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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