Human Rights Program 20th Anniversary Symposium

Mobilizing Knowledge to Advance Human Rights
Human Rights Program 20th Anniversary Symposium: Mobilizing Knowledge to Advance Human Rights November 18-19, 2021
Event Date & Time
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Event Location
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Cowles Auditorium

301 19th Ave S
Minneapolis, MN 55455

The Human Rights Program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. To mark the occasion, we are hosting the Human Rights Program 20th Anniversary Symposium: Mobilizing Knowledge to Advance Human Rights on November 18 - 19, 2021, in Cowles Auditorium at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs on the University Twin Cities campus.

The two-day event features a keynote address on the role of universities in advancing human rights by an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN OHCHR) representative, a showcase of UMN faculty-led engaged scholarship, a film screening of Until We Find Them, conversations with Mexico-based journalists and researchers working to address disappearances in Latin America, presentations by a student team researching human rights defenders, and the launch of Program Director Barbara Frey's newest book, Disappearances in the Post-Transition Era in Latin America.

Join us in celebration as we highlight the many affiliated faculty, students, and practitioners engaging in human rights research, teaching, and engagement—the three pillars of the program’s work. 

Symposium Schedule for Friday, November 19, 2021

Human Rights Defenders 

First Person: Defending Human Rights in Armenia

8:00 - 9:00 AM

Kicking off the morning’s schedule of speakers on the challenges facing Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) is Edmon Marukyan, a human rights and anti-corruption advocate from Armenia. Marukyan, a former Humphrey Fellow, is now a parliamentarian in Armenia and Chairman of the “Council of Bright Armenia,” an anti-corruption opposition party.  His visit will be a homecoming to the Human Rights Program, where he gave the inaugural Scallen “Principled Voices” lecture in 2017.

  • Edmon Marukyan, chairman of the Center for Strategic Litigation, member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Armenia (Parliament)

  • Rochelle Hammer (moderator), coordinator of the Human Rights Program, UMN

Human Rights Defenders Research: Black Lives Matter

9:00 - 9:30 AM

How do human rights activists deal with threats to personal security and wellbeing as they carry out their work? That was the question motivating a study by human rights students on the security and wellbeing of Human Rights Defenders in the movement for Black liberation in the United States. Master of Human Rights students, Ta’Mara Hill and Nonkululeko Shongwe conducted a series of interviews in 2020-21 with advocates and allies of Black Lives Matter in various U.S. locations. The findings from these interviews supported a study of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on systemic racial discrimination after the murder of George Floyd. In this panel, the researchers will share their findings and insights from the research.

  • Nonkululeko Shongwe (MHR ‘21), program manager, Nexus Community Partners

  • Ta’Mara Hill (MHR ‘21), policy advocate, Center for Victims of Torture

  • Janet Walsh (moderator), director of the Humphrey International Fellows Program, UMN

Protection Networks for Human Rights Defenders

9:30 - 10:30 AM

Around the world, civic space is shrinking, contributing to risks and persecution faced by Human Rights Defenders, including crisis-induced stress, threats and attacks to their physical security, economic instability, invasion of privacy, and social stigma. A team of Master of Human Rights students carried out a year-long study on the effectiveness of Protection Networks as a strategy for ensuring guarantees of the rights and freedoms of these HRDs. The student panel will explain the work of Protection Networks globally and discuss the findings and recommendations of their report, which is being used as a resource with the UN's human rights field officers.

Scholars at Risk

10:45 - 11:45 AM

Chaotic and dangerous conditions face civil society in Afghanistan in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal and the Taliban takeover.  Among those at risk are scholars, students and human and women’s rights practitioners.  What are the conditions facing the country and what will happen to educational institutions under Taliban control?  How have networks mobilized to reach the most threatened actors?  In this type of volatile situation, what is the role of Scholars at Risk, a network that aims to provide safe spaces for threatened international scholars.

Keynote Address

"The Role of Academia in Advancing Human Rights"

12:30 - 1:30 PM

  • Todd Howland, chief of the development, economic and social rights branch, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Amanda Lyons (moderator), executive director of the Human Rights Center, UMN

Disappearances in Latin America

Observatory on Disappearances & Impunity in Mexico

1:45 - 2:45 PM 

The crisis of disappearances in Mexico -- more than 90,000 since 2006 -- unfolded in the context of criminal violence, driven by the activities of organized crime and the involvement, support, or acquiescence of state actors in those criminal activities.  The Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity is a collaborative research partnership working to study this phenomenon: Our partners in Mexico -- at FLACSO and UNAM -- have analyzed the files of NGOs, used context analysis and analysis of prosecutorial and judicial proceedings onsite in the country. Our Oxford partner has promoted the transnational dialogue in Latin America focusing on post-transitional disappearances. Meanwhile, the University of Minnesota team -- working from a distance -- mined online media stories as a public source of information. This panel will describe the Observatory's main findings and ongoing efforts to break this cycle of violence.

Disappearances in the Post-Transition Era in Latin America Book Launch

4:00 - 5:00 PM

Latin America is the global leader in accountability processes for human rights violations committed during past authoritarian regimes and armed conflicts. Despite its leadership in human rights, violence in the region continues at crisis proportions, even in democratic and post-transitional regimes. This new volume seeks to explain this puzzle through an exploration of  the phenomenon of disappearances in four distinct Latin American cases -- Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador and Mexico. The book features a variety of voices: the victims, activists, advocates, and public officials seeking truth and justice. University of Minnesota professor emeritus, Kathryn Sikkink, will present the book and pose questions to the three co-editors.

  • Kathryn Sikkink, Regents professor emerita, UMN and Ryan Family professor of human rights policy, Harvard Kennedy School

  • Karina Ansolabehere, researcher of the Instituto de Investigaciones Jurídicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México

  • Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program, UMN

  • Leigh Payne, professor of sociology and Latin American studies, University of Oxford

  • Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (moderator), Regents professor and Robina Chair in law, public policy, and society, UMN

Schedule for Thursday, November 18

See schedule for Day 1

Symposium Supporters

Co-sponsors: Binger Center for New Americans, Center for Global Health & Social Responsibility, Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies, Center on Gender, Women, & Public Policy, Department of History, Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Human Rights Center, Immigration History Research Center, Institute for Global Studies, Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change, Department of Political Science, Department of Sociology, Department of Spanish & Portuguese Studies.

Additional support provided through an International Title VI Grant from the US Department of Education; the Ohanessian Fund for Justice and Peace Studies of the Minneapolis Foundation; and the Stephen & Chacke Scallen Lecture in Human Rights Fund.


Contact Rochelle Hammer at or 612-626-7947 with questions.

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