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Friday, December 6, 2013

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: http://tinyurl.com/kudjcrr

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.

Thursday, December 5, 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.

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

Wednesday, November 20, 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.

Monday, November 18, 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.

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

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

Tuesday, November 5, 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

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

Monday, November 4, 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...

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.

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

Monday, October 28, 2013

Event to Address the Role of Local Human Rights NGOs in the Global South

jim ron student.png
Local Human Rights NGOs (LHROs) in the Glboal South: Findings from Mumbai
Friday, November 1, 2013
9:00 - 11:00 am
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Stassen Room (170 HHH)
RSVPs to lnoble@umn.edu

Local Human Rights NGOs (LHROs) in the Glboal South: Findings from Mumbai, an event hosted by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, will discuss the fundamental role LHROs play in promoting human rights in the developing world. LHROs are key components of the international human rights infrastructure, yet very few studies have focused on these organizations let alone their legitimacy and sustainability. Prof James Ron's research collaborator and Hubert Fellow, Archana Pandya, will shed light on the LHRO community in Mumbai, India. Drawing on data collected in Mumbai between 2010 and 2012, Archana will present findings on how LHROs are perceived by the general population, how they sustain themselves, and what relationships they have with other local actors.

Archana Pandya is a multilingual project manager and research consultant. She is also a Hubert Fellow at the Humphrey School for Public Affairs and the managing editor of openGlobalRights, a new multilingual online forum on human rights. Since 2010, Archana has conducted surveys of rights-based organizations in Mumbai and Mexico City and coordinated Human Rights Perception Polls in India and Morocco for Prof. Ron. She is now overseeing as well as conducting some of the data analysis and is developing e-cases for teaching non-profit studies with the Hubert Project at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Archana holds a BA from the University of Ottawa, and an MA from the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs at Carleton University, in Canada.
Light refreshments will be served.

Former Student Carrie Booth Walling Annouces Recent Publication

photo carrie walling.pngCarrie Booth Walling graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2008 with a PhD in Political Science and a minor in Human Rights. She currently works as an assistant professor of political science at Albion College where she teaches courses in human rights and transitional justice. An emerging voice in human rights scholarship, Walling recently announced the completion and publication of her book All Necessary Measures: The United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention, which examines the relationship between evolving human rights norms and state sovereignty, and also explores UN exercise of humanitarian intervention, particularly investigating the role of argument in shaping decisions to intervene on humanitarian grounds and shedding light on possible explanations behind the Security Council's inconsistency in calling for the use of military force during instances of mass atrocity.

In August, Walling's book All Necessary Measures: The United Nations and Humanitarian Intervention, Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights series was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. The book explores how human rights norms are changing the meaning of state sovereignty and the purpose of military force at the United Nations. More specifically it questions what prompts the United Nations Security Council to intervene forcefully in some crises at high risk for genocide and ethnic cleansing but not others. Walling identifies several systematic patterns in the stories that council members tell about conflicts and the policy solutions that result from them. Drawing on qualitative comparative case studies spanning two decades, including situations where the council has intervened to stop mass killing (Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Sierra Leone and Libya) as well as situations where it has not (Rwanda, Kosovo, and Sudan), Walling posits that the arguments council members make about the cause and character of conflict as well as the source of sovereign authority in target states have the potential to enable or constrain the use of military force in defense of human rights. Humanitarian intervention becomes possible when the majority of Security Council members come to a shared understanding of the conflict, perpetrators, and victims--and probable when the Council understands state sovereignty as complementary to human rights norms. By illuminating the relationship between national interests and the core values of Security Council members and how it influences decision-making, the book suggests when and where the Security Council is likely to intervene in the future.
Book review: http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15153.html.
Walling also recently completed work on The Human Rights Advocacy and History of Human Rights Standards website, a collaboration with Susan Waltz, human rights practitioner and Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School, University of Michigan. The Human Rights Advocacy and the History of Human Rights Standards website provides a valuable resource for students, instructors, researchers, and advocates. The website contains five subject areas: recognizing new human rights problems; accountability for human rights abuses; research and advocacy methods; making human rights policy decisions; and the future development of human rights. Together, these subject areas constitute an online guide through the global human rights movement and its role in international policy. The site also currently includes 14 topics, such as political rights, torture, government obligations, corporate accountability, and women's rights. Topics will expand as the site continues to develop.
Website: www.humanrightshistory.umich.edu

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Student Spotlight: Lars Jørgen Røed

LarsJorgenRoed.jpgLars Jørgen Røed, a senior majoring in Global Studies and Political Science and minoring in Russian, has applied his human rights education through an internship in Norway, working at the International Law and Policy Institute (ILPI), an independent institute focusing on good governance and international law. Providing research, support and trainings, ILPI has a wide range of clients including the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN and the World Bank Group. The institute also offers human rights trainings, anti-corruption work, conflict analysis and monitoring.

Through his internship at ILPI, Lars provides research and analysis on a wide range of issues, including anti-corruption, disarmament, petroleum management and international human rigths law. He also does work with the ILPI Nuclear Weapons Project and the ILPI Centre for International Humanitarian Law, and has among other things contributed to an upcoming book on Nuclear Weapons and International Law. While working at ILPI, Lars will also be completing a PhD course on emerging Military Technologies at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
During his studies at the University of Minnesota he has worked with the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, and has previously interned at the Oslo Center for Peace and Human Rights both in Norway and the US. His senior thesis, Ethnic Violence at Election Times, engages with the relationship between violence and freedom of speech in recent elections in Kenya. Lars has leadership experience from multiple boards and student organizations, and is currently serving his second year on the Student Advisory Board of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program.
Written by Lars Jørgen Røed
Photo credit: Torbjorn Graff Hugo/ILPI

Mark Goodale Comments on the Constitutionalization of Human Rights and "the Violence of Ambiguity"

,mb. ,vhjv.pngIn his public talk titled "Law's Labors Lost: Constitutional Revolution and the Problem of Radical Social Change," Mark Goodale presented a thought-provoking analysis of the social revolution in Boliva that has taken place with the rise of Evo Morales and his unprecedented "Refundicion." Advocating contemplation of the applicability of human rights outside of the spotlight of genocide and atrocity, Goodale highlighted the necessity to consider forms of "violence of ambiguity" which are perhaps epitomized in the new Bolivian constitution.

By attempting to completely renegotiate both the social contract and the structure of the state, this document, says Goodale, has adopted such a broad scope that it is in reality a paragon of "normative promiscuity" which obscures more of the structural problems within Bolivian society than it reveals, let alone solves. Through this illustrative example of the danger of the "judicialization of politics" within Latin America, he showed how a revolution that is simultaneously bracketed with and embodied by a complete legal overhaul of the constitution may have actually served to cheapen the currency of rights in Bolivia. Within the broader context of human rights and the phenomenon of atrocity, his analysis provides a unique window into the more subtle forms of violence which often pervade the political landscape of a country and whose remedy is likely not a "legalization of revolution" but rather an adherence to human rights at their most fundamental level and an understanding of underlying structural realities that contribute to the perpetuation of injustice.
Written by Jenny Cafarella

Friday, October 18, 2013

Malalai Joya, Famed Afghan Politician, Speaks at the U

malalai_joya_ucsb.jpgOn October 16, the University of Minnesota hosted a lunch, lecture, and conversation with the famed Afghan politician and ex-member of parliament Malalai Joya, who has inspired many both at home and around the world with her courageous political activism. She has been a trailblazer in Afghanistan for the causes of women's rights, political transparency, and democratic reform, and her outspoken opposition to the Afghan government's tolerance for terrorism and violence has led to her expulsion from the government as well as six assassination attempts.

The first and most enduring message raised by Joya during the conference was her passionate opposition to what she referred to as American imperialism and colonialism in her country. The vaguely-defined objectives of the US "War on Terror" has led to a prolonged period of chaos and destruction in the Islamic world with a seemingly endless amount of collateral damage, of which the civilian population of Afghanistan has been a primary constituent.
During the period of American occupation, standards of living and safety of life for women has gotten worse, said Joya. This flies in the face of the frequently-repeated mantra that the war in Afghanistan is somehow justified by the abysmal rights of women in that part of the world. Exemplifying this hypocrisy, Joya presented the infamous time magazine cover of Bibi Aisha, a woman with her nose cut off, bearing the text "What Happens if We Leave Afghanistan." Ironically, the crime was committed during the period of US occupation; even worse, Joya argues that the United States presence there only empowers those extremist groups that are the greatest threat to women's safety.
Joya disparagingly described this relationship between the United States and its Islamic fundamentalist enemies in the region as "playing Tom and Jerry." Indeed, the American military's seemingly endless campaign to root out terrorist groups and neutralize them has proven to be like cutting heads off a hydra; more reappear faster than they can be cut off. Furthermore, the prolonged US military presence--exceeding all of the official predictions--only strengthens these groups ideologically and grants them credibility and support in the eyes of many desperate individuals, who see them as the only force resisting foreign encroachment.
Even more worrying, said Joya, is the significant infiltration that terrorist groups and regional Afghan warlords have achieved within all arms of the Afghan "puppet government," its civil service, and its military. The close collusion and revolving door between the administration and its supposed enemies make enforcement of law and justice within the country impossible, and further discredit the American occupation as it is in actuality propping up the very power structures it ostensibly seeks to destroy. If the US presence were to evaporate overnight, Joya concedes that these warlords and terrorists would have even more freedom to reign over the population of Afghanistan; however, the increasingly detrimental effect of the US presence is so damaging that the only solution is for the United States to withdraw completely and as soon as possible.
Joya went on to describe the grave problems in her country's nominally democratic system, and the way this term is used to give an air of legitimacy to a completely defunct and corrupt administration. Contrary to the spirit of democracy, Joya was kicked out of the Afghan parliament simply for speaking freely and calling attention to the government corruption that systemically endangers Afghanistan. Although she was not the only female Member of Parliament, she expressed her dismay that she received no support from her female peers--most of whom are affiliated with or on the payroll of Afghan warlords, and often are only present as "showpieces" to further strengthen the appearance of democracy in the country. Regarding the fairness of the elections in Afghanistan, Joya opined: "It's not important who's voting, it's important who's counting."
Despite expressing a long list of problems with governments that are labeled as democratic (including that of the United States, which she described as a "warmonger regime"), Joya is clearly a very strong supporter of democracy in general. She praised the recent US whistleblowers Edward Snowden and Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, who she lauded as "heroes" who dared to speak out about the ever-growing global surveillance apparatus that is the pet project of the US National Security Agency. Speaking directly to the "great" and "justice-loving" people of the United States, she emphasized that the corruption and criminality of governments can and must be subordinated to the will of the people, who will always find solidarity with one another in their quest for justice and prosperity no matter where they may live.
In the question-and-answer session, Joya was respectfully challenged by an audience member who asked what should be the appropriate course of action when the international community is threatened by a near-failed state like Afghanistan, which continuously hemorrhages opium, extremists, and undocumented refugees across its borders. The speaker, an Iranian national, expressed the danger posed to neighboring countries and the entire world if order is not imposed in such a chaotic region. Joya retorted that US military presence does more damage than it does good, and insisted that the portrayal of Afghan nationals as drug and arm smugglers is simply Iranian government propaganda. She also urged the speaker to show his solidarity to the Afghan people by supporting civilian and democratic organizations within Afghanistan, as well as by speaking out against his own government, which she described as tyrannical. This exchanged touched on several very pertinent international disputes between Afghanistan and its powerful neighbor.
The event was sponsored by Women Against Military Madness (MADD); the U of M Human Rights Program; the U of M Human Rights Center; the Amnesty International Legal Support Network; the Women Student Activist Collective; Students for a Democratic Society; and Students for Justice in Palestine. More information about Malalai Joya and her international advocacy for human rights can be found at http://www.malalaijoya.com, and her critically-acclaimed book A Woman Among Warlords can (and should!) be purchased at local bookstores.
Written by Erik Randall

Friday, October 4, 2013

Human Rights Students, Faculty, and Staff Gather to Exchange Ideas and Interests at the Human Rights Program Open House

On September 28th, the Human Rights Program hosted an open house for students, faculty and staff involved in human rights to gather and exchange ideas and interests. It proved to be a engaging and meaningful event, connecting human rights scholars and activists across disciplines, sparking new ideas for innovative student projects, and reaffirming the leading human rights presence that exists within the University of Minnesota.

Ken Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: The US needs a higher standard of ethical conduct in foreign and domestic policy

P1010242.JPGOn October 2nd, the UofM had the pleasure of hosting Ken Roth, a former attorney and current executive director of the renowned Human Rights Watch. He delivered a speech with a subsequent discussion revolving around the human rights situation at home in the US and their far-reaching implications overseas. In it, he argued that US leadership role in human rights necessitated a higher standard of ethical conduct due to our powerful country's ability to "warp" the standards to which other countries are held--particularly in regards to the USA's controversial use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones.

Listen to an audio recording of the lecture.

Human Rights Watch is an influential non-governmental organization that uses what are popularly known as "name-and-shame" tactics in order to advocate for positive social change in Washington, DC. It has been involved in a number of significant human rights campaigns since its founding in 1978, including the wildly-successful International Campaign to Ban Landmines (1992).
Mr. Roth listed three primary areas of concern for his organization regarding US policy and practice: the USA's tendency to over-incarcerate, resulting in the highest per-capita prison population in the world; human rights issues with migration and mistreatment of migrant workers; and government handling of counterterrorism tactics. All three of these issues, Mr. Roth argues, are not addressed adequately by US courts, the latter due to a suspicious deference and subservience of the judicial system to the Obama administration. This, he says, necessitates action on the part of civil society.
UAVs, popularly known as drowns, were the primary focus of Mr. Roth's address and the subsequent discussion. Their use in overseas counterterrorism operations--a source of major controversy which engenders much anti-USA sentiment in affected countries--ultimately constitutes extra-judicial killings, an act which ostensibly goes against United States laws but is justified using the cover-all term "War On Terror." Mr. Roth examined the double standards applied to the US government's dealing with terror suspects and its willingness to kill them without trial, comparing this to the more regulated treatment of transnational drug cartels--which have a higher death toll in absolute numbers. The "War On Terror," he argued, is essential in order to continuously apply looser wartime standards of violence to situations that do not justifiably constitute war.
Wartime rules of conduct allow for the killing of enemy combatants without the need for due process; but in peacetime or policing situations, where authorities target criminal organizations, deadly force can only be used as a last resort and in order to protect life. As a policing tool, Mr. Roth emphasized that it is still possible for drones to be safely and effectively used without violating human rights. He spoke highly of their potential for surgical accuracy--if used correctly. The fact that they are viewed as an indiscriminate weapon (like internationally-forbidden chemical weapons and landmines) is in fact a result of their mishandling by actors within the CIA, who could either be less skilled than the army, or have developed a culture of unrestrained violence. Either way, Mr. Roth says he and his organization have consistently advocated a takeover of the USA's drone program by the Pentagon in order to more properly regulate its actions.
Mr. Roth also warned against the many dangerous precedents that have been set by the USA's use of drones. The most immediate problem is that although the USA holds a virtual monopoly on sophisticated military drones at this time (possibly shared with its ally Israel), the technology--as is always the case--is currently in the process of becoming cheaper and far more widely available. Soon, states such as the Russian Federation or the People's Republic of China will have functioning drone programs, and their commitment to the protection of human rights is demonstrably far lower than that of the United States.
In addition, the disregard for due process demonstrated by counterterrorist drone strikes has set a precedent for government overreach that allows for the US National Security Administration's unjustified and egregiously unethical abuse of privacy both domestically and abroad, an issue that has provoked much outrage around the world. This issue was touched upon again during the discussion, with several audience members concerned about their lack of privacy rights and Mr. Roth explaining the twisted logic used to justify the collection of metadata (it's not a breach of US law for the NSA to collect information; it's only a breach of law once they read the information).
This, among other examples of overreach, seemed to provoke some concern about government responsibility within the audience. Mr. Roth had mentioned several times previously that President Obama, though at times offering lip-service to the idea of scaling back US military outreach, had more often than not failed to deliver on issues such as ending the "War On Terror" or fulfilling his promise of closing the infamous Guantanamo Bay detention facility.
This apparent administrative inaction in the face of popular demands from the American people has led many to be concerned with the future of our country and its government. I was lucky enough to be offered the chance to ask Mr. Roth a question: what outcomes could be expected if the US government continues to set precedents that allow it to encroach more and more on the rights of civilians, both domestically and abroad? In response, Mr. Roth emphasized that our government--though powerful--is ultimately responsible to the wishes of the people, and that we must keep in mind the significant successes that have been made through concerted civil action. This ended the conversation on an optimistic note; for although human rights abuses certainly exist within our administration, it is important to see these problems as room for improvement. Although our voice may at times seem insignificant, there is no legal obstacle that cannot be overcome through determined advocacy for positive social change, by means of the popular political participation that is the foundation of our democracy.
Written by Erik Randall

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Student Natalie Miller Puts Human Rights Education into Practice

970892_10151952506328298_381888563_n.jpgNatalie Miller, a senior majoring in Global Studies, has put her human rights education into practice through her dedicated work with Haiti Justice Alliance, an NGO that strives to support a network of Haitian human rights organizations. Haiti Justice Alliance works diligently with their partner groups to establish a collaborative model of pursuing sustainable change in Haiti. This organization empowers Haitian groups in their efforts to implement root-level projects, as they believe this in essential in bringing about sustainable and meaningful change.

Most recently, Natalie has dedicated herself to a particular project Haiti Justice Alliance is carrying out with the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti. The project is titled the "Cholera Accountability Project", and is working to hold UN officials accountable for their part in the Cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010. Cholera continues to constitute a grave medical emergency in Haiti, and overwhelming evidence has established that reckless disposal of human waste by a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping base in Mirebalais poisoned Haiti's rivers with a particularly deadly strain of cholera bacteria and created the epidemic. Now, despite even UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton's acknowledgment that the UN was the "proximate cause" of the epidemic, the UN refused to accept responsibility and control cholera in Haiti. Natalie has worked with Haiti Justice Alliance organizing speaking tours, fundraisers, and advocacy efforts around this topic. Last year, Natalie brought lawyers from the case against the UN to Minnesota to speak about the issue and their experience (it is not very popular to bring a case against the UN!). Natalie's work with Haiti Justice Alliance is a great example of international solidarity in upholding universal human rights standards, while remaining socially conscious (at both local and international levels) in her human rights work.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Syria, the Untold Reality

syria-1.jpgA Syrian student at the UofM, Salma Taleb, gives an inside look on the devastation unfolding in Syria, adding more demension to the panel discussion from last week, and shedding further insight on this profoundly complex conflict.


On September 11, 2013, the Human Rights program at the University of Minnesota held an important panel discussion. Countering Mass Atrocities in Syria: between Human Rights Ideas and Geo-Political Concerns. While the discussion revolved around politics and possible solutions to the Syrian conflict, the discussion of humanitarian support was also presented.
The political representation of the Syrian conflict in the media gives inadequate coverage of the extensive humanitarian suffering which is taking place. While humanitarian suffering is expected in a civil war, it is necessary that the human suffering of the Syrian people be recognized if the 'Syrian condition' is to be understood. The current situation in Syria is more complicated and more tragic than is being projected.
The majority of Syrian society is middle class. The middle class is comprised of both people who work for various governmental as well as nongovernmental institutions, many of whom are currently unpaid due to the bad economy, and blue collar workers, most of whom have lost their jobs, their houses and all too often, their families. Without wages those workers are left to suffer hunger, pain and misery without assistance. Although many blue collar workers have left the country to go to Lebanon, searching for work opportunities to survive, many more have stayed. Food prices have increased four-fold which makes food, when available, unaffordable for many. Electricity is shut off for many hours each day and perhaps most importantly, the people are suffering a severe water shortage because water pipes have been destroyed and because well water is very expensive to buy and hard to obtain. People in Salamieh a town 40 km from Homs have been without water for over 60 days now.
It is important to mention that Syria is still an agricultural society. However, farmers are not currently able to farm which means that because of the civil war they are not able to earn an income. There are many reasons for this. First, farmers are unable to get to their farms because many of the roads are too dangerous for travel. In most cases the roads are either governed by too many governmental check points, or are blocked by the opposition. Secondly, the farmers cannot afford the very high oil prices and are therefore unable to afford the costs associated with the use of their water pumps. Thirdly, there are safety and trust issues. Even if farmers are able to plant their fields, there are no guarantees that their crops will not be destroyed or stolen in the war!
Many students across the country are unable to attend school because their schools and universities have been destroyed. However, in some cities where the conflict is less intense even though the schools themselves may have remained intact, the students can no longer financially afford to attend. Similarly, the lack of medical care and supplies is pervasive in Syria. These shortages combined with the lack of water for adequate sanitation, the lack of adequate nutrition have led to the spread of disease especially among the children. Even though Doctors without Borders and other humanitarian institutions are trying to help, the need is out-weighing the resources. Many more issues could and should be discussed, but with the limitations I have, I hope that this will provide an enhanced understanding and a clearer perspective of the humanitarian tragedy posed by the Syrian civil war.
In the panel Professor Sarah Parkinson suggested some solutions that could help the Syrian people such as, a No Fly Zone through which the Syrian people might be able to get some of their basic needs. U.N institutions might be able to provide more aid to the people inside Syria. I would also add that donations from companies and other institutions and even individuals could help NGO's working on the ground in Syria which are trying to provide food, water and basic medical care to the many victims.
Salma Taleb

Understanding the Syria Conflict: Moving away from Paralysis

syria1.jpgOne of the most enduring hallmarks of the current violent conflict in Syria is its baffling complexity, a trait that has paralyzed the international community as well as scholars and politicians the world over, thus allowing the war to rage on for over two years and counting. The lack of clear and easy solutions has put a strain on the international system, with most countries agreeing that some sort of external intervention is needed, but falling out of sync with regards to the type of aid required, what country or countries should be supplying it, and what parties within Syria should receive it. Although the ambiguity and indecisiveness that has characterized this chapter of world history is unlikely to end soon, it is important to take steps forward even if only by becoming educated about the conflict and about the many conflicting interests at play.

The University of Minnesota's Human Rights Program and the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies organized the event on Syria, inviting five notable academics to give their opinions on the situation and what should be done about it.
The panel was chaired by Barbara Frey, Director of the Human Rights Program, and the panelists included:
Dr. Wael Khouli, working with the Syrian American Medical Society on health care
Sarah Parkinson, Assistant Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the Department of Political Science,
Mazen Halibi, Syrian-American community activist
Ragui Assaad, Professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, and
Ron Krebs, Associate Professor Department of Political Science.
Throughout the discussion, there were several over-arching themes. One oft-mentioned factor in Syria's current disaster was the much-publicized use of chemical weapons (particularly sarin) on a large scale against civilians, an attack believed by Western governments to have been committed by the Syrian government. More than one commentator argued that the excessive focus on chemical weapons was an unproductive distraction from the continuous death toll racked up by conventional weapons, averaging 5,000 Syrians a day and over 100,000 since the inception of violence two years ago. Mr. Wael Khouli emphasized that buildings in rebel-held areas are routinely demolished, leaving unknowable numbers of innocents trapped or crushed beneath the rubble; also, the use of military jets and scud missiles has become a daily occurrence in Syria, in his view due to the lack of international response to the use of these "conventional" weapons.
However, it has been made clear that the United States' desire to respond militarily to the use of sarin gas is primarily to uphold the legitimacy of international norms that forbid the use of such weapons. Professor Ron Krebs criticized the US interest in intervening on these grounds, arguing that there is no reason to suspect that this international norm will immediately collapse if not strictly upheld at every turn.
Another motive for a US intervention, he explained, was the need for our country to uphold its international credibility; an indecisive and hesitant United States could supposedly embolden US adversaries to make similar transgressions against international law. He warned that this tactic of global intimidation is not as productive as we may think, and has the dangerous consequence of justifying more and more drastic action in order to keep enemies frightened of us. As pointed out by Professor Sarah Parkinson, US credibility in the international stage is already damaged by what some would call its selective enforcement of human rights--turning a blind eye to allied countries (Israel, Saudi Arabia, or Bahrain) who abuse human rights, while opportunistically toppling abusive regimes when it serves American interests. For this reason, many fear that US intervention in Syria would just be another geopolitically-motivated regime change in the legacy of Iraq.
Moreover, the motives behind the much-debated US military strike are meaningless without a practical and effective strategy that would result in an outcome favorable to both the Syrian people, and to the United States and its allies. All panelists agreed that due to the complexity of the situation, there are no realistically good options for ending the Syrian conflict. Professor Ragui Assaad blamed this lack of options on the international community's earlier inaction, claiming that there was once a window of opportunity during which the conflict could have been stopped; however, due to the veto power of Syria's ally Russia in the United Nations Security Council, international systems have become gridlocked and dysfunctional. He spoke favorably of the potential positive outcomes of No Fly Zones, which when applied to pre-2003 Iraq severely limited Saddam Hussein's ability to launch aerial raids against civilian populations. In addition, he advocated for Safe Zones along Syria's border regions that would provide humanitarian and military assistance as well as refuge for rebel groups and displaced civilians.
All of these political and logistical concerns were set against the enduring worry of what the outcome of a victory on either side would be. Mass media has only recently acquiesced that a large portion, or even a near majority, of Syrian rebels are Salafi Jihadists. This issue caused a degree of conflict between the panelists, as some tried to disingenuously downplay the significance of these groups in order to create a more partisan depiction of the conflict. In particular, those panelists who were of Syrian nationality (particularly Dr. Khouli and Mr. Mazen Halibi) created a dialogue that was immediately favorable towards the rebels. Mr. Halibi, unbeknownst to the audience, is in fact a Sheikh whose lack of concern over the Jihadist elements within the opposition may have been influenced by his religious background. Dr. Khouli beseeched the audience to refer to Syria's conflict not as a civil war but as a "revolution," claiming that the overwhelming majority of Syrians were rising up against a tiny minority of loyalists. Professor Krebs, an American, took significant issue with this mischaracterization of the plainly two-sided conflict.
The panelist's dismissal of atrocities committed by the Syrian opposition was answered by an impassioned anecdote from Salma Taleb, a University of Minnesota student and Syrian national who described herself as coming from a progressive region of the country. Despite supporting neither the Assad government nor the rebel groups, her town suffered atrocities by Islamic fundamentalists who opposed the town's secularism. This was one of many familiar stories that provoke wariness at the prospect of arming Syrian rebel groups, due to the lack of confidence that these weapons will be kept out of the reaches of Jabhat Al-Nusra, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other Sunni Islamist militant organizations whose rise to power could prove even more dangerous than a continuation of Assad family rule.
The many different details and viewpoints discussed provided for a very nuanced and comprehensive, though admittedly bleak, understanding of the current state of Syrian affairs. The audience was left with no clear answers as to what should be done abroad, although domestic action was encouraged in order to spread awareness and advocate for humanitarian intervention; Professor Parkinson stressed the importance of non-lethal humanitarian aid and relief efforts, pointing out that this more so than direct military intervention has the potential to determine the allegiance of the people in the aftermath of war. Overall, the only definite truth emphasized by all panelists was that more importantly than geopolitics, international norms, or US credibility, the true cost of the conflict was in civilian lives; and that this must be the primary focus of any foreign involvement in Syria's savage and unrelenting civil war.
By Erik Randall

Friday, September 20, 2013

Professor Sandra Gómez sheds light on violence, human rights, and transitional justice in Colombia

Sandra's Talk6 (9.19.2013).JPGVisiting Professor Sandra Gómez Santamaría from the University of Antioquia, Colombia spoke with UMN faculty and graduate students regarding ongoing violence in Colombia and presented transitional justice and peace efforts. Professor Gómez is a leading figure in the UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership in the midst of a three-week visit to exchange human rights advocacy techniques and theory with local scholars and activists.

Listen to a recording of Sandra's talk here:
Sandra Gomez Talk (9.19.2013).WMA
Professor Gómez situated Colombia's current human rights situation in the context of a long tradition of violence, stemming back to land conflicts in the 1920's, liberal-conservative struggle and the resulting "La Violencia" of the 1950's, and systemic patterns of violence relating to drug trafficking in the 1980's and beyond. Gómez testifies that the armed conflict between state security forces (including the military and police), paramilitary (which commit serious human rights violations with State collusion) and guerrilla groups (including the FARC and ELN) took the greatest toll on civil society, particularly afro-descendants, women and girls in poverty, and rural communities. According to the Centro de Memoria Histórica, between January 1, 1958 and December 31, 2012 the armed conflict caused approximately 220,000 deaths. Forcibly displaced victims number about 5,700,000, or 15% of the country's population.
Professor Gómez explained that in the past several years transitional justice discourse and practices have been implemented in some legal scenarios. Two examples for exploring how this discourse has been displayed include the 2005 "Ley de Justicia y Paz" (Law for Justice and Peace) regarding DDR process of Paramilitary groups and the 2012 "Marco Juridico para la Paz" (Judicial Framework for Peace), which provided for some transitional justice mechanisms for facilitating peace negotiations with the FARC, which are taking place in La Habana.
However, human rights violations persist and paramilitary forces and corrupt government officials maintain linkages with violent and coercive private actors. Meanwhile, victim voices are drowned out and the human rights of people in vulnerable conditions face a wide array of threats, including forced disappearances, forced displacement, torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, child recruitment, antipersonnel landmines, and other indiscriminate weapons. Colombia therefore faces the difficult challenge of confronting its violent past while simultaneously dealing with ongoing violence.
Professor Gómez, too humble to formally "conclude" her presentation on these complex and ongoing issues, instead presented deep and thought provoking questions and ideas which quickly engaged the audience in conversation. Specifically, she refuted the idea of legal remedies as the only remedies to these systemic problems, identified the urgent need to challenge current structures of power, and highlighted the direct connection between abuse of civil and political rights and widespread neglect for economic, social, and cultural rights in the Colombian context.
Professor Gómez's presentation was part of the 2013-2013 Workshop on Genocide and Mass Violence Studies organized by the Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and the Department of Sociology. For more information about the workshop, click here.
By Claire Leslie

Student Ambassador Anna Meteyer Reflects on Experience in Colombia

2013-08-21-10-58-51.jpgThis summer, I traveled to Colombia as a part of the Human Rights Program's Human Rights Law Partnership, an experience made possible by the Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellowship. The Human Rights Fellowship Program provides financial support to residents of the Upper Midwest--including students, teachers, lawyers, health professionals, community leaders and others--interested in gaining practical experience with human rights organizations. Through my fellowship, I worked as student ambassador to the Human Rights Program, in its efforts to develop a comprehensive international human rights law curriculum in four Colombian universities, training law professors in the field of international human rights, fortifying and expanding available human rights resources in each university's library, and involving students in international human rights litigation and official affairs, among other efforts.

More specifically, my objective as student ambassador was to establish meaningful relationships with Colombian students in each university, further involving these students in the operations of the alliance and adding a student voice to the project-a fundamental perspective, as students are the people the project principally wishes to serve. With this aim, I traveled between the four universities, speaking with and observing students and faculty committed to human rights work, learning about their current and previous social justice efforts, and forming a deeper understanding of their experiences and aspirations in human rights.
The human rights projects and legal cases being carried out in each University are of great importance and variety, and almost all of them involve local issues that speak to the daily realities of injustice faced in the communities of the Antioquia region and throughout Colombia. In the University of Medellin, several students have taken on the ambitious case of the Picacha, a river that every year overflows its banks, devastating entire poverty-stricken barrios and occasionally taking human lives. These students struggle against powerful companies in charge of the management, protection and promotion of environmental resources in and around the city of Medellin, calling for accountability and the effective implementation of measures ensuring the safety of those living near the river.
Across the city, at the University of Antioquia (UdeA), several students are involved in very different human rights work, attending to victims of the armed conflict, who hope to find some justice and peace through reparations or the restoration of their land by the government. These students assist the victims with the formal measures necessary to be registered as victims, and with the arduous legal process of receiving reparations.
Other students at the UdeA are currently working on a case against the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam, a project that has caused the displacement of thousands of campesino families, as the government has forcibly removed them from their land and their lives. Strikingly, students throughout the university angered by this situation and in solidarity with the farmers, have called for one of the university buildings to be offered to the displaced people. Currently, over 400 people reside in an old gymnasium on the university campus, which presents not only a dependable place to live, but also has also taken on a form of nonviolent protest. It is truly moving to see this level of activism and solidarity being carried out by students, and one cannot help but to be inspired by the energy of political innovation and revolution that resonates throughout the campus.
In all of the Universities, the students I have met involved in human rights are incredibly invested and passionate about the work they do, as they fight to bring change and improvement to the lives of those living in their communities and their country. Often, their driving force is their local realities, the severe injustices that they, their families, their friends, their community members confront each day, and the degree of their diligence and dedication is truly impressive. Developing a comprehensive foundation in human rights law will be valuable for these students, who already show great potential as advocates for peace and equity. The existing international human rights institutions, treaties and discourse would greatly empower these prospective attorneys, introducing them to an extensively coded system of international standards and equipping them with powerful tools to demand that the Colombian state uphold those standards.
Not surprisingly, my conversations with these students have also led me to reflect much on my own involvement and future aspirations in human rights, and have greatly inspired me in many ways. It has been invaluable for me on a personal level to observe how human rights work is carried out on a local level in areas affected by past and current conflicts of varying degrees, struggling to find reconciliation, justice, and ultimately, peace. I look forward to the new dimension and perspective that this reflection will bring to my studies and work in the human rights field. I send my most sincere gratitude to my co-workers at the University of Minnesota Human Rights Program, the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, and to all the donors who have made this incredible fellowship possible. It has proved an invaluable experience, one that will surely guide me in my future human rights efforts and that I will treasure throughout my life.
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Monday, September 16, 2013

University of Minnesota Hosts Colombian Delegation for Human Rights Exchange

Dean's Reception11 (9.10.2013).JPGLast week the Human Rights Program (HRP) and Human Rights Center (HRC) hosted eight professors, law students, and professionals from the Antioquia region of Colombia for a week-long exchange in human rights education and advocacy. The exchange was an important component of the UMN-Antioquia Human Rights Partnership, which aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.

Members of the visiting delegation are affiliated with four Antioquia universities, including the Universidad de Medellín, Universidad de Antioquia, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana and Universidad Católica de Oriente. They have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals, displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country.
The HRP and HRC constructed a full and rich schedule for the visiting delegation consisting of meetings with key faculty and experts; events and trainings on human rights themes and advocacy strategies; conversations with faculty about human rights pedagogy; and field trips to Twin Cities NGO's The Advocates for Human Rights and The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT).
The week of events kicked off with a well-attended welcome reception hosted by Barbara Frey, Director of the HRP, and David Weissbrodt, Director of the HRC, with remarks by Dean Duvall (College of Liberal Arts) and Dean Wippman (Law School). Other highlights included a series of meetings with UMN and Antioquia faculty and clinical students to set the framework for joint clinical work on Colombia human rights issues, and meetings with faculty and experts on relevant themes including transitional justice the rights of women and children. To this end, the visiting delegation met with human rights leaders Janet Walsch, Deputy Director of the Women's Program of Human Rights Watch, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Dorsey & Whitney Chair in Law at the UMN Law School, and Marsha Freeman, Director of International Women's Rights Action Watch at the UMN Law School.
A two-hour conversation with Abbey Weiss, Clinical Psychologist at CVT Saint Paul Healing Center was outstanding in that it provoked deep and sometimes painful reflection while simultaneously inspiring hope and reinforcing the importance of human rights work. Abbey discussed her experience working with torture survivors, a topic that resonated with the Colombian visitors who regularly work with victims of abuse and armed conflict in their legal clinical work. She articulated two critical messages: 1) with proper care and attention, survivors have the capacity to heal from trauma; 2) people who take it upon themselves to care and advocate for survivors of trauma themselves need to prioritize self-care, particularly given the importance of their work.
By the end of the week, the impact of the exchange was already apparent. With regards to her visit to the UMN, one participant attested:
"Puedo decirles que me siento muy afortunada de hacer parte de este proyecto. Gracias por todos los aprendizajes, por el recibimiento, la calidad humana y por el trabajo que realizan por los Derechos Humanos. Estoy segura que todo lo aprendido será de gran valor para nuestro trabajo en la Universidad." (I can tell you that I feel very fortunate to be part of this project. Thank you for all of the training, for the reception, the human touch, and for the work that you are doing for human rights. I am sure that everything I learned will be of great value for our work in the University.)
By Claire Leslie

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Human Rights Program Welcomes Faculty and Students from Colombia

partnership colombia.jpgpartnership colombia.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce the arrival of visiting faculty and students from Colombia at the University of Minnesota this fall. The visitors come from several Universities in the Antioquia region of Colombia in order to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice and advocacy in the U.S.

On Monday, September 9th, the Human Rights Program and the Human Rights Center welcome six professors, one professional and two students from Colombia through the U of M - Antioquia Human Rights Partnership. Visiting partners have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country. The partnership aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.
On Tuesday, September 10th, the deans of the U's College of Liberal Arts and Law School, together with the co-directors of the Partnership, Professors Barbara Frey and David Weissbrodt, will welcome visiting faculty, staff and students in Mondale Hall's Auerbach Commons (229 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis). Following the welcome reception, each visitor will spend between 1 and 6 weeks engaging with U of M faculty and clinical teams and local human rights advocates to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice, and advocacy in the U.S.

The Human Rights Program Welcomes Faculty and Students from Colombia

partnership colombia.jpgThe Human Rights Program is thrilled to announce the arrival of visiting faculty and students from Colombia at the University of Minnesota this fall. The visitors come from several Universities in the Antioquia region of Colombia in order to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice and advocacy in the U.S.

On Monday, September 9th, the Human Rights Program and the Human Rights Center welcome six professors, one professional and two students from Colombia through the U of M - Antioquia Human Rights Partnership. Visiting partners have backgrounds in law, public policy and political science and work on behalf of vulnerable women and children, workers, LGBT individuals displaced individuals and victims of armed conflict, and communities affected by environmental degradation in their home country. The partnership aims to promote and protect human rights in Colombia by enhancing human rights legal education.
On Tuesday, September 10th, the deans of the U's College of Liberal Arts and Law School, together with the co-directors of the Partnership, Professors Barbara Frey and David Weissbrodt, will welcome visiting faculty, staff and students in Mondale Hall's Auerbach Commons (229 19th Ave. S., Minneapolis). Following the welcome reception, each visitor will spend between 1 and 6 weeks engaging with U of M faculty and clinical teams and local human rights advocates to gain a broader understanding of human rights education, clinical practice, and advocacy in the U.S.
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