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PhD Candidate Paula Cueller Recognized for Research on Genocide in Central America

July 20, 2016

Paula Cuellar, PhD candidate in history and human rights minor, has recently been awarded three prestigious awards for her human rights scholarship: the Hawkinson Foundation Scholarship, the Shoah Foundation at the University of Southern California, and the American Association of University Women International.

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

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

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

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

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

Her current research is the culmination of many years of schooling. Paula received an LLB Degree from the Central American University José Simeón Cañas in San Salvador (El Salvador), a master's in human rights and education for peace from the University of El Salvador, and a master's in human rights and democratization processes from the University of Chile. She also holds an LLM degree in international human rights law from Notre Dame.