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Monday, June 17, 2013

Hollie Nyseth Brehm Discusses Research on Genocide

Tuzla.jpgHollie Nyseth Brehm, a current graduate human rights minor and PhD candidate in Sociology, recently returned from Bosnia, where she carried out research for her dissertation that investigates the causes and processes of genocide and the spread of violence. The project more specifically focuses on regional and temporal variation in violence, examining why some areas of Rwanda, Bosnia, and Sudan experienced a higher degree of violence during genocide and why some time periods were more violent than others.

Brehm has also traveled to Rwanda and plans to travel to Sudan to conduct research for this project, in an effort to shine more light on the topic of genocide from a new perspective. A few days ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with Brehm about her work and experiences abroad, and about her aspirations for her dissertation. Brehm told me that a human rights class in the graduate minor ignited her interest in studying genocide, and her passion for understanding and battling this dark atrocity has since grown deeper through her research on the subject. She explained that although much has been written on the topic of genocide, empirical research in the sociological field is noticeably lacking. As genocide is profoundly a societal event, she feels that a sociological perspective is critical in fully understanding such a horrifying and complex crime.
Before traveling, Brehm carried out extensive empirical research, where she used quantitative statistical models to analyze the Rwandan, Bosnian, and Sudanese genocides. Almost everything Brehm had read on the genocides had been a second-hand source, filtered through the eyes of scholar and necessarily simplified to fit into a paper or a book. While this is important, Brehm felt it would be beneficial to travel to the countries in which these genocides took place, so she could hear first-hand accounts of the violence from many different perspectives, adding a deeply human element to the books she had so thoroughly studied and exposing the true complexity of each of these conflicts.
Brehm wished to travel to many different sites in each of her three countries of study, varying in the degree of violence they were exposed to. Prior to her departure for both Rwanda and Bosnia, Brehm did extensive networking, connecting with experts, scholars, NGO directors, and individuals who personally experienced the genocides, and setting up interviews with many of them. She principally conducted semi-structured interviews, using a flexible, basic guide of questions and varying them as desired depending on the particular individual or context. Her interviewees mainly involved two types of actors: experts, and those influenced personally by the genocide. Experts included such individuals as scholars studying genocide, people working at local NGOs, government workers, and people who worked in the courts during the genocides. Individuals who were personally influenced by the genocide included anyone who was there during the genocide and was willing to talk, and many times the individuals Brehm spoke with fit within both of these two categories.
Brehm was excited to find that the vast majority of interviewees were enthusiastic about speaking with her and readily shared valuable information and personal testimonies. Knowing that Brehm hoped to publish a book addressed to a highly influential American audience, many individuals saw Brehm as a way to make their voice heard, and wanted to assist in shaping how Brehm portrayed the events they experienced during genocide.
While conducting interviews, Brehm wished to give back to those who offered her their time and invaluable information and stories. In Rwanda, Brehm worked as an intern to provide assistance in writing grants and conceptualizing research projects for the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide. Brehm also often brought small gifts as signs of gratitude and peace during personal interviews, and would ask if there was anything more she could do for them. At times, individuals participating in the interviews would request Brehm to visit sentimental places with them, such as a grave, or a plundered home. Others would ask to look through old photos or to show her sentimental relics. Brehm hoped that in these moments, she was able to help these individuals in some small way to process past tragedy. It strengthened and deepened the bond Brehm felt with the people of Bosnia and Rwanda, allowing her to connect with them on an intimate level and adding much dimension to her work.
Genocide, a topic charged with violence, hatred and despair, can often trigger feelings of helplessness and pessimism. However, Brehm finds hope in her studies that motivates her to continue her research on such a dismal subject. As a sociologist, Brehm views genocide and many other crimes against humanity as caused by deeply social forces. If defined as societal, Brehm asserts, these practices can be changed, and do not stem from an innate and inevitable evil within individuals or human nature. The importance of Brehm's work as a sociologist studying genocide is thus paramount; her study of this crime will develop society's understanding of genocide in a way that gives us the agency to eliminate it. The Human Rights Program looks forward to reading Brehm's dissertation, recognizing it as an important contribution to scholarly study on the topic of genocide and the spread of violence.
Brehm's dissertation funders include the following:
• National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program
• National Science Foundation Dissertation Improvement Award
• Doctoral Dissertation Fellowship, University of Minnesota
• University of Minnesota Dunn Peace Research Scholarship
• Midwest Sociological Society Dissertation Grant
• University of Minnesota Sociology Department Bright Award
• Vincent L. Hawkinson Foundation Scholarship
Written by Anna Meteyer.
Photo - memorial to victims of all wars, located in Tuzla, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Human Rights Scribe Announces Details of Summer Project

temple.jpgLalinne Bell, the new Scribe for Human Rights, will focus her summer project on the Cambodian genocide and its impact on survivors. Bell, herself a survivor of the genocide, and her family have lived in the United States for 30 years as refugees. As scribe, she plans to research and write about her family's experience of genocide and assimilation. Bell will conduct interviews with her family members and other survivors, and her personal connection with her interviewees will give her writing a richly intimate quality as she explores the disconnectedness, distrust, and fear innate in Cambodian culture following the genocide.

Bell will expose through first-hand accounts how Cambodian families are still broken and need healing. Through her investigation, Bell hopes to highlight how genocide is not gone; the effects of its aftermath cut deep and echo across the world, and Bell asserts that not enough is being done to decisively end this practice.
The project will also focus on the process of assimilation and its effects. Bell came to the United States as a refugee when she was a small child, and a significant part of her life has thus been shaped by this process and the tensions it brings. She recalls feeling as though through assimilation, she had to leave much of herself behind, as prospering in the U.S. required her to be American and pursue the typical American definition of success. The American Dream is a driving force of assimilation, and Bell explores how this influenced her aspirations as a child and young adult.
Growing up in the projects, Bell experienced extreme poverty throughout her youth, but was determined to succeed and worked tirelessly to excel in school. After obtaining her Bachelor's degree, Bell continued to pursue the American Dream, and excitedly began work with a non-profit, reaching a level of financial security she had never known. However, after a dozen years of experience in the non-profit industry, Bell lost her passion for this work, becoming bored and apathetic. She had lost her passion for living in her search for the traditional and the stable, for the financial comfort of the American Dream. Bell refused to allow lethargy to overcome her, and when she was accepted into the University of Minnesota MFA program, she quit her job and made the difficult decision to sacrifice a reliable income for an artistic life.
Bell has always had a deep love for writing, as she believes it gives her a voice and helps her understand herself better. She views writing as empowering on both personal and societal levels, as she says, "writing gives people a voice, educates society, and ignites compassion. It allows people to express themselves honestly, and to reach out to others." To Bell, writing is a constructive tool of solidarity and builds individuals' capacity for bringing change.
In pursuing her degree in creative non-fiction writing, Bell has regained her passion for living and is pursuing her own dream, very different from the typical American Dream. Although the assimilation process forced Bell to leave much of herself behind, she hopes to rediscover this part of her through her writing and through the interviews she will conduct with her family, where she will explore both the beauty and the tragedy of her Cambodian past.
Written by Anna Meteyer.

Two Graduate Human Rights Minors Benefit From Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowships

idf.jpgThe Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship (IDF) "awards outstanding Graduate School students with interdisciplinary dissertation topics who would benefit from interaction with faculty at one of the University's interdisciplinary research centers or institutes." Last academic year, two graduate students, Shannon Golden and Corbin Treacy, partnered with the Human Rights Program as part of this fellowship.

Golden explained that the fellowship provides fellows with the "chance to increase their network beyond their home discipline, to improve their research," noting that the IDF with the Human Rights Program gave her "an opportunity to cultivate relationships with scholars interested in human rights issues from a wide range of disciplinary backgrounds." Together, Golden and Treacy led a human rights networking and coffee hour, which brought together undergraduate students, graduate human rights minors, and faculty interested in human rights.
Over the past year, Golden worked with Alejandro Baer, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, to organize a bi-weekly interdisciplinary workshop where graduate students and faculty who study genocide or mass violence were able to present and discuss their work. This workshop promoted engaging discussions, challenged us all to think beyond our disciplinary approaches, and facilitated the formation of interdisciplinary networks across the University. Both Treacy and Golden participated in the interdisciplinary workshop, presenting on their topics related to their dissertations, which focus on how literary imaginary responds to historical violence in Algeria and the impact of the International Criminal Court in Uganda, respectively.
In addition to her work on campus, Golden attended several conferences with the support of the fellowship, including the annual meetings of the Law & Society Association in June and the Arizona Methods Workshop in January. This fall, Golden will begin a one-year post-doc with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame. The IDF funding also gave Treacy the opportunity to participate in a wide range of academic activities, including conferences in Ireland, "Imaging Contemporary Algerias," and Madison, Wisconsin, "After the Violence." In addition, Treacy became an outside reviewer for the Journal of North African Studies and published two of his own articles in other peer-reviewed journals.
The Interdisciplinary Doctoral Fellowship is a great resource for human rights minors looking to challenge themselves to think creatively in an interdisciplinary way about human rights issues and to expand their connections both within and outside of the University of Minnesota community. Applications for the 2013-2014 fellowships are due November 15, 2013.
Written by Whitney Taylor.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Violence against women rises in El Salvador

Endemic levels of sexual abuse and gender based violence have made El Salvador one of the most dangerous countries in the world for girls and women, amid entrenched "machismo" attitudes and a criminal justice system that too often fails victims. Click here to continue reading Al Jazeera's coverage of violence against women.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Violence Against Women: A Social Disease with an Identifiable Cause

As the news from Cleveland, Ohio and the sexual assaults in the military continue to horrify us, I have the nagging sense that we are profoundly and dangerously naive to be shocked at the brutality that went on in the Seymour Avenue home in Cleveland and on our nation's military bases. Continue reading this article by Cheryl Thomas, director of The Advocates for Human Rights' Women's Human Rights Program.

Trafficked children are victims, not criminals

No community in the state is immune from sex trafficking. Minnesota cities have been places of origin, transit and destination for sex-trafficking operations even before federal and state law defined the crime. Continue reading this op-ed by Robin Phillips, Executive Director of the Advocates for Human Rights, in the Duluth News Tribune.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Peru hands Shining Path leader life sentence

A Peruvian court has sentenced one of the last historic leaders of the Shining Path Maoist group to life in prison on terrorism, drug trafficking and money laundering charges. Continue reading on Al Jazeera.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Cambodia passes bill criminalizing genocide denial

Cambodia's National Assembly approved a bill on Friday making it a crime to deny that atrocities were committed by the country's genocidal 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, a law that critics allege will be used as a weapon against the political opposition. Click here to continue reading this article on the Seattle Times website.

Monday, June 3, 2013

No simple solutions regarding Guantanamo Bay

Obama and Congress must work together to close the facility argue the Star Tribune Editorial Board. Click here to read the full editorial.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Brazil's "lost report" into genocide surfaces after 40 years

A "lost" report into genocide, torture, rape and enslavement of indigenous tribes during Brazil's military dictatorship has been rediscovered, raising fresh questions about whether the government has made amends and punished those responsible. Click here to continue reading about this newly recovered report at the Guardian.