process of grave exhumation in Spain is one that has captured global attention, opening new questions and possibilities for future efforts aiming to use memory restoration as a channel for improving human rights practices and reclaiming justice. Through Ferrnandiz's talk, participants witnessed an academic approach to harnessing the complexity and electricity that arises around this politically and culturally charged social process, perhaps providing the human rights community with deeper understanding that can offer insight, direction, and enhanced strength moving forward.
    The lecture was organized by the IAS Reframing Mass Violence Research Collaborative. Cosponsored by the Human Rights Program, and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. This talk occurred on May 8, 2014, from 3:00-4:30pm in 1-109 Hanson Hall.
    Written by Anna Meteyer
    (Continue Reading)May 19th, 2014
  • Student-led art exhibition brings scholars, artists, activists and students together in conversation on art and politics

    unnamed-4.jpgOn April 23rd, a public forum took place to celebrate the opening of the art exhibition The Enduring of Labor. Student curator Anna Meteyer organized the exhibition under the supervision of Howard Oransky, Director of the Nash Gallery, in hopes to spark conversation concerning topics of labor and social justice. The exhibition, open April 22nd - May 3rd, spoke to injustices rampant in labor industries and services, and celebrated the struggle against systemic forces of oppression. The artists that were included drew upon their own personal experiences, worked with marginalized communities, and/or incorporated their academic research in their artistic practice and advocacy. The forum, also organized by Anna Meteyer, was intended to provide a space for individuals from across the community to gather in conversation surrounding the issues raised in the exhibition, and about the use of art as a vessel for social change.

    Participants in the forum included activists, scholars, labor union members, students, and artists, all of whom engaged in dynamic dialogue on the intersection of art and activism, the incredible social power of political art, and the complexities of representation in artistic activism. Following the discussion, participants enjoyed hors d'oeuvres, continued to converse, and had the opportunity to speak with the artists while walking through the exhibition. A vibrant exchange of ideas regarding issues of injustice in labor took place as attendees reflected on the art displayed in the gallery.
    (Continue Reading)May 12th, 2014
  • Colombian and Minnesotan students use technology to spark international dialogue on human rights

    unnamed-1.jpgTechnological advances have made communicating across borders incredibly easily--as simple as logging on through email and clicking that strange little green button resembling a video recorder. With such tools at our fingertips, we have unprecedented potential for strengthening human rights networks that transcend spacial and political obstacles. Human rights students at the University of Antioquia in Medellin, Colombia, and at the University of Minnesota have initiated a collaborative project that looks to take advantage of the new possibilities presented through innovations in communication technology. These young individuals seek to spark international dialogue among university students surrounding human rights issues and philosophy, which will supplement their human rights classes and add rich dimension to their studies. Such conversation provides an opportunity to gain genuine multicultural understanding of social justice issues, and to create a fortified and united global student body, a body well-suited for addressing the extremely powerful global forces shaping injustice, poverty, and violence across the world today.

    On April 25th, 2014, ten students met via Google Hangout to begin an intercultural student conversation on human rights. These students discussed their interests and backgrounds, and imagined what new possibilities could be achieved through fortifying non-institutionalized, international connections between young human rights activists. They shared their frustrations with the limitations of existing legal mechanisms and with the current inaccessibility of human rights discourse to those of low socioeconomic status. They also discussed celebratory elements of international human rights, stressing the potential efficacy that such rights could gain through the spread of interdisciplinary and multi-directional approaches--through building horizontal (i.e. characterized by equitable distribution of power and participation) human rights networks across classes, cultures, races, disciplines, and ideologies.
    The students look forward to beginning regular meetings, and are excited to continue engaging in the dynamic exchange of ideas. They hope to build an increasing student base at their universities, and aspire to incorporate more schools as time goes on. As a generation quite distinctly characterized by advances in technology, these students wish to harness the networking power offered through this progress to usher in a new era of social justice activism. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Anna Meteyer at
    (Continue Reading)May 7th, 2014
  • THIS FRIDAY Celebrate Exceptional Human Rights Students


    Friday, May 9, 2014 at 12:00 PM
    University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
    1210 Heller Hall (West Bank)
    271 19th Avenue South, Minneapolis, MN 55455

    Join us as we recognize and celebrate three amazing University of Minnesota undergraduate students and their accomplishments in promoting and protecting human rights, Melanie Paurus (receiving the 4th Annual Inna Meiman Human Rights Award) and Joe Fifield and Anna Meteyer (receiving Sullivan Ballou Awards).

    Melanie, Joe and Anna embody the spirit with which these awards were created - recognizing a significant personal contribution to protecting human rights and the heartfelt energy that compels an advocate to take meaningful action.
    We are thrilled to welcome back Kathryn Sikkink (Faculty Emeritus at the U of M, the Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights Policy at Harvard Kennedy School, and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study) to provide the opening remarks.
    Lisa Paul, Inna Meiman Award founder and U of M alum, will present the award to Melanie and Bruce & Elissa Peterson, Ballou Award co-founders, will present awards to Joe and Anna.
    We will also be recognizing the wonderful contributions of the 2013-14 HRP Student Advisory Board, taking specific note of our recently graduated and graduating seniors, Kirstin Benish, Jenny Cafarella, Lauren Yon-Soo Kim, Natalie Miller, Aoife O'Connor, Cady Phillips, Lars Røed, Kaile Sepnafski, and Kim Wilson.
    Program to include lunch and time to celebrate!
    Directions to and parking for Heller Hall
    (Continue Reading)May 7th, 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.

    (Continue Reading)May 7th, 2014
  • Support Diversity at the U of M

    1399071622.jpgStudent Group "Whose Diversity?" Presents Diversity Demands to the UMN Administration
    Endorse the Demands Here
    View the Endorsements Here

    "In demanding engagement with more substantial diversity, we are continuing a conversation that began in 1492, and that was highly visible during the 1969 Morrill Hall Student Takeover. This conversation was most recently revitalized by the Whose University? Campaign in 2010-2011. In continuing the questions that were asked at that point, and still in conversation with the leaders of that campaign, we emphasize the need for permanent and substantial structural changes as well as a sustained commitment to equity within the University."


    (Continue Reading)May 6th, 2014
  • Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Hears Testimony About Worker Abuse in U.S. Meatpacking, Poultry Plants

    Civil rights groups and meat and poultry workers testified before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) today, describing how U.S. government policies have failed to protect meat and poultry workers by allowing dangerously fast work speeds that cause crippling injuries. Click here to read more about the hearing on the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights website.

    (Continue Reading)April 28th, 2014
  • The Enduring Spirit of Labor

    enduring spirit.pngA series of events surrounding an art exhibition on labor and justice
    Presented by The Human Rights Program, The Institute for Global Studies and The Department of Art

    View the flyer.

    Art Exhibition: April 22nd - May 3rd

    Public Forum on the Intersection of Art and Activism: April 23rd, 6 - 7 PM

    Public Reception: April 23rd, 7 - 9 PM

    Historical Art Exhibition: April 1 - July 18

    APRIL 22ND - MAY 3RD
    Regis Center for Art (East) Quarter Gallery
    The exhibition speaks to injustices rampant in labor industries and services, and celebrates the struggle against systemic forces of oppression. The artists included often draw upon their own personal experiences, work with marginalized communities, and/or incorporate their academic research in their artistic practice and advocacy.
    PUBLIC FORUM: A Discussion on the Intersection of Art and Activism
    APRIL 23RD 6:00 - 7:00PM
    Regis Center for Art (East) INFLUX
    Artists, activists, students, and scholars will gather in discussion on the intersection of art and activism. The conversation will touch upon the politics and ethics of representation in artistic activism, as well as the potential of art to be a driving vessel for radical social change. Please join the conversation and share your thoughts!
    APRIL 23RD 7:00 - 9:00PM
    Regis Center for Art (East) Atrium
    A public reception will follow the public forum, where all are welcome to celebrate the unveiling of the exhibition alongside artists in the show. Hor d'oeuvres and refreshments will be served.
    HISTORICAL ART EXHIBITION : Labor in the Eyes of Artists
    T.R. Anderson Gallery, located on the 4th floor of the Wilson Library
    This historical art exhibition examines the role of art across different eras of labor advocacy. From radical anarchist and socialist zines of the 1920's to works generated under the Federal Art Project (FAP), from World War II posters to prints from Occupy Wall Street, this exhibition illustrates how art has been used as a tool for labor mobilization and organization throughout America's history. View the flyer.
    Photo is credited to artist Maddy Grimmer. It is an image of her work, titled The Industry
    (Continue Reading)April 14th, 2014
  • Beyond Iberian Colonialisms: Spanish Arabs and the Fate of the Western Sahara

    Aminatou Haidar Beyond Iberian Colonialisms.pngThe Global Studies Department at the University of Minnesota and the Iberian Studies Initiative for collaborative research present a conference that will illuminate and draw together the histories of Iberian colonialisms with the present realities of African immigration and cultural production. International scholars, poets and speakers will explore why contemporary poets are rallying to the Saharan cause.

    Friday, April 5, 2014
    Nolte Center 125
    9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.

    KEYNOTE SPEAKER Aminatou Haidar
    Keynote Speaker Aminatou Haidar is a Sahrawi human rights activist, advocate for the independence of Western Sahara, and president of the Collective of Sahrawi Human Rights Defenders (CODESA). Known as "Sahrawi Gandhi" for her nonviolent protests, she was imprisoned from 1987 to 1991 and from 2005 to 2006 on charges related to her independence advocacy. In 2009, she attracted international attention when she staged a hunger strike after being denied re-entry into Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara. Haidar has won several international human rights awards for her work, including the 2008 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award and the 2009 Civil Courage Prize. In 2012 she was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize.

    A related film screening and an educator workshop are also to take place April 4th and 5th. For more information, please view the complete event schedule here.

    (Continue Reading)March 26th, 2014
  • The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will investigate human rights violations in the meatpacking industry

    Meatpacking.pngThis past week, the Human Rights Program received news that a petition to the Inter-American Comission of Human Rights (IACHR) regarding the widespread, unsafe working conditions in US meatpacking plants will be heard before the court on March 25th. This petition--an effort of the Human Rights Program in partnership with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, and the Southern Poverty Law Center--expressed severe concern on account of the dangerous and degrading work environment faced by meatpacking and poultry processing workers in the US.

    The speed of the assembly line in American meatpacking and poultry processing plants is currently dangerously fast, and the USDA is pushing to make it even faster. A proposed regulation change for the poultry industry aims to increase processing line speeds, allowing poultry companies to accelerate the speed from 140 to 175 birds per minute, requiring workers to process approximately one chicken every 6 - 7 seconds. It also proposes removing hundreds of federal inspectors from the processing lines, replacing them with plant workers charged with the responsibility of identifying and removing tainted chicken. The deregulation of the means of production in poultry processing signifies the government's granting of greater power to this industry, allowing companies to control how their products are inspected and to intimidate workers from speaking up and stopping a line if they find contaminated poultry. When regulations and inspectors are slimmed down, this gives the companies more freedom in doing whatever it takes to cut costs of production and increase profit. And this has unsettling implications for the health of workers and the safety of American food.
    The rapid pace of the line forces workers to carry out the repetitive motions of inspecting poultry and cutting meat (with dull knives) at shocking speeds, labor that leads to severe physical degradation of the body, particularly of the workers' hands. Moreover, workers are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals and extremely cold temperatures without sufficient protective equipment. Nearly three out of four Alabama poultry workers interviewed for a report carried out by the Southern Poverty Law Center described suffering a significant work-related injury or illness, such as debilitating pain in their hands, cuts, gnarled fingers, chemical burns or respiratory problems; moreover, workers also described feeling silenced from reporting work-related injuries, forced to endure constant pain, and discouraged from slowing the processing line, even when they are hurt. As poultry processing companies (together with the USDA) push for an increase in the speed of the line, it remains that there are no set of mandatory guidelines to protect the health and safety of workers. The passing of the proposed USDA line-speed rule would surely exacerbate the already precarious and unsafe conditions faced by meatpacking and poultry processing workers.
    This current system may be profitable for poultry companies, but it relies on the systematic exploitation of workers, the majority of whom are women, African Americans, and Latinos. As these groups continue to feel the heightened burden of faster production, they also are fearful of losing their jobs if they report injuries or ask for safer working conditions. The silence imposed upon workers by their employers is oppressive--it facilitates increasing levels of exploitation, and it further entrenches systemic discrimination and injustice in American society.
    These issues are of profound importance in the struggle to improve human rights practices and to eliminate systemic discrimination and exploitation in the United States. They demand immediate address. The Human Rights Program shares a history of collaboration with the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, and the Southern Poverty Law Center in its dedication to eradicate the widespread injustice and to improve the protection of workers' human rights in the meatpacking industry. Through their combined efforts, these organizations have formed a coalition committed to the improvement of human rights practices in the meatpacking and poultry processing industry.
    This coalition hopes that an investigation by the IACHR will raise awareness about the serious dangers meatpacking workers face and will pressure the U.S. government to improve human rights protections in the industry. The hearing presents an opportunity for the coalition to encourage US law and policy makers to urge the Administration to withdraw the proposed USDA line speed rule, to work with these law and policy makers to create new health and safety protections for workers in the meat and poultry industries, and to continue educating the media, law and policy makers, consumers, and others about the inadequate health and safety protections for workers in the meat and poultry industry and the detrimental effects on these workers' health.
    The granting of a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is a huge success in the efforts of the coalition, and signifies a leap forward for workers rights in the United States. The Human Rights Program hopes that the hearing will lead to improved working conditions not only in the meatpacking industry, but in other job sectors as well, as it represents the implementation of a new, higher standard in American corporations' labor practices, a standard that respects the human dignity of all individuals.
    Written by Anna Meteyer
    (Continue Reading)March 18th, 2014
  • Join the Human Rights Program in support of human rights internships!

    Japanese cultural orientation.jpgWednesday, March 19, 2014
    5:30 - 7:00 pm

    Heritage Gallery
    McNamara Alumni Center
    200 Oak Street SE
    Minneapolis, Minnesota 55455

    The U of M Human Rights Program will host a night of wine, hors d'oeuvres, conversation, and fundraising this Wednesday in support of our students. College of Liberal Arts Interim Dan Raymond Duvall will give remarks and four former human rights interns will share their stories. The Human Rights Program supports opportunities for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to gain irreplaceable field experience in human rights organizations around the world. This summer we plan to send our magnificent human rights students to Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Switzerland, and Turkey, among other locations. They need our financial support. We also work to attract the best and brightest scholars and advocates to the University of Minnesota to study. Having a robust internship fund will help us to accomplish this goal. The reception will feature four former human rights interns: David Greenwood-Sanchez, Anna Meteyer, Kristen Rau, and Paul Walters. We hope to see you there!

    (Continue Reading)March 16th, 2014
  • Partnership Supports the Establishment of a Human Rights Legal Clinic at Universidad Católica de Oriente

    During the first year of the Minnesota-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, the University of Minnesota has worked collaboratively with the Universidad Católica de Oriente (UCO), located in Rionegro, Colombia, to establish a Human Rights Clinic in their Law School. The clinical program officially started in July of 2013, and the first group of participants was comprised of one faculty member, Professor Maribel Ocazionez, and eleven upper-level law students. It has since added six new students and one new faculty member, Professor Carolina Rojas. In preparation for the launch of this new clinic, the Partnership provided UCO's faculty with training in human rights advocacy strategy and engaged faculty in constructive conversation and brainstorming around the academic and administrative challenges and opportunities inherent to creating, maintaining and running a human rights legal clinic.

    The goals behind the development of the Human Rights Legal clinic at UCO are to train students and docents in skills necessary for effective human rights advocacy, to stimulate further research in the human rights discipline, and to generate opportunity for advancement by students and docents in the field of human rights. Alongside the establishment of this new clinic at UCO, the Partnership is working to further develop and enhance existing clinics at other Antioquia institutions - including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana - in collaboration with faculty and administrators at those institutions and particularly with regard to clinical work on human rights topics.
    UCO students have responded with great enthusiasm to the implementation of this new clinic and are clearly excited about the opportunity to tackle local human rights issues. For example, they are already conducting in-depth research on human rights issues resulting from pollution and contamination in the Oriente Antioqueño, the eastern portion of Antioquia in which Rionegro is located. Also, they are working in collaboration with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Clinic, led by Professor Jennifer Green, in the drafting of a joint shadow report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child regarding the Colombian government's failure to ensure the human rights of children in the Antioquia region. And finally, they have just started work on a project regarding the rights of incarcerated individuals, through which they will be assessing factors such as overcrowding, staffing, health care, education, etc. in local prisons.
    Enthusiasm for human rights advocacy by UCO students is reflected in the aforementioned surge of human rights clinical work and in their diligent participation in trainings put on by the Partnership. For example, when Professor Barbara Frey visited Medellín in August to give a four-day short course on human rights advocacy, the clinical students from UCO traveled about an hour and a half every day from Rionegro to Medellín in order to attend. While the long commute may have deterred some people from participating in the seminar, the students from UCO attended the presentation each day without fail.
    With the goal of sustaining the passion of these outstanding students and engaging an even broader community of students and faculty in human rights work, the Partnership remains committed to the ongoing development of legal clinical work at UCO, not only through curriculum development but also through the growth of administrative support. Over the next couple years the Human Rights Clinic at UCO will engage in strategic selection of cases in order to address the most pressing human rights issues in the region and allow for continued collaboration with the Human Rights Clinic at the UMN. Furthermore, UCO's Human Rights Clinic will continue to receive meaningful guidance from and work collaboratively with legal clinical teams working in other Antioquia institutions, including Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad de Medellín, and Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.
    (Continue Reading)March 14th, 2014
  • Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow Verena Stern investigates human rights issues in Somali transnational migration

    foto.jpgVerena Stern is an Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota, researching the situation of the undocumented immigrants in the European Union (E.U), particularly the Somali undocumented immigrants in Austria.

    "I am a second year Political Science doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, but I joined the University of Minnesota because of the reputable research and experts on the subject, and because of the large Somali community in the Twin cities," said Stern.

    Stern's interest in the undocumented Somali immigrants began in October 2012 when Somali refugees living in Austria formed an organization and decided to camp in front of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna to raise attention to their own, as well as Somalia's, current situation.
    In her research, Stern is examining the situation of Somali immigrants living in Austria, as well as their journey to get there. How did they escape the violence present in their homeland, which is a matter of life and death? Which countries did they have to pass through before arriving to the E.U. and what happened along the way? Besides the case study of Austria´s Somali community, Stern is also asking questions about the alienating tactics of nation-states and what it means to illegalize people. She is also trying to understand the legal dimension of how a nation's homeland security could be more important than the human rights situation of the undocumented immigrants. Stern examines instances when the rights and needs of the state are put before those of the immigrants who are seeking asylum, and analyzes the accompanying consequences.
    Somali immigrants, who are victims of violence, are escaping a civil war in Somalia. However, when they arrive at their destination, their hopes of refuge, and perhaps even a better life, are not met. Many of them live in poverty, lacking the most basic necessities; many others are deported back to Somalia based on which part of the country they come from, regardless of if their individual safety is at risk or not.
    Ms. Stern's fellowship ends this summer and she will be continuing her work on Human Rights and Somali immigrants at the University of Vienna, Austria.
    Written by Salma Taleb
    (Continue Reading)March 4th, 2014
  • Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow Verena Stern investigates human rights issues in Somali transnational migration

    foto.jpgVerena Stern is an Austrian Doctoral Research Fellow at the Center for Austrian Studies at the University of Minnesota, researching the situation of the undocumented immigrants in the European Union (E.U), particularly the Somali undocumented immigrants in Austria.

    "I am a second year Political Science doctoral candidate at the University of Vienna, but I joined the University of Minnesota because of the reputable research and experts on the subject, and because of the large Somali community in the Twin cities," said Stern.

    Stern's interest in the undocumented Somali immigrants began in October 2012 when Somali refugees living in Austria formed an organization and decided to camp in front of the Austrian Parliament in Vienna to raise attention to their own, as well as Somalia's, current situation.
    In her research, Stern is examining the situation of Somali immigrants living in Austria, as well as their journey to get there. How did they escape the violence present in their homeland, which is a matter of life and death? Which countries did they have to pass through before arriving to the E.U. and what happened along the way? Besides the case study of Austria´s Somali community, Stern is also asking questions about the alienating tactics of nation-states and what it means to illegalize people. She is also trying to understand the legal dimension of how a nation's homeland security could be more important than the human rights situation of the undocumented immigrants. Stern examines instances when the rights and needs of the state are put before those of the immigrants who are seeking asylum, and analyzes the accompanying consequences.
    Somali immigrants, who are victims of violence, are escaping a civil war in Somalia. However, when they arrive at their destination, their hopes of refuge, and perhaps even a better life, are not met. Many of them live in poverty, lacking the most basic necessities; many others are deported back to Somalia based on which part of the country they come from, regardless of if their individual safety is at risk or not.
    Ms. Stern's fellowship ends this summer and she will be continuing her work on Human Rights and Somali immigrants at the University of Vienna, Austria.
    Written by Salma Taleb
    (Continue Reading)March 4th, 2014
  • Professor Alejandro Baer delivers enlightening presentation on the role of human rights discourse in the shaping of collective memory

    alejandro-baer.jpgOn Thursday, February 20th, University of Minnesota professor Alejandro Baer gave an enlightening lecture on his research on social memory, its cultural representations and its consequences. As the Director for the Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and as an Associate Professor in the department of Sociology, Baer is interested in identifying the culture of memory, looking at mass violence from different perspectives, and examining human rights within a sociological context. Continuing the theme of this spring's lecture series called "Reframing Mass Violence," Thursday's event was titled, "The Collective Memory of Mass Atrocities: Traveling Ghosts of the Holocaust."

    Baer began his lecture by introducing the concept of "collective memory" as illuminated in the theories of sociologists Emile Durkheim and Maurice Halbwachs. Durkheim defined social memory as a real or imagined link to the past that creates unity within a society. The first to establish the term "collective memory," Halbwachs expanded Durkheim's theory by arguing that memory is shaped by the needs of the present and that individual memory is also shaped by collective memory. According to Halbwachs, shared memory cannot exist outside of the group framework. However, Baer countered that in the global age when people no longer define themselves strictly within these groups of society, new approaches to collective memory have emerged. Highlighting the works of contemporary sociologists, Baer explained how the theories of cosmopolitan memory, multidirectional memory, postmemory, and cultural trauma show how collective memory in the global age has been revisited and reinterpreted beyond the group context through the narrative of human rights, with the Holocaust as the quintessential example of this phenomenon. One such example is The Holocaust and Memory in the Global Age, in which Daniel Levy and Natan Sznaider discuss the ways that the Holocaust has been remembered in the age of globalization, as it transcends the group framework and adopts universal narratives of human rights, tolerance, and other cosmopolitan norms. Similarly, Michael Rothberg argues in Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization that the memory of the Holocaust has become a platform for articulating the interactive relationship between the global and the local that generates transnational symbols like human rights, genocide, and crimes against humanity. Other research that Baer referenced on this subject include The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust by Marianne Hirsch and Cultural Trauma and Collective Identity by Jeffrey C. Alexander, Neil J. Smelser, and Bernhard Giesen.
    According to Baer, these new approaches to collective memory are tools to help us see human rights as a form of memory. He used the example of transitional justice in Spain, as there is a movement today among younger generations to reframe the mass violence of Francisco Franco's dictatorship in the 1930s-1940s from a narrative of civil war to one of genocide and crimes against humanity. Rather than attempting to rewrite history, the postmemory generation in Spain is inverting the previous narrative in hopes of finally gaining closure through truth and justice. However, Baer argues that there is an analytical price we pay for memory as we simplify at the expense of history and when we transform the narrative from agency to victimhood. Collective remembering and collective forgetting are part of the same process, constructing a selective memory that often forgets the political history of a conflict. In the case of Spain and other related mass atrocities, the fact of a civil war does not excuse human rights, but in embracing a human rights memory regime, history often gets blurred in the process. As Baer ended his lecture, he emphasized that there is no such thing as one truth, there are different forms of justice, and there are innumerable memories, and it is therefore worth exploring how a human rights discourse shapes our understanding of events and what the consequences are of these collective memory narratives.
    Written by Kailey Mrosak
    (Continue Reading)March 4th, 2014
  • Dr. Steven Miles creates leading website on "doctors who torture"

    Untitled 2 miles.pngOver 7 years ago, Dr. Miles created an online archive of 60,000 pages of government documents describing the medical system in "War on Terror" prisons, published at the online Human Rights library, hosted by the University of Minnesota. "Those documents were made available by the government through the Freedom of Information Act, but the government did not want the public to be able to analyze them," says Dr. Miles. "My idea was to connect the information for each case such as autopsy reports and death certificates in order to tell the larger story. The documents are useless unless you connect them. As a physician, I can read some of the documents better than historians could. Consider death certificates for example. I can see what is on the document and what is missing." The archive has over 1.5 million visitors- mainly researchers, attorneys who are engaged in prison work, and academics who study the system.

    Dr. Steven Miles has a lifelong endeavor to use his medical credentials and expertise to address some of the most challenging human rights issues of our time. He is a Professor of Medicine and Bioethics at the University of Minnesota. He is also on the Board of the Center for Victims of Torture in the United States.
    The archive's success prompted Dr. Miles to create his own website, which was intended to increase holding doctors accountable, legally and ethically, and to prove that it is possible to hold governments accountable. The website archives countries' records and work on torture and aims to provoke governments to change their policies regarding the use of torture.
    The establishment of the website required a lot of time and effort. "Hundreds of websites were searched in different languages, which required translations before documentation," explained Dr. Miles.
    The goal of those websites is to "help document, excavate and rewrite the history of the medical complicity with torture. The websites also had an impact on changing the Defense Department's policy and on attorneys who are handling the defense of prisoners. They showed the new way to create an online archive for Human Rights purposes, and are a model on how to do it for other countries like Guatemala, Argentina and many more," said Dr. Miles.
    The message Dr. Miles would like to send to the public is that "victims and people who are affected by torture are among us--in our backgrounds, family, schools--but those victims are invisible. The silence surrounding them is negating the need to deal with the impacts of torture on individual and communal levels. Addressing the impacts of torture provides not only a form of treatment to the victims, but also acts as a preventative measure. Thus, in order to prevent torture, societies need to start talking about it because making the topic a taboo doesn't stop it or make it disappear."
    Dr. Miles is the author of four books, more than twenty book chapters, and over 200 medical articles on medical ethics, torture, human rights, end-of-life care and other related topics.
    Written by Salma Taleb
    (Continue Reading)February 28th, 2014
  • The Act of Killing: Free public screening and conversation with the Oscar Nominated director

    Untitled 2.pngSaturday, March 8
    5:00 - 8:00 pm
    Bell Museum, University of Minnesota, East Bank

    Join us for a free public screening of The Act of Killing. We will be showing the Director's Cut, and a Q&A session with the highly-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated director, Joshua Oppenheimer, will follow from 8:30 -9:30pm. The filmmakers examine a country where death squad leaders are celebrated as heroes, challenging them to reenact their real-life mass-killings in the style of the American movies they love. The hallucinatory result is a cinematic fever dream, an unsettling journey deep into the imaginations of mass-murderers and the shockingly banal regime of corruption and impunity they inhabit.

    (Continue Reading)February 28th, 2014

    March 6, 7, 8 & 11

    Providing a forum for interdiscursive theoretical discussions and dialogue, The State of Iberoamerican Studies Series, at the Spanish and Portuguese Department, supports a number of critical symposia that bring together not only the monologues of traditional scholarly disciplines, but also the powerful, struggling and often unarticulated voices, postures and assumptions of contemporary non-canonical, grassroots cultural discourses. Organized by Luis Ramos-García, Nelsy Echávez-Solano, and Alberto Justiniano in collaboration with the College of St. Benedict / St. John's University; Teatro del Pueblo; and other interdepartmental, intercollegiate, and international organizations, this symposium on Human Rights as well as Art and Theater festival will take place at the University International Center; the Department of Art (Studios); Whiting Proscenium, Rarig Center; and at St. John's University Hispanic Studies.

    Carlos Satizabal, an important Human Rights activist in Colombia and an international playwright, will present alongside many other leading voices in the field of international human rights. Other featured individuals include Ana Paula Ferreira, Davide Carnevali, Steven Miles, Alejandro Baer, David Feinberg, Aristides Vargas, Roxana Pineda, and Lorenzo Fabbri. The symposium will be a spotlight for discussion on human rights issues from a variety of perspectives and backgrounds. Also in conjunction with the symposium, the outstanding and internationally acclaimed Latin American theater group Malayerba will stage La Razón Blindada at the U of M Rarig Whiting Proscenium Theatre on March 6th and 7th. This production follows two political prisoners during Argentina's bloody dictatorship as they create a unique retelling of Don Quijote de la Mancha. Their story illustrates the power of imagination in overcoming physically limiting and repressive conditions. The performance is presented in Spanish with an opening caption in English, and ticket information can be found at
    1. Malayerba bio .pdf more about the performance by Malayerba.
    3. KEYNOTE SPEAKERS AT THE XIX STATE OF IBEROAMERICAN STUDIES SERIES .pdf the list of keynote speakers and biographies.
    2. FINAL SCHEDULE .pdf an official schedule of the series.
    (Continue Reading)February 27th, 2014
  • Q&A with leader, activist, and alumnus Lindsey Greising

    329.jpgFollowing the completion of her law degree from the University of Minnesota, Lindsey Greising was hired to run the Women's Rights Project branch at the exemplary organization Ba Futuru in Timor-Leste. A leader in its community, Ba Futuru is Timor-Leste's preeminent national child protection and peace building organization. Lindsey's main role at the organization is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female community leaders to refer cases, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. Lindsey also serves as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, she helps develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provides trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.

    How did you get involved with Ba Faturu?
    I originally travelled to Timor-Leste in 2005 after participating in a workshop at my university where then-Foreign Minister Jose Ramos-Horta spoke and inspired me to research and volunteer in Timor-Leste. While there, I met Ba Futuru's founder and learned about their work. When I earned my BA in 2008, I decided to return, and coordinated with Ba Futuru. After receiving my law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School, I received a Robina Public Interest Law Fellowship to work for a year on Ba Futuru's women's project, a project is funded jointly by the European Commission and Australian AID for nearly 300,000 EURO and $70,000 USD, respectively.
    What is your specific role in the organization?
    As it is a small organization in a developing nation, I have many roles! My main role is as an international adviser for the Empowering Women and Establishing Grassroots Protection Networks Project (EWP), which focuses on increasing access to justice for victims of domestic violence in Timor-Leste through trainings of key actors, empowering and supporting female focal points to refer cases and take larger leadership roles in their communities, and conducting advocacy to the national government on identified issues. I also serve as a human rights advisor to the organization generally. Through this work, I help develop training materials for the organization's various projects and also provide trainings for staff on legal frameworks and human rights principals.
    How does it provide training in conflict resolution, conflict analysis, decision-making, child protection, and access to justice? Who provides the training and what does it entail? These topics seem complex and difficult to teach, how is it done in an effective but also timely way?
    The organization has developed its training program since it was founded in 2004. Trainings are conducted by Timorese trainers who have various backgrounds. Many were teachers previously. Several were previously members of gangs or involved in conflict. All receive training and capacity building from Ba Futuru's international and high-level national staff. The training materials have been developed by Ba Futuru based on lessons learned and also with support of various consultants and international experts. For example, I have redeveloped their legal frameworks, and gender and civil rights components through my work here.
    While the topics are complex, Ba Futuru has developed its materials and trainings in consultation with local staff that understand the nuances. It uses a lot of role-plays and arts in order to make high-level concepts accessible to various audiences. In several areas, we have addressed illiterate populations, and facilitators skillfully revised the training to accommodate this challenge.
    What are some other challenging aspects of your work?
    It is incredibly challenging to work on access to justice issues in a country with a bit more than 10 years of independence. Having been trained as a lawyer at the U, I am now confronting situations in which much of that training is inapplicable. For example, while the law requires domestic violence cases to be processed through the formal court system, there are not enough qualified people to make the courts function, and thus processing times can be more than a year. There are also only four courts for a country of 1 million people, with the population widely dispersed over areas that have poorly maintained roads and infrastructure, making it nearly impossible for some people to access the courts. And, very few people understand the law; the literacy rate is only 58.3% (UNESCO), the laws are often only available in Portuguese rather than the more commonly spoken language, Tetum, and the majority of the population has had very little education based on years of colonialism/occupation. Thus, I am constantly challenged by knowing how the system should function to protect victims, but being confronted by daunting constraints.
    On top of all these structural challenges, I confront deeply rooted cultural values, especially regarding women and justice, which make this work incredibly difficult. Even among women, many believe domestic violence victims should not report their cases unless they are severely physically injured. Domestic violence is considered a private issue, and unless there is blood (ra'an sae, in the local language) it should not be reported. Some police hold many of these values and therefore refuse to report cases even where victims report to them. Economic dependence of women on men prevents many from reporting their cases, and also encourages the formal system to apply "protective" treatment such that some police will refuse to report cases, and courts often issue suspended sentences so that the perpetrator can support the family.
    In terms of training female advocates, have you seen the training play out in any real-life successes, as these women go out into the community and voice their concerns?
    This has been the best part of my work so far! Within the organization, I work closely with two women who I have trained as advocates. Their confidence and understanding of political advocacy and liaising with government officials has been incredible to see. Within the community, the female focal points we have trained are also showing exponential growth. We recently held a training for these women and, afterward, several reported that they felt more confident to speak out in their communities and support other women. One from a rural area was so inspired that she began conducting stronger outreach to victims in her community, which resulted in two people filing their cases with the police--a huge accomplishment considering this took a 4 hour boat ride (one way) on high seas to get to a lawyer. And, another focal point who had been a victim of violence herself, finally came forward to share her experience within the group after being too scared to do so before.
    What is it like to work at such an organization as Ba Futuru?
    It's been really inspiring! I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people who have experienced incredible violence but are still positive and dedicated to improving their country. The women with whom I work are incredible. My work colleagues are powerful, insightful, smart, dedicated women who balance tough work with family life. And, they confront the myriad of issues and depressing challenges of our work with incredible passion and positivity. One colleague was attacked and saw numerous others harmed in a terrible massacre during the Indonesian Occupation in Timor-Leste. Yet, she is often more positive than I am, and constantly strives to improve herself and her country. So many others with whom I work have similar stories and are similarly inspiring.
    The Human Rights Program extends its sincere thanks to Lindsey for her thoughtful and generous comments. What truly incredible work!
    (Continue Reading)February 14th, 2014
  • A powerful discussion follows the screening of highly acclaimed film Granito: How to Nail a Dictator

    Untitled.pngOn Thursday, February 6, the University welcomed director and filmmaker Pamela Yates and producer Paco Onís at St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis to screen their powerful documentary Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. The narrative centers on the investigation of the 1982 genocide of Maya people by the military in Guatemala and on the determined fight for justice. The event was free to the public and included both a Q & A session with Yates and Onís as well as a viewing of their short film, The Verdict, on the 2012 trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity.

    In her introduction to the audience, Yates explained that she had traveled to Guatemala in 1982 to film her first documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, on the guerilla war between the Maya people and the Guatemalan military, and that she never would have believed at the time that her film outtakes would be used twenty-five years later as evidence of human rights abuses. Granito: How to Nail a Dictator followed Yates, international attorney Almudena Bernabeu, and others as they pored over the captivating footage and slowly built a case against Ríos Montt and the military regime. Yates expressed that, for her, Granito was both a documentary of human rights abuses and a love letter to human rights workers.
    During the Q & A session, she spoke of the importance of documentary filmmaking as a broader way to engage people in human rights work. There has been considerable controversy regarding the interaction between filmmaking and human rights. Both Yates and Onís disagree with the belief that artists should avoid politics, arguing that well-told stories have the power to bring about social change. This is, in fact, the mission of Skylight, the media production company they founded together over twenty-five years ago. Yates considers herself a social issue filmmaker, and often asks, "What is the role of art in human rights?" At least when it comes to documentation, Yates believes there is immense power in creating a story that allows people to see their own reflection of humanity and inspire social change.
    In January 2012, Ríos Montt was indicted for genocide of the Maya people. While the ruling was overturned by the constitutional court on procedural grounds and a retrial is unlikely, Yates maintained that the trial still marked a transformative moment of departure for the Guatemalan people as an unprecedented statement of justice. Indeed, the motivation behind Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and for all of Yates' and Onís' work, is "memory, truth, and justice" to ensure that human rights violations such as the Maya genocide serve as a reminder that we are all granitos de arena, or tiny grains of sand, in the collective endeavor for change.
    Yates and Onís have launched a companion digital project to preserve the collective memory of the genocide. Granito: Every Memory Matters is accessible at
    Written by Student Advisory Board member Kailey Mrosak
    (Continue Reading)February 14th, 2014
  • Professor Barbara Frey presents on the role and value of transitional justice in human rights

    On January 23rd, Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program at the University of Minnesota, gave a lecture on the topic of "Transitional Justice: Seeking Truth and Accountability for Systematic Human Rights Violations." Her presentation covered the definition of transitional justice, which includes the fundamental questions of whether to respond to atrocity, why we should respond to atrocity, and what are the appropriate responses to atrocity.

    Watch a recording of Professor Frey's lecture.

    Since 1980, the methods and practices by which human rights are characterized has changed dramatically. Ban Ki-moon, the current U.N. Secretary General, called the new era, "The Age of Accountability." The increased number of truth commissions, prosecutions of human rights violations in domestic courts, and participation in the drafting of international criminal laws demonstrate a greater awareness of responsibility. For example, in 2006, the U.N. Commission on Human Rights declared the "right to truth about serious violations of human rights law is an inalienable and autonomous right." Many human rights lawyers have debated the impact of these trials and commissions; this debate highlights the importance of seeking truth and justice because the two concepts are intertwined when an institution or commissions responds to atrocity.
    Frey's presentation also addressed the effectiveness of truth commissions. Truth commissions calculate reparations, acknowledge a historical narrative, and document the truth through public reports. Key aspects of truth commissions include political context, sponsorship, membership, and mandates. Latin America is the world leader in transitional justice; truth commissions have found success in South Africa, Guatemala, Chile, and Argentina. In the Guatemalan case, over 42,000 victims, 23,000 deaths, 6,000 disappearances, and 626 massacres were documented. However, the exposing of these "truths" does not guarantee reconciliation.
    Finally, Frey's presentations underscored the overall trend of increasing human rights awareness through trials, commissions, and the subsequent drafting of laws. Because the number of new amnesty laws drafted has remained constant, turning our attention to the past, instead of simply pushing forward, has become paramount in today's "Age of Accountability."
    Written by Volunteer Sean Van Domelen
    (Continue Reading)February 13th, 2014
  • Save the date! Conference will commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda

    rwanda conference.pngGenocide and its Aftermath: Lessons from Rwanda
    April 16, 17 & 19

    Singled out as the biggest failure of the international community since the Holocaust, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda has loomed large in the decisions of states and international organizations in response to mass violence. Because of the ongoing importance of the Rwanda experience in relation to genocide prevention efforts, the Institute for Global Studies, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Genocide & Holocaust Studies are jointly hosting a series of events to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the genocide. "Genocide and its Aftermath: Lessons from Rwanda," will take place on April 16, 17 and 19, exploring what we have come to know about the genocide in Rwanda, discussing the immediate responses by the international community, and analyzing the long-term consequences that the cataclysmic failure to prevent the genocide had on international policy and action. The events are funded by Ohanessian Endowment Fund for Justice and Peace Studies at The Minneapolis Foundation.

    Highlighting a distinguished list of speakers for the April 16 public conference will be the U.N. Special Advisor on Genocide Prevention, Mr. Adama Dieng; Jean-Damscène Gasanabo, Director General of Research with the Research and Documentation Center of the Rwandan Government; and Professor Samuel Totten, renowned genocide scholar and activist. These figures will be joined by leading academics, activists and diplomats. Other speakers will include Eric Schwartz, Dean of the Humphrey School and former National Security Adviser to President Clinton; Gregory Gordon, former Legal Officer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda; Curt Goering, Executive Director, Center for Victims of Torture and former Chief Operating Officer at Amnesty International USA; Chris Uggen, Professor of Sociology; Leigh Payne, Professor at Oxford and Senior Research Fellow for the Institute for Global Studies; and emerging scholars Hollie Nyseth-Brehm, Wahutu Siguru, Nicole Fox, and Marie Berry. This event will be free and open to the public.
    The second day of the conference, April 17, will highlight the work of undergraduate students from different disciplines regarding the genocide in Rwanda or other genocides and mass atrocities. Any undergraduate students interested in submitting work to be presented at the conference should see the Call for Papers below. Papers for consideration must be submitted by February 28, 2014, to Wahutu J. Siguru ( The series of events will conclude on April 19, with a workshop for K-16 educators on genocide, conducted by Samuel Totten, one of the foremost scholars of curriculum on Holocaust and genocide education. Those interested in participating should return to this website for further details in the coming weeks.
    Call for Undergratuate Papers- Rwanda Commemorative Events, Student Conference.docx
    For information on this event and other events being hosted by the Human Rights Program, please check For more information on events being hosted by the Center for Genocide & Holocaust Studies, please check
    Event Co-sponsors: The Center for Victims of Torture, The Advocates for Human Rights, Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, St. Cloud State Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, World Without Genocide, Department of History, Department of French and Italian, the Institute of Diversity, Equality and Advocacy, the Program in Human Rights and Health and the Human Rights Center of the University of Minnesota
    Event artwork is titled "Valentina's Nightmare (Hands/Face Rough)" by Peter Driessen
    (Continue Reading)January 29th, 2014
  • Barbara Frey to present inaugural lecture in series, "Reframing Mass Violence: Human Rights and Social Memory in Latin America and Southern Europe"

    Reframing Mass Violence small.jpgProgram Director Barbara Frey will give the inaugural presentation of this spring's speaker series, "Reframing Mass Violence: Human Rights and Social Memory in Latin America and Southern Europe" Thursday, January 23, 2014 from 3:00 - 4:30 in 235 Nolte Hall (East Bank - TC Campus). The "Reframing Mass Violence" series will explore the particular developments and transnational entanglements of social memories in societies revisiting their legacies of dictatorship, state terror, and grave human rights violations in Latin America and Southern Europe. The series will allow distinguished experts from the countries of study to discuss their work and engage in dialogue with local scholars, students and the public on contemporary processes of re-interpretation and re-framing of the atrocities themselves and the transitional justice models that were adopted in their aftermaths. The series runs conjointly with a 1-credit course being offered at the University. All events, however, are free and open to the broader public.

    In the series kickoff, Barbara Frey presents "Transitional Justice: Seeking Truth and Accountability for Systematic Human Rights Violations." Frey will examine countries emerging from repression, armed conflict, or mass atrocities to see how they have chosen to address the past as part of their transition into new forms of governance and citizenship. She will also discuss methods and mechanisms that have been developed by national or international actors, including public memorials, truth commissions, and national or international criminal prosecutions to assist societies to transition away from repressive pasts.
    Two weeks later, on Thursday, February 6, (3:00 - 5:30 pm, St. Anthony Main Theater, 115 SE Main Street, Minneapolis) the University welcomes director and filmmaker Pamela Yates and producer Paco Onís to screen their documentary Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. Granito tells the stories of five main characters whose destinies are joined together by Guatemala's turbulent past. The film focuses on the early 1980's when General Efraín Ríos Montt, in order to obtain and maintain power, implemented an intentional military attack, known as the "scorched earth" campaign, targeting the indigenous population of Guatemala. This campaign resulted in nearly 200,000 deaths, including 45,000 forced disappearances, and numerous displaced communities. Released in early 2011, Granito has received recognition internationally, with one critic stating that the film does not just document history, but that it "makes history." Attendees to this event will have an opportunity to participate in a Q&A session with the filmmaker and producer following the screening as well as to view a 13-minute video of the Ríos Montt trial, titled The Verdict.
    We hope to see you at these powerhouse events set to launch the series and we are certain that the entire series will be one you want to pay attention to. Look for future news about these upcoming segments:
    • February 20: Alejandro Baer (U of M), "The Sociology of Collective Memory"
    • March 6: Mariana Achugar (Carnegie Mellon), "Uruguayan Memories of Dictatorship"
    • March 27: Glenda Mezarobba, UNDP's representative for the Brazilian Truth Commission Brasil
    • April 10: Panel Discussion, "The Evolving Memory of Argentina's 'Disappeared'", with Emilio Crenzel (University of Buenos Aires) and Leigh Payne (Oxford / U of M)
    • April 24: Ana Forcinito (U of M), "Culture/Art, Memory and Human Rights"
    • Francisco Ferrandiz (CSIC, Madrid), "Spain's Memory Movement"
    All events, with the exception of February 6 and April 10, will be held at Nolte 235 on Thursdays from 3:00 - 4:30 p.m.
    Organized by the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota

    (Continue Reading)January 22nd, 2014
  • Former U of M student Shezanne "Shez" Cassim released from Dubai prison and home in Minnesota!

    Untitled1111.pngShezanne "Shez" Cassim arrived home to Minnesota late Thursday (Jan 9) after spending the past nine months in a United Arab Emirates (UAE) prison for posting a satirical video on YouTube. Shez's family, friends and extended community worked diligently over the past several months calling attention to his case and asking for his release. Human Rights leaders at the University, including the Program's Director Barbara Frey and Co-directors of the Human Rights Center, David Weissbrodt and Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, held a press conference on December 10 (International Human Rights Day) calling on the government of the UAE to immediately release Shez. Today, we are thrilled for Shez, his family, friends, and other supporters worldwide as he is finally free!

    Link to MPR piece on Shez's release.

    (Continue Reading)January 10th, 2014
  • URGENT ACTION: University of Minnesota Human Rights Leaders Call for Immediate Release of Former Student from Abu Dhabi Prison

    Untitled1111.pngDetails of Shezanne "Shez" Cassim's arrest show violations of freedom of expression and human rights.

    MINNEAPOLIS (December 7, 2013)--Barbara Frey, Director of the University of Minnesota (UMN) Human Rights Program, David Weissbrodt and Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, Co-Directors of the Human Rights Center, will hold a press conference on Tuesday, December 10 at 12:00 p.m. at the University of Minnesota Law School to call on the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to immediately release former U student Shezanne "Shez" Cassim from the Abu Dhabi prison in which he is being held. Cassim was arrested on April 7, 2013 in Dubai, UAE, for uploading a satirical sketch comedy video to YouTube.

    Take action to support Shez by signing this online petition.

    Cassim is a graduate of Woodbury High School and his family currently lives in the Twin Cities. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2006 and was working in Dubai for a consulting firm at the time of his arrest.
    These University of Minnesota human rights leaders are deeply concerned about the unwarranted and lengthy detention of Cassim, which is a violation of his right to freedom of expression. Additionally, they are troubled by Cassim's limited access to counsel and the lack of due process for his case.
    "We are shocked and perplexed by the UAE's treatment of Cassim. In the days leading up to International Human Rights Day, we call on UAE government officials to uphold its commitment to international human rights standards and release this bright young man who they have unjustly detained," said Frey.
    Cassim is currently being held in a maximum-security prison in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE. For posting the comedy sketch, Cassim has been accused of endangering the UAE's national security under a federal "Cyber Crimes Law."
    Cassim's next hearing is scheduled for December 16.
    Advocates are seeking signatures on the online petition for Shez's release, available here:
    (Continue Reading)December 6th, 2013
  • Human Rights Week takes off at the U of M!

    photo.jpgHuman Rights Week has proved thus far to be a great success once again for the Student Advisory Board, who worked diligently throughout the semester to organize the several human rights events that have taken place this week as well as another event happening next week. Focusing on educating their peers and colleagues not only on several human rights issues of severe concern, but also about the birth and evolution of the idea and institutionalization of human rights as a paradigm designed to address them, these students wish to deeper engage the U of M community with human rights and draw together passionate individuals wishing to advocate and serve others. Events this week included two panel talks, one on human rights issues surrounding the situation in North Korea, and another on the current condition of refugees across the world today.

    On Tuesday, December 3rd, Human Rights Week began with a screening of North Korea: Beyond the DMZ and a subsequent panel discussion featuring Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Caitlin Kee, and U of M Professor Kirk Allison. The event, which was hosted by Student Advisory Board member Lauren (Yon-Soo) Kim, covered a variety of topics pertaining to the North Korean people, culture, and political situation. One primary topic covered by both the film and the panelists was the tendency for the United States to dehumanize the North Korean population and conflate it with its regime, allowing for the imposition of harmful sanctions regimes that reduce the quality of life for ordinary North Koreans. Alternatively, the North Korean people are often seen as a helpless child, victimized by their government and in need of rescue from foreign agents, which gives justification for the funding of political bodies whose goal is to bring about regime collapse. Although there undoubtedly exists need for political and economic reform as well as development within the DPRK, the film and panelists stressed the importance of remembering the humanity of its citizens, and understanding the complex situation on the Korean peninsula through a historical and two-sided perspective rather than an outdated and biased Cold War perspective.

    On December 5th, the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board hosted another panel discussion that included Jim McKenzie from the Center for Victims of Torture, Ellen Kennedy from World Without Genocide, Elizabeth Rose from the International Institute of Minnesota, and Bosteya Jama from the Confederation of Somali Communities in Minnesota. The discussion centered on the grave human rights conditions facing refugees and asylum seekers today, their struggle for citizenship, future challenges for the refugee community, and possible solutions to combat the problem of ignorance.

    The panel addressed the severe human rights conditions faced by the more than 43 million refugees in the world today. A particular issue of concern was lack of citizenship, without which an individual has no rights, as our world continues to be centered on the nation-state as the main provider of rights. These leaves refugees increasingly vulnerable, and often this lack of citizenship and protection means that the services they deserve and need are not available to them. Another area of focus during the conference was the dire state of refugee camps. Although in theory these camps are intended to be places of safe haven, they often prove to be instead of high insecurity, unrest, disease, and violence. The world is at a record high in numbers of refugees, and these camps simply were not designed to hold the capacity of people currently in need of shelter. Unable to gather the necessary amount of resources to meet the need, and unable to expand, these camps are ridden with deplorable living conditions, and packed with a high concentration of people who are fleeing truly frightening situations, with high levels of trauma.

    The panelists last night are among those in Minnesota working to address these grave issues and to serve refugees. Through providing mental health services and other forms of therapy to torture survivors, mentorship to families struggling to adjust to a new culture, job training, language classes, and citizenship services, these individuals work in solidarity with those seeking a strong start to a new life. However, the panelists stressed that there are still many challenges to be overcome once refugees and asylum seekers arrive in the United States. These incredibly strong survivors must face discrimination, inadequate financial assistance, and the difficulty of navigating a new city without knowing English, among many other obstacles. The panelists called the audience to carry on their work following the event, through reaching out to Minneapolis' refugee and immigrant communities and educating their peers in order to dissolve the fear and misunderstandings that continue to isolate refugees from the greater Minneapolis community.
    (Continue Reading)December 6th, 2013
  • Student Spotlight: Kirstin Benish

    kirstin.pngKirstin Benish, a senior majoring in Global Studies with a focus on human rights/social justice and minoring in African American and African Studies, has applied her education through trips to the African countries of Kenya and South Africa. Each trip provided a vastly different experience and reaffirmed Kirstin's passion for human rights.


    During her freshman year, Kirstin visited Cape Town, South Africa, as part of a three week global seminar through the University of Minnesota. Here, Kirstin learned about the effects of apartheid and the treatment of black and "colored" South Africa. Although she felt frustrated that her education had not addressed the issue until her freshman year of college, this trip sparked Kirstin's interest in learning more about human rights.
    In Kenya, Kirstin lived in Nairobi for the first semester and Dol Dol for the second semester of her sophomore year. While working as an intern for the One More Day Children's Home (OMDC), Kirstin aided twenty young girls that were affected by early marriage and female genital cutting (FGM). "OMDC collaborates with lawyers, social workers, and policemen to ensure children are safe and cared for in Kenya." These young girls with ages ranging from 8 to 16 profoundly impacted her perspective on life. "These girls have been through more in 8 to 16 short years than I will ever encounter in my life." Here in the Maasai communities of Kenya, Kirstin realized the importance of child protection laws; seeing the dedication of her co-workers and the resiliency of the young girls also inspired Kirstin to pursue human rights issues further. Kirstin's biggest challenge emerged with the recognition of her white-privilege. "Being the only white person in Dol Dol at that time, I was given opportunities and treated a certain way because of my skin color." Often times, people were more concerned about Kirstin's interests, rather than the health of the twenty girls at the center.
    Kirstin's international experiences fueled her desire to study human rights and shaped her perspective of the world. As graduation approaches in May, Kirstin recognizes that human rights and social justice will play a huge role in her life following college.
    (Continue Reading)December 5th, 2013
  • Professor Antonius CGM Robben discusses Argentina's Dirty War and contestation over the categorization of conflicts as genocide

    0311992222222.jpgOn November 25, the U of M hosted Professor Antonius Robben, who spoke on the controversial issue of Argentina's so-called "Dirty War," and the implications of attributing the term "genocide" to the tens of thousands of extrajudicial disappearances of political dissidents committed by the Argentine government during that period. His lecture covered the history of the conflict, the political climate regarding national memory today, and the arguments for and against the classification of the conflict as genocide.

    In terms of basic facts, Prof. Robben opined that such facts are accepted by all sides--tens of thousands of people were "disappeared" by the government, with these disappearances directed primarily towards Marxist-affiliated guerilla revolutionaries. The disagreement is with regards to the interpretation of this period of time and the differing possible legal consequences, particularly in response to the question of who should be prosecuted for these crimes; and in the dialogue that shapes perception of the events in question, with certain terms being used to convey a certain political context.
    The popular term "Dirty War," Robben stated, was first used in 1974 by a right-wing nationalist and has since been adopted by all sides in order to describe the grim nature of their opponent's tactics, or of the conflict in general. This led to what he called the "Two Demon Theory" of mutual and equal responsibility for the conflict between the government and opposition, which persisted until details of the severity and disproportionality of government repression proliferated and led to the coinage of the term "State Terrorism." The 1985 trial solidified the use of this term, but during the mid-2000's, judges and human rights lawyers began to venture towards the term "genocide."
    Part of this perception of the disappearances as a genocide was based in the mechanization and normalization of death in Argentina's detainment centers, dehumanizing the victims as simply a "prisoner without a name, cell without a number." Also, Jewish Argentines were said to be targeted by the government, due to their high levels of representation in the opposition. Furthermore, those who argue for the use of the term "genocide" posit that the opposition constituted a nascent national group, which was targeted for extermination by the Argentine government; if accepted as legitimate, this would place the conflict within the UN-designated legal boundaries of the term "genocide."
    These factors have led to a reframing of the "Dirty War" in recent years, with many comparing the persecution and destruction of Argentine opposition forces to the institutionalized extermination of Nazi Germany. Notably, the detainment centers--open to the public for visits--have been controversially renamed "concentration camps." Dirty War literature and testimonies, Prof. Robben argued, are often reminiscent of Holocaust literature. He stated that the Holocaust serves as a classic, universal example of genocide and crimes against humanity, and its use as an analogy for the Argentine conflict has become increasingly relevant as national memory has evolved over the years.
    Drawing frequently upon the writings of various academics, Prof. Robben explained some of the many diverse viewpoints regarding Argentina's Dirty War and its modern interpretation. He distinguished between the individual guilt of perpetrators and the collective responsibility of the populace, without whom the government's tyranny would not have been possible; this too harkened back to the memories of World War II-era Germany, a nation that has since struggled to come to terms with its past and responsibility for its government's actions. Genocide, Robben pointed out, allows for a much larger scope of responsibility than does "state terrorism," the latter of which implies a fundamental distinction between the state and the population. As a result, those who wish to classify the Dirty War as a genocide are drawing in actors from all sectors of society--compliant newspapers and journalists, political supporters of the regime, and even foreign capitalists who were involved in doing business with the government.
    For these and many other reasons, there is substantial resistance to the term "genocide" within Argentina and outside it. On a legal basis, "genocide" requires a specific national, ethnical, racial, or religious group; this strict UN definition--and the contested validity of classifying political dissidents as a "national group"--was a source of concern for several audience members during the question-and-answer session. Some other possibly surprising opponents of the "genocide" moniker, according to Prof. Robben, can be found within the ranks of the guerillas themselves; according to some, it deprives the revolutionaries of their agency and turns them into helpless victims, undermining the heroism of their struggle. On the other side of the debate, many within the political right wing argue that the term "genocide" implies the guilt of one group and the innocence of another, and implicitly negates the violent actions that were taken by Marxist guerillas during the conflict. The war against communism, according to some, was too complicated to categorize it into the quite stark definition of genocide. This contention exposes a paradox--although the definition of genocide implies a rigid set of definitive factors, and may imply a simplified narrative of bad versus good, all civil conflicts are profoundly complex; thus, there has been much contestation over titling many different conflicts as such ever since the term's origination in 1948.
    In Argentina, the political consequences of this debate have been enormous, and have unfortunately contributed to an increasing division of Argentine society. Prof. Robben mentioned that political violence has resulted from the ongoing disagreement. A right-wing faction has begun to emerge within the youth population, and these politically motivated individuals have engaged in intimidation tactics such as posting the names of Dirty War witnesses on the Internet, as well as proliferating or sustaining a national fear of communism. These and other social problems are part of what Prof. Robben calls Argentina's "struggle with history," a complex process of reconciliation and re-interpretation that involves all members of society and will probably stretch far into the future.
    Written by Erik Randall
    Volunteer, The Human Rights Program
    (Continue Reading)December 5th, 2013
  • Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellow Corbin Treacy teams up with HRP in research linked to human rights

    -1.jpgCorbin Treacy, a graduate student in French, has teamed up with the Human Rights Program in developing his dissertation research through the prestigious Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship. Closely tied to human rights, Treacy's research integrates theories, methodologies and technologies from multiple disciplines to examine Algeria's tumultuous public life following the country's independence from France in 1962, exploring the landscapes of Algeria's political climate, economy, and intellectual culture, in addition to theories of memory, transitional justice, and historiography. Treacy particularly studies how literary works are shaped by cultural violence, and literature's capacity to reimagine and reshape culture, interrupting cycles of violence.

    The University's Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship requires the student to spend the fellowship year in residence at a host research center under the mentorship of a faculty member who is affiliated with the center and who is someone other than the student's formal adviser. Treacy found the Human Rights Program to be a fertile incubator for his ideas, providing him with networking opportunities and connections to other resources he otherwise would not have had.
    The recently formed Holocaust, Genocide, Mass Violence Interdisciplinary Workshop, sponsored by the Human Rights program, constitutes such an opportunity, and proved to be the richest aspect of Treacy's fellowship year. While all of the faculty and graduate student participants were asking similar questions about what happens to communities in the aftermath of violence, they asked them from different disciplinary perspectives and with different conclusions, contributing to a rich and diverse learning experience. Opportunities to present and discuss his research in this interdisciplinary context, both formally and informally, were key to shaping his thinking during the fellowship year.
    The rich dimension provided by such interdisciplinary work comes with both challenges and advantages. According to Treacy, talking to colleagues in other fields is the biggest challenge of interdisciplinary inquiry, as "different fields all have different frames of reference and different methodologies, which requires finding a common language for discussing one's work." But, this is also the biggest advantage: "Listening to how colleagues in other fields are grappling with similar questions has moved my own thinking in new and unexpected directions." Through his research, Treacy hopes to demonstrate the power of literature not only to represent the history and politics of a nation, but also to positively influence its future.
    Treacy's mentor, IGS Senior Research Associate Leigh Payne, who was at Oxford University last year, provided him with valuable feedback on his work, and steered him to critical resources, via a virtual mentoring relationship. Treacy also credits Human Rights Program Director Professor Barbara Frey for contributing to the development of his research by meeting with him regularly throughout his fellowship year.
    Visit the Graduate School website for more information on other work being undertaken by the University's Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellows.
    A complete list of the 2012-13 Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellows, with information about their mentors, advisers, areas of focus and host research centers, is also available online.
    (Continue Reading)November 20th, 2013
  • Former student Carrie Walling assists in development of new human rights website

    HIHRS-logo_600x57.pngIn 2010, the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan organized a conference that examined broad questions surrounding the topic of human rights: how has the content of human rights evolved over time, what role have human rights organizations played in drawing attention to emerging issues, how did the application of human rights norms come to be extended from states to a variety of non-state actors, how can we understand the evolving notions of "accountability," and how have human rights fact-finding and advocacy methods developed and changed?

    Following the conference, these themes became the foundation for a website entitled Human Rights Advocacy and the History of Human Rights Standards. The website highlights a project focusing on five major facets of human rights education including accountability, research and advocacy, recognizing problems, policy decisions, and the future. Together, the five themes establish the "standard-setting work" of the international human rights movement. This website connects students, researchers, educators, and advocates with UN Policy Resources and organizations dedicated to human rights issues. Overall, the Human Rights Advocacy and the History of Human Rights Standards website provides excellent historical context along with scholarly resources to critically examine and engage human rights issues regardless of experience level.
    (Continue Reading)November 18th, 2013
  • Professor Kathryn Sikkink shares insight on the future of human rights prosecutions

    img004.jpgOn November 15th, Professor Kathryn Sikkink, a Regents Professor at the U of M, presented findings from her book The Justice Cascade at the Symposium on the Nuremberg Trials and the World's Response to Genocide. This Symposium "addressed the importance of the Nuremberg trials for the rule of law...and featured a panel of top scholars who discussed the role of an international criminal court and the challenges of an international response to genocide." Sikkink's presentation centered on the future of human rights prosecutions on both an international and domestic scale, examining Nuremberg as a momentous advancement in human rights prosecutions and connecting it to today's tribunals.

    The Justice Cascade, written by Sikkink in 2006, explores the impact of international and domestic human rights trials as means to achieving accountability for past human rights violations. Sikkink argues that there is too much focus on international trials such as those carried out by the International Criminal Court, also known as the ICC. She examined the effectiveness of a domestic court versus an international court and concluded that a domestic court would generally prove more effective because obtaining evidence and testimonies on an international scale is difficult. Sikkink also stated that human rights prosecutions, especially trials such as Nuremberg, have a profound effect on human rights practices. Finally, Sikkink believes that the Nuremberg Trials established a precedent: "A model for others...People have fought for accountability, and it is possible that these advancements can be sustained through perseverance and dedication."
    Written by Sean Van Domelen
    Volunteer, Human Rights Program
    (Continue Reading)November 18th, 2013
  • Leading scholar Janis Grobbelaar reflects on the impact of the South African Truth and Reconciliation process

    South African Truth.jpgOn Monday November 4th, the U of M was visited by South African scholar Janis Grobbelaar, who spoke about her experiences working on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission following the fall of the Apartheid government. The TRC's mission was to establish facts and gather information but not to punish or judge the offenders, which created a complex ethical scenario. Ultimately, those who confessed to complicity or involvement in some of Apartheid's worst crimes were pardoned, due to the possibility of amnesty for those who were willing to confess. Notably, no apologies were required in order for someone to be eligible for amnesty, leaving many with the impression that justice was not served. Professor Grobbelaar discussed the important social trends that characterize the modern South African state, many of which stem back to this legacy of segregation and the difficult, but successful transition into democracy.

    Firstly, she noted that South Africa today is undoubtedly improving in several ways, among them the growing economy, improved sanitation, access to water, lowered infant mortality rates, and an overall increase in the quality of life for most of the population. She discussed the emergence of a growing middle class among the historically oppressed black majority population, as well as a "patriotic bourgeoisie," an upper class of black entrepreneurs who were the beneficiaries of government-led Affirmative Action programs. These programs have resulted in some success, such as an increase in the percentage of black business owners (although the majority of businesses are still owned and run by the roughly 10% white minority population).
    These modest, though noteworthy successes are overshadowed by a long list of problems faced by South Africans today. According to Grobbelaar, the fall of Apartheid has not relieved South Africa from its serious social and political fragmentation, of which race remains a major driving force; indeed the establishment of a "Rainbow Nation" has proved easier said than done. Within government, the African National Congress (ANC), which has been dominant ever since the transition to democracy, is known to be rife with problems of corruption as well as infighting between its many disparate elements. Understandably to us Americans, political stagnation is presently occurring as a result of an enduring standoff between the political right and left. State institutions, says Grobbelaar, are weak; the state is generally in decline.
    However, most striking is the fact that the legal inequality of Apartheid has been succeeded by a deeply entrenched socioeconomic inequality that--defying the predictions of many idealists--has actually increased since the implementation of democracy. Grobbelaar emphasizes that this inequality is institutional, and although there has been some success in bringing more black South Africans into higher education, the skill level between races remains disparate due to inequality of opportunity. With South Africa swiftly emerging as one of the world's most dynamic and fastest-growing economies (making up the tail end of the BRICS nations), managing this economic unevenness will be a primary obstacle for South Africa to work through politically.
    Prof. Grobbelaar proceeded to discuss her involvement in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in greater detail, describing its strengths and weaknesses. Among its strengths, she listed that it allowed people to grasp the reality of what had happened; white people were made aware of the crimes committed by their government, and coloured and black people were granted the validation of having their experiences officially recognized. Also, the ruling African National Council was NOT in control of the TRC, which strengthened the TRC's neutrality and its relative independence. For this reason, the TRC was able to scrutinize the violent acts of the ANC as well as the Apartheid government.
    Among the TRC's weaknesses, Grobbelaar stated that although truth commissioning was "therapeutic," there was no "reconciliation of power" between dominant and dominated ethnic groups. Also, little new truth about South Africa was made available. Furthermore, the amnesty program was somewhat ineffectual due to its policy of judgment according to proportionality, and its lack of requirement of an apology from those seeking amnesty.
    During the question and answer session, Prof. Grobbelaar discussed the availability of information to the South African white population during Apartheid. South Africa, she emphasized, was a strange combination of authoritarian and liberal democratic elements, which included among other things a relatively free press. This meant that information about the crimes of the South African government was available to the people, but many shut out these voices as a way of distancing themselves from the guilt of living under a criminal regime. She shared an anecdote about a man who had spoken to her on an airplane, expressing his indignation at how the people had been "lied to"; however, Grobbelaar dismisses the validity of this claim to ignorance, postulating that it is more of a coping mechanism than a statement of fact. South Africa's isolation from the outside world in the years leading up to the end of Apartheid strengthened this feeling of blindness due to the absence of opposing voices within the South African population, but increasingly as South Africans traveled to Europe or other countries for education or work, foreign views of the Apartheid regime began to proliferate. The last legs of the regime, she said, were kicked out when it became economically disadvantageous to conduct business in South Africa due to the international sanctions placed against it.
    Overall, Grobbelaar presented a picture of South Africa that was optimistic, although not unrealistically so, and assessed the many challenges and struggles that remain in South Africa's future with an emphasis on the proactive steps that should be taken in order to find a solution. It was an eye-opening and interesting description of a country with a very complex and unique recent political history.
    Written by Erik Randall
    (Continue Reading)November 18th, 2013
  • Badzin Fellow Wahutu Siguru presents on "The Politics of Representation: Genocide, Violence and Mass Atrocity in the Media"

    On October 31st, 2013 Badzin Fellow and PhD Sociology candidate Wahutu Siguru presented his latest work on his dissertation at the Holocaust, Genocide, and Mass Violence Workshop hosted by the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and sponsored by the Human Rights Program. Wahutu's dissertation will examine the politics of representation surrounding the depiction of genocide, mass violence and atrocity in the media, particularly exploring African perspectives on Darfur and Rwanda through a comparative lens. During his talk, Wahutu provided background on his subject, and discussed his methodologies, his working analysis, and several conundrums and challenges in his research. A discussion filled with insightful comments followed and added rich dimension to Wahutu's presentation.

    Taking on a sociological perspective, Wahutu is investigating media narratives surrounding violent conflict and their impact on how people perceive past and present atrocities. He will analyze how the dominant narratives surrounding past atrocities can form a collective memory that may then influence interpretations of current mass violence, and what implications this production of knowledge has in terms of international policy decisions, particularly on the subject of intervention. As these questions illustrate, media narratives of mass violence embody an immensely powerful enterprise of shaping public understanding, with real human consequences and profound human rights implications. Wahutu addressed the common-found practice of simplification in reporting, as simplification increases the chance of public accessibility and large-scale consumption of media coverage, and thus, also increases the chance of a story's publication. This simplification may result in a convergence and homogenization of narratives, often led by dominant western media sources, which then can morph into a black-and-white global collective conception of a profoundly complex civil conflict. Wahutu cautioned against the tendency for media simplification to lead to an "us versus them" narrative, portraying one group as perpetrator and the other as victim, and failing to acknowledge that individuals on both sides inflicted atrocity and devastation. Moreover, the "us versus them" narrative in media coverage negates the courageous and heroic individuals existing within the "killers", group who act out in defiance against the violence.
    Considering the power of media narratives, Wahutu turns his attention to a more acute focus on African media representations of Rwanda and Darfur in a comparative light, looking to shed insight on differences between global and African scripts in media coverage, how media sources' construction of a collective memory surrounding Rwanda has shaped societies' understandings of Darfur, and ultimately, what political and social implications this has on regional and international scales. In carrying out his research, Wahutu is conducting content and context analysis of news reports from leading newspapers in Kenya, South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, and Rwanda. Wahutu will specifically investigate the perspectives of African correspondents in the reporting process, and in his analysis, he will consider the following: on what types of sources the correspondents rely, the amount of influence these sources have on how the story is later told by the correspondent, and what kinds of frameworks of understanding reporters employ in publishing these stories. Wahutu will also consider the interplay of social forces (i.e. historical context, political stance and publishing pressures) in how correspondents and reporters will choose to construct a narrative using the information given to them by their sources. Through this analysis, Wahutu will then look to draw some connections between prevailing emotional charges surrounding Rwanda, which have been maintained through the collective memories constructed in global and localized media scripts and differ according to scale and location, and conflicting interpretations of Darfur.
    The Human Rights Program is excited to stay up-to-date with Wahutu's findings as he continues his research on this ambitious, complex topic, and look forward to the completion of his dissertation, which is sure to be an insightful and provoking contribution to human rights scholarship at the University of Minnesota.
    Written by Anna Meteyer
    (Continue Reading)November 5th, 2013
  • Local Human Rights NGOs in the Global South: Findings from Mumbai

    jim ron student.pngOn Friday, November 1st, Archana Pandya, Researcher and Hubert Fellow, presented her research findings from Mumbai, where she investigated the essential role played by local human rights organizations (LHROs) in the developing world. LHROs are a key component of international human rights infrastructure; however, very few studies have focused on these organizations, let alone their legitimacy and sustainability. Drawing on data collected in Mumbai between 2010 and 2012, Ms. Pandya discussed her research of the LHRO community there, analyzing how LHROs are perceived by the general population, how they sustain themselves, and what relationships they have with other local actors.

    Through her research, Ms. Pandya found that LHROs are not very well understood or received by local populations. The topic of human rights itself largely seems ambiguous and difficult to understand, and many organizations working to provide charity and services focused on development and poverty alleviation do not identify as human rights organizations and do not employ this language. Ms. Pandya theorizes several explanations, including the reality that Indians have not been socialized to think of each other as equals, poor education, poorly functioning rights-enforcing bodies, and the precedence of basic survival over human rights in communities facing extreme poverty. In talking with residents in Mumbai, Ms. Pandya discovered that many individuals had never met someone who worked at a human rights organization, had only "sometimes" heard talk of human rights, were unable to name a human rights organization, had a mixed or contradicting understanding of what it means to be a human rights activist, and had very little trust of human rights organizations.
    Ms. Pandya also found that the LHROs she encountered in Mumbai all were somewhat dependent on foreign support, although funding also often came from local actors such as individuals, the corporate sector, and the government. Many LHROs expressed that they actually felt they had more autonomy when funding stemmed from foreign actors than from local, as local funders were able to more closely monitor the activities of the organization and the particular allocation of funds. Finally, Ms. Pandya gathered that individuals remain the largest source of untapped funding, as individuals (who remain wary of human rights organizations) prefer to donate to religious organization,.
    Listening to Ms. Pandya's findings, it seemed clear that the global effort to improve human rights practices should be channeled toward working in North/South partnerships that include local organizations in impoverished and developing communities who are already striving for peace and equitable living standards, fortifying their capacity to carry out their own human rights work in their communities, without a necessarily Northern agenda. Thus, studies such as Ms. Pandya's prove essential scholarship in the effective and just spread of the human rights movement, as her insights on local human rights organizations in Mumbai may guide such partnerships between North and South human rights organizations.
    Written by Anna Meteyer, Student Assistant
    (Continue Reading)November 5th, 2013
  • Student Spotlight: Aoife O'Connor

    Aoife O'Connor2.jpgAoife O'Connor, a senior on the Human Rights Program Student Advisory Board, is involved in a variety of human rights efforts outside of her classes and her work on the board. In addition to her contributions to the HRP, Aoife also has dedicated herself to her work at The Aurora Center on the U of M campus, where she is an advocate, educator, and a Certified Sexual Assault Crisis Councilor. The Aurora Center provides a safe and confidential space for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and family members or friends affiliated with the University of Minnesota, TC or Augsburg College who are victims/survivors/concerned people of sexual assault, relationship violence, or stalking.

    In her role as advocate, educator, and Sexual Assault Crisis Councilor, Aoife helps to run The Aurora Center's 24-hour help line, where victims of sexual assault, stalking, and relationship violence (as well as friends, other advocates, or any one interested in gathering information) can call to receive support, resources, assistance, and counseling. Aoife also acts as an educator at The Aurora Center, giving presentations on consent, healthy relationships and sexuality, sexual assault and alcohol, and active bystander intervention. Most recently, Aoife has undertaken her own project as part of her work at the center, where she will develop an internship position focused on increasing the accessibility of the center to the LGBT community. The intern will serve as a peer representative of The Aurora Center for LGBT students, bridging Aurora with the Queer Student Cultural Center, and enhancing outreach efforts and inclusiveness at the center. Read more about The Aurora Center...
    (Continue Reading)November 4th, 2013
  • Meet New Human Rights Minor, Paula Cuellar Cuellar

    paula.jpgPaula Sofia Cuellar Cuellar joined the minor program this semester, and is sure to bring much to the program, as her extensive past experience working in human rights and her rich reservoir of expertise will add dimension and perspective to her studies and the studies of her colleagues. Prior to enrolling in the minor program, Paula worked at the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court of Justice in El Salvador as a judicial clerk. Paula has participated in much activism on transitional justice issues, including her involvement with the International Tribunal for the Application of Restorative Justice in El Salvador, and has also collaborated with an initiative of the International Center for Transitional Justice and the Center for Justice and Accountability. She has applied her passion for human rights in her work at the Central American University "José Simeón Cañas" as a researcher for the law department, and is currently working as a research assistant at Notre Dame University.

    Paula received an LL.B. Degree from the Central American University José Simeón Cañas, and a Master's Degree in Human Rights and Education for Peace from the University of El Salvador. She also holds an LL.M. degree in International Human Rights Law from Notre Dame and a Master's Degree in Human Rights and Democratization Processes from the University of Chile. Paula is currently pursuing a degree in History at the U of M.
    (Continue Reading)November 4th, 2013
  • Leading activist Susanna Trimarco delivers a powerful lecture and receives the Sullivan Ballou Award

    260.jpgFew human rights activists the world over rival the awe-inspiring strength and perseverance embodied by Susana Trimarco. An unwilling heroine, she was catapulted into her role as the figurehead for the fight against human trafficking in Argentina when her daughter Marita was kidnapped on April 3, 2000 in a tragically common incidence of disappearance. As she began to uncover the depth of corruption and collusion between Argentinian authorities and the trafficking ring, what had started as a personal quest to find her daughter soon became a crusade to fight the trafficking of women throughout all of Argentina.

    Her accomplishments in this fight have been tremendous, culminating in 2007 with the establishment of the Fundación Maria de los Ángeles, an organization that has since paved the way in providing assistance to trafficking victims, supplying rehabilitative family counseling, and processing complaints of this heinous activity, a paradigm that has now been replicated internationally.
    In order to place a spotlight on issues of violence against women, the University of Minnesota hosted the international symposium "Erasures: Gender, Violence, and Human Rights" from October 24 to 25, which addressed the epistemic effects of the absence, or "erasure," of violence against women from the discourse of human rights violations. In her address at this symposium, Susana recounted her tragic story, illuminating for the audience the depth and complexity of the problem as she shared the most personal details of her fervent search to uncover the fate of her daughter, who remains missing after eleven years.
    For her remarkable contribution to the worldwide fight against the violation of human rights, as well as her tremendous strength of character and resilience in the face of adversity, Susana Trimarco was presented with the Sullivan Ballou Award following her address at the Erasures symposium, an award granted to human rights advocates whose work exemplifies the sincerity and generosity of its namesake, an Army Major named Sullivan Ballou who was tragically killed at the First Battle of Bull Run in 1861, yet whose spirit lives on through this award in his honor. As Susana continues in her fight, this award will serve as yet another symbol of her immense accomplishments, as the strength of character that has garnered it continues to define the ever-increasing momentum of her inspiring quest to end the trafficking of women in Argentina, to reunite long-devastated families, and to ultimately bring home her little girl.
    Written by Jennifer Cafarella
    (Continue Reading)November 4th, 2013