Human Rights Initiative
2017-2018 Human Rights Initiative Report (PDF)
The Human Rights Initiative is a joint effort of the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs to support interdisciplinary engaged research and teaching in the field of human rights with a goal of strengthening practice and the profession overall. The initiative arises out of years of collaborative and engaged research by faculty who work and teach on topics related to human rights.
The Human Rights Initiative receives recurring funds from the Provost's office to support grants of up to $50,000 for faculty-led interdisciplinary human rights research. Led by a group of senior faculty, the Human Rights Initiative Research Fund provides direct research funding to University of Minnesota faculty to carry out human rights projects.
Current Human Rights Initiative Projects
COVID-19 racial & ethnic disparities: Analyzing the role of social contacts in MN and US
Audrey Dorélien (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)
All racial-ethnic groups have the right to health during the pandemic, but we are currently falling far short of providing for that right. COVID-19 has devastated Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities in the United States. These disparities are driven by unequal infection risk. Since COVID-19 is primarily transmitted through close person-to-person contact, it is important to study how and why inter-personal contacts vary by race and ethnicity.
Using data funded by and from an ongoing collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health, the MN Social Contact Study, I will study whether there are meaningful racial and ethnic differences in the number and types of interpersonal contacts. I will then explore whether the differences are driven by variation in household, transportation, community, or workplace contacts. Social contact age-mixing patterns are an important input into COVID-19 transmission models, however, disease modelers are working with data that erases BIPOC individuals, and cannot possibly capture racial and ethnic variations in contact patterns. Therefore I hope to produce matrices that summarize age-mixing patterns by race and ethnicity, which would allow infectious disease modelers to explicitly take into account the different patterns in BIPOC and white communities in their models and allow for more just and equitable public health policies.
Experiences and Family Impact of US Indian Boarding Schools Adoption/Foster Care in Native Communities
Carolyn Liebler (Sociology)
“Kill the Indian. Save the Man.” was the informal policy and mantra that inspired perpetrators of cultural genocide—including the US federal government, churches, and social workers—for over a century. This project examines the intertwined impacts and experiences of Native survivors (and their descendants) of mandatory boarding schools and Native people who were separated from their families and communities through adoption and foster care. These destructive periods of forced child removal mirror one another in terms of deep community impact, intergenerational trauma, and need for culturally-centered healing. This community-based participatory research examines how experiences of child removal have impacted behavioral and mental health in individuals and their descendants and aims to learn how individuals are healing. A team of partners from two Native-led community organizations (National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and First Nations Repatriation Institute) and two University of Minnesota departments have developed a trauma-informed, decolonized anonymous survey that is currently in the field. Qualitative and quantitative analysis and the resulting reports will highlight the ongoing struggle for human rights and healing and cultivate equity and justice for Native communities.
The Political Sources of RIghts Consciousness and Rights Claiming: Analyzing Access to Justice in a Changing Chile
Lisa Hilbink (Political Science)
Access to justice is a fundamental right in and of itself and is crucial to the protection of all other rights. Yet even in places where justice institutions function well and are reasonably well distributed geographically, many people cannot or do not claim rights or seek legal redress when faced with harms and abuses because they lack the knowledge and capacities to access the justice system.
Some scholarship has found that the willingness and ability of individuals to claim rights are, in part, structurally determined, such that those with higher socioeconomic status, education, and/or racial and gender privilege will know what their legal rights are and how to navigate the justice system, while marginalized people will lack these capabilities. While structural factors certainly matter, our previous focus group research in Chile and Colombia suggested that the political context shapes people’s identity and capacity as legal agents, especially among those in marginalized populations. In this project, we will conduct a national-level survey of medium-low and low-income people in Chile to test the findings generated by our focus groups and to explore the effects of specific political factors, at the level of the individual or at the societal level, that promote or inhibit people’s decisions to engage justice institutions and claim rights. Our findings will inform efforts at legal empowerment to advance the human rights of such populations in Chile and beyond.
Past Human Rights Initiative Projects
Jennifer Green (Law) and Janet Walsh (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)
This project will study and develop advocacy strategies with the United Nations human rights system to defend and advance the human rights of people who suffer violence, discrimination and economic, social and cultural rights violations on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The project builds on and complements other University work, including initiatives by the Law School's Human Rights Center (a partner in this project) and the Nursing and Medical Schools' groundbreaking study on health needs and experiences of LGBTQI+ urban refugees in Kenya. The first partnership will document and present findings to key UN monitoring bodies about LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya who face continuing rights violations after fleeing violence, discrimination and other rights violations in their home countries. The project’s second focus will be on the role and responsibilities of global business in tackling LGBTQI+ discrimination and examine how the UN Standards of Conduct for Business released in 2017 have been and should be taken up in the Americas. We will work with partners in the region to assess the role of the private sector and the impact and potential of the UN standards in advancing LGBTQI+ rights.
Our Work in Human Rights: Community Outcomes - Human Rights Program, January 20, 2021
Deborah Levison (Public Affairs) and Frances Vavrus (Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development)
Children have the right to be heard on matters that concern them, yet their views are marginalized in research and policy. To address this, Professors Levison and Vavrus, along with graduate student collaborator Anna Bolgrien, are developing a human rights-based survey methodology specifically for use with children ages 12-17. In this second year of piloting, they will build on results from Tanzania and will test the methodology in Brazil and Nepal. This new research tool will allow researchers to include the voices of children in large-scale household surveys, which will in turn have a significant effect on human rights policy and programming.
Using cartoon videos to survey children and adolescents in the global south: A Tanzanian example - Statistical Journal of the IAOS, December 25, 2020
VV Ganeshananthan (English)
This project aims to depict the parts of Sri Lankan society that have gone the least recognized over the course of its long conflict: civilian political dissidents and resisters of extremist violence. Through fiction, essays, and poetry, Professor Ganeshananthan documents the history of the shift to a more polarized society via efforts of the Sri Lankan state and Tamil militants and the resistance to such efforts.
Using storytelling to capture nuances of the Sri Lankan civil war - Human Rights Program, August 2, 2018
Love Marriage: A Novel - Random House Trade Paperbacks
Sonja Kuftinec (Theater Arts and Dance) and Avigail Manneberg (Art)
This project uses artistic representation to engage with issues of forced migration and displacement. It explores how visual and theatrical storytelling can redress historical amnesia by seeking to foster dialogue between two groups who have a long and contentious history, Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Jewish Israelis. Professors Kuftinec and Manneberg will work with eight local artists to develop an interdisciplinary body of work culminating in an exhibition and public art installation.
Holot Legislative Theatre: Performing Refugees in Israel - The Drama Review, 63(2), 166-172. - June 1, 2019
Encountering Palestinian Displacement & Diaspora through “A Contested Home” - Theatre and Dance, November 21, 2018
HRI Research Syposium Presenter Spotlight: Sonja Kuftinec and Avigail Manneberg - Human Rights Program, October 18, 2018
Cosette D. Creamer (Political Science)
This project asks if self-reporting by governments on their human rights record actually contributes to improved human rights conditions. This research will provide important guidance to those involved in reform efforts of the human rights treaty bodies, thereby positioning the University of Minnesota as a global human rights leader and a key participant in discussions over United Nations reform.
The Proof is in the Process: Self-Reporting under International Human Rights Treaties - American Journal of International Law, October 14, 2020
Do Self-Reporting Regimes Matter? Evidence from the Convention against Torture. - International Studies Quarterly, March 4, 2019
The Dynamic Impact of Periodic Review on Women’s Rights - Law and Contemporary Problems, 2018
Researching Their Future: What Professor Creamer's RAs Learned Through Their HRI Work - Human Rights Program, March 26, 2018
Does Self-Reporting in Human Rights Work? - Human Rights Program, March 6, 2018
This project examines how citizens develop opinions of judicial institutions, how these perceptions are affected by inequalities, and how such perceptions impact how willing citizens are to claim their rights within the judicial system. This initial research with focus groups in Chile and Colombia—two countries with robust judicial institutions and high degrees of inequality—will give researchers a clearer understanding of how citizens’ opinions and perceptions impact the ways in which justice is sought in cases of individual rights violations. These findings will allow for informed discussion with foundations, policymakers, and activists interested in human rights outcomes and an examination of direct implications for policy.
Judges, Citizens, and a Democratic Rule of Law: Building Institutional Trustworthiness to Recover Public Trust - Latin American Legal Studies 2019
Engaging justice amidst inequality in Latin America - Open Global Rights by Lisa Hilbink, Janice Gallagher, Juliana Restrepo Sanin & Valentina Salas, April 4, 2019
Understanding Justice in Chile and Colombia: Valentina Salas's HRI Grant Work - Human Rights Program, February 9, 2018
Equal Rights & Unequal Remedies -CLAgency, January 5, 2018
This project explores the gaps in accessing justice in Colombia in cases involving partner violence. Although Colombia has model legislation addressing violence against women, the goals of the legislation remain largely unmet. Given that post-conflict peace processes are often marked by a surge in partner violence, the time is critical for Colombia to understand this discrepancy more fully, as the country is emerging from more than 50 years of internal conflict. Working in collaboration with officials and broader civil society in Colombia, University researchers will contribute research data critical to positively impacting the fundamental human rights of women in Colombia.
Our Work in Human Rights: Policy Outcomes - Human Rights Program, February 10, 2021
Humphrey School Researchers' Advocacy Against Gender Violence in Colombia Shows Results - Humphrey School of Public Affairs, May 27, 2020
Effecting Tangible Change at the United Nations - Human Rights Program, April 25, 2019
Working Across Disciplinary Fields - Human Rights Program, June 14, 2018
A Rift Between Law and Reality on Intimate Partner Violence in Colombia - Human Rights Program, June 14, 2018
Effects of a Country in Conflict: Intimate Partner Violence in Colombia - A CIVIOS Podcast
General Background on Colombian Laws on Violence against Women, Orders of Protection, and Shelters - United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
This project seeks to provide better understanding of the plight of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in El Salvador. Researchers are conducting a series of interviews with IDPs, NGO representatives, and government officials to determine the scope and humanitarian needs of dislocated persons in the country, some of whom are forced to become IDPs after having been deported from the United States. This research will provide organizations and policymakers in El Salvador and the United States with important information to influence more effective solutions for these individuals in need.
Unanimous Truths: RA Heider Tun Tun and the IDP Situation in El Salvador - Human Rights Program, April 17, 2018
Jessica Stanton (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)
In this project, Professor Jessica Stanton examines the impact that changes in the global anti-terrorism legal regime have had on human rights worldwide. Shortly after September 11th, the UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution urging countries to strengthen their anti-terrorism laws, to enhance the ability of domestic courts to prosecute those who finance or support terrorism. However, efforts to promote criminal prosecutions of suspected terrorists in domestic courts have had unintended consequences for human rights. This globalized legal regime has given governments new legal tools to undermine domestic political opposition – expanded power that in many countries has undermined government respect for civil liberties and human rights. This project focuses in particular on non-Western countries, seeking to understand the impact of anti-terrorism law in countries often overlooked by existing research.
The Global Diffusion of Anti-Terrorism Law - October 25, 2018
Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology) and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Law)
This project will look at struggles over denial of genocide and the role of law in regulating, remembering, and preventing genocide. Based on the understanding that genocide denial causes pain for survivors and enhances the risk of future occurrences, this project will analyze a Massachusetts court case which related to teaching guidelines concerning the Armenian genocide. Professors Savelsberg and Ní Aoláin seek to explain the legal case and the consequences this case has for teaching the history of the Armenian genocide. This project will add to a series of case studies on particularly significant human rights trials and will become an essential part of a book addressing struggles over the acknowledgement of the Armenian genocide.
Words Matter: How Rhetoric in Griswold v. Driscoll Shapes Our Understanding of Genocide and the First Amendment - Human Rights Program, April 8, 2019
Barbara Frey (Institute for Global Studies)
This project will help explain how the press can advance a culture of accountability for human rights violations in Mexico. Previous research has shown that news reporting plays a crucial role in democratic societies in monitoring state practices, educating citizens, and disseminating information about human rights violations. (McLeod and McDonald 1985; Scheufele, Shanahan, and Kim 2002). Increased levels of newspaper readership correlate to positive change in a state’s human rights record (Clark 2012). Our work will produce academic, policy and training outputs that will encourage better reporting practices to promote human rights. To assess the relationship between reporting and accountability, the project is constructing a database of 5,000 press articles covering 900 cases in six Mexican states to analyze the extent and quality of reporting on disappearances in the past decade. We will (1) train students on database design, coding, and analysis; (2) complete and analyze our data set; (3) interview journalists and other key informants about the press’s work in covering disappearances and accountability; (4) hold roundtable sessions with journalists and NGOs to inform our methodology and findings; and (5) launch our database publicly for use by scholars and policymakers.
Diálogo: La desaparición de personas en perspectiva territorial. El desafío de interpretar y encontrar patrones - University of Guadalajara, September 18, 2020
Mexico’s Disappeared: Families seek truth, justice and memory in Michoacan, Lacuna - University of Warwick, August 27, 2020
Preserving Evidence of Disappearances - MacArthur Foundation, August 27, 2020
Mexico’s cautionary tale against impunity - University of Minnesota, July 31, 2020
Our Work in Human Rights: Our Partnerships - Human Rights Program, February 1, 2021
MHR Student Monitors Forced Disappearances in Mexico - Human Rights Program, November 9, 2020
Building a Human Rights Database: A View from the Ground - Human Rights Program, October 7, 2020
Mexico’s Cautionary Tale Against Impunity - Human Rights Program, June 22, 2020
Howard Lavine (Political Science)
Professors Lavine and Ron are partnering with the leading human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT), to develop and conduct a nationally representative survey that will probe U.S. public opinion on human rights principles, policies and organizations. The survey will oversample conservative voters and feature a number of framing experiments to probe the sort of appeals, and source cues, that might sway this population. This data will feed directly into the advocacy and research of both HRW and CVT, and will help both organizations more vigorously defend human rights in this uncertain time.
How Americans Understand Human Rights in a Populist Moment - Human Rights Program, March 27, 2019
Jack DeWaard (Sociology) and Linus Chan (Law)
This project addresses the need for greater transparency and participant engagement in U.S. immigration court in order to hold government agencies accountable for actual or potential human rights violations. Following the 2016 presidential election, the UMN Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans launched the Human Rights Defender Project, which enlists volunteer observers to attend immigration court hearings and report on issues of concern. In the swirl of activity after the 2016 presidential election, the capacity of the Binger Center was stretched thin, and two critical needs emerged that serve as the main objectives for this project. The first objective is to validate the data recorded by volunteer immigration court observers against other external sources. A key challenge here is that observers were not provided coding instructions to guide them in recording their observations. Accordingly, this project will interview volunteer immigration court observers and use anchoring vignettes to establish baselines for each observer. Given that most data on immigration court are quantitative, the second objective of this project is to transcribe and analyze the qualitative data collected by volunteer immigration court observers to identify key themes and relationships that cannot be glimpsed in quantitative data.
Elizabeth Heger Boyle (Sociology)
Researchers at the University of Minnesota and the Center for Victims of Torture are collaborating to improve early warning systems (EWS). EWS are statistical models designed to identify factors that can contribute to conflict, providing a robust understanding of causes to help develop mitigation and preparedness responses. As EWS evolved, individuals who have actually experienced conflict have become more involved in developing the statistical models, broadening them, for example, to recognize the importance of class- and gender-based inequities. Nevertheless, many EWS continue to rely largely on coarse measures to predict violence. Many of the statistical models continue to privilege traditional geopolitical measures over gender or health indicators, although recent research shows the latter can be important precursors of conflict. This project will construct innovative new EWS measures, test them quantitatively, and consider holistic feedback from focus group discussions of violence survivors on how, why, and when indicators may predict atrocities. The project findings will expand effective EWS, be shared with humanitarian organizations, and be published in a variety of venues.
Jack DeWaard (Sociology) and Linus Chan (Law)
Our 2019 HRI-funded project, “Promoting transparency and engagement in U.S. immigration court by ensuring the quality and utility of data collected by volunteer observers,” resulted in a three-year $1,589,212 grant proposal submitted to the National Science Foundation that is currently pending. If funded, this will expand our research on the Bloomington, MN, immigration court to immigration courts in Arlington, VA, Los Angeles, CA, and Chicago, IL, resulting in the largest immigration court observation project ever conducted in the United States. To prepare for the possibility of this significant expansion and to ensure a smooth transition, the current HRI-funded project will spend the next several months developing and coordinating: 1) a comprehensive set of onboarding, training, and debriefing materials for third-party immigration court observers, including detailed coding instructions to guide how observations are made and recorded in the courtroom; 2) a uniform set of questions and response categories that will be used to collect information about third-party observers and their perceptions of procedural fairness and other procedures and outcomes in immigration court; and 3) systems for data entry, processing, storage, and sharing.
Joachim J. Savelsberg (Sociology)
This project interrogates the effects of gendered power relations on the acknowledgement or denial of genocide and mass violence for the case of Serbia. By focusing on the context of a post-conflict “perpetrator” country, it engages with the role of women in establishing a “cultural trauma of perpetrators.” Men typically, but not exclusively, commit these atrocities. Yet, women are uniquely affected by and participate in managing the after-effects of such violence. They thus partake in the collective remembering (or forgetting) of that violence. Focusing on Serbian women who are part of an organization dedicated to memory issues and a control group of women who are not organized and have to process (or avoid) the past in everyday interactions. The project will involve ethnographic observation, interviews and document analysis to be conducted in Serbia. This study will contribute to academic literatures around memory studies, denialism, gender, peace, security, and cultural trauma of perpetrators. It will also inform human rights policymaking and practitioner work around (gendered) memory activism.