Human Rights Initiative

Accepting Proposals 

The Human Rights Initiative is currently accepting proposals through November 1, 2023. Visit our funding page for full details  

Human Rights Initiative Research Fund

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  

The Dirty Side of Clean Energy: Protecting Human Rights and the Environment in Latin America

Tricia Olsen, PhD. (Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Department of Political Science)

Colombia, like many of its Latin American neighbors, is poised to play a key role in the clean energy transition. Yet, there are serious human rights and environmental issues to consider. While existing scholarship has examined the results of these activities and labeled them as resource or institutional “curses,” less is known about how the broader set of actors involved those that make up social, economic, and political networks surrounding extraction—interact and co-evolve in ways that strengthen or weaken democratic practices and policies that aim to offset the “curse” by curbing its effects or seeking to halt extraction altogether. This project focuses on two foundational tools— human rights due diligence legislation and strategic litigation around the rights of nature. This proposal, in collaboration with colleagues at Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia, pairs a more formal research component (fieldwork in Bogotá) with small-group workshops and a larger, community forum (with participants from other Latin American countries). The work seeks to build upon the outstanding reputation of the U on a broad array of human rights issues; it will engage in meaningful and collaborative research, train students at the U and abroad, and facilitate meaningful conversations with practitioners and advocates working in this crucial area.

North: Indigenous People and Climate Change exhibition

Brenda J. Child, PhD. (Department of American Studies), Christine Baeumler, MFA (Department of Art)

Indigenous artists have, individually and collectively, engaged diverse creative expressions to call more public attention to environmental problems. The project has been in contact with three Indigenous artists from Minnesota, Swedish Sápmi, and Canada. Red Lake Ojibwe painter and digital artist Jonathan Thunder depicts responses to oil pipelines and threats to wild rice in the Great Lakes; Anders Sunna addresses the politics of reindeer herding in the Arctic regions of Swedish Sápmi; Canadian Cree painter Kent Monkman documents the Standing Rock protests in portraits of Water Protectors in the US and Canada. The outcome of this research and planning will be an exhibit opening in January 2026 at the Katherine E. Nash Gallery. As a part of a new arts initiative at the University of Minnesota, the George Morrison Center for Indigenous Arts features the work of Monkman, Sunna, Thunder, and other Indigenous artists. These conversations will work to inspire relationships with the George Morrison Center for Indigenous Arts as we plan and expand on climate change-themed projects that foreground the voices and perspectives of communities from northern climates who are experiencing dramatic environmental shifts—as are the Ojibwe, Cree, and Sámi peoples.

Healthcare Under Crisis: Reproductive Justice, Community Storytelling, and Minnesota’s “Safe Haven” Status

Emily Winderman, PhD. (Department of Communication Studies)

With abortion and gender-affirming healthcare under sustained attack across the United States, Minnesota has been publicly framed as a site of refuge for these human rights. Through interdisciplinary collaboration and community-focused outcomes, this project brings critical reflexivity to public discourses that exhort Minnesota as a “safe haven” or “sanctuary.” Expanding upon the piloted Minnesota Reproductive Health Oral History Project, this project prioritizes community-based collaboration by platforming the experiences and perspectives of Minnesota healthcare providers and community members working to increase access to essential health services like abortion and gender-affirming care. This two-pronged project has both scholarly and public outcomes: first, the team will gather provider and community member experiences through oral history interviews; second, we will ensure that these experiences are available to participants and the public by producing a zine, edited anthology, and interactive website. Taken together, this project serves the human rights grounded tenets of reproductive justice as outlined by Sistersong–”the right to not have children, the right to have children, and the right to parent children in safe, sustainable communities.”


Individuals Impacted by Law Enforcement Violence: Networks for Justice

Amelia Shindelar, MPP (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the world witnessed law enforcement brutalizing protesters demanding justice across the United States. A 2020 OHCHR report, then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet identified a pattern of disproportionate use of force against people of African descent, particularly anti-police brutality against activists and differential handling of anti-racism protests and counter-protests. this projects seeks to investigate two parallel issues (1) the surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders outside of protest settings and (2) the experience of individuals and families who are seeking justice for law enforcement violence. Initial research showed that individuals impacted by law enforcement violence are under further surveillance and harassment when they raise their voices seeking justice. The targeting of these families by law enforcement works to potentially stymy justice and the transformation of policing in the US context. The proposed research and analytic strategy are necessarily reflexive, positioning researchers not as detached observers but as participants in an evolving dialogue through which experiences are constantly interpreted and reevaluated. We are developing standardized interview questions informed by the international human rights framework that centers the experience of the rights holder, and uses a trauma-informed approach.

Advancing Sustainable Digital Ecologies for Grassroots Organizations Documenting Human Rights Activism and Reconciliation Initiatives 

Ricardo A. Velasco Trujillo, PhD. (Minnesota Transform Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute for Advanced Study)

Building on the findings of 3 months of collaborative ethnographic research supported by the HRI mini grant, and on the relationships of trust and collaboration agreements secured, this project aims at understanding and supporting the documentation and archiving needs of four grassroots cultural initiatives documenting human rights activism practices and working in memory construction and creative symbolic reparation strategies in the context of Colombia’s current post-conflict transition. Working in a context of precarity and lack of institutional support, these initiatives were selected because of their potential to make visible forms of exclusion against historically marginalized communities and social actors that have suffered different forms of violence and stigmatization as a result of forced displacement and other dynamics of Colombia’s armed conflict, of their gender or political orientations, race or ethnic identities, and whom remain underrepresented in current institutional memory construction, reparation and reconciliation programs. The central objective of this project is to understand how digital archiving practices and infrastructures can benefit grassroots initiatives of memory construction, symbolic reparation, cultural and human rights 

The Impact of Human Rights Through International Collaborative Artistic Expression: Art, and Theater

Luis A. Ramos-Garcia, PhD. (Spanish & Portuguese Studies)

Providing a forum for interdiscursive theoretical discussions and dialogue on Human Rights, and creating a diverse, unbiased, all-inclusive domestic, and international community networks, this project supports critical and artistic workshops/symposia that bring together the monologues of traditional scholarly disciplines, and the powerful, struggling and often unarticulated assumptions of non-canonical Human Rights cultural discourses of global communities. Focused on a research task--the recovery of cultural memory and the interdisciplinary nature of Human Rights and theatrical-political discourses--this proposal will capture the experiences of survivors and witnesses to crimes against humanity. By way of artistic methodologies, we will work with refugees, witnesses, and researchers in the U.S., and then travel abroad, where we have established artistic /community links for years. The nature of this project will allow these performers/scholars to visit Minnesota to explore deeper their own memories, producing visual/written symbols, expressing the complexity of their human condition.

Past Human Rights Initiative Projects


Jennifer Green (Law) and Janet Walsh (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

Funding Year: 2020

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. 

Related Materials: 

Our Work in Human Rights: Community Outcomes - Human Rights Program, January 20, 2021

Ricardo A. Velasco Trujillo, PhD. (Minnesota Transform Postdoctoral Research Associate, Institute for Advanced Study

Funding Year: 2022

In the realm of different methods of archiving organizations’ work and contributions to human rights and reconciliation, grassroots organizations and marginalized communities are at a significant disadvantage. Furthermore, very little is known about autonomous digital archival practices, and how they may work to develop sustainable initiatives for documenting memory, reparation initiatives, and human rights activism. 

Through multi-sited ethnographies with 3 different organizations, this project aims to understand the documentation and archiving needs of grassroots cultural organizations working on autonomous reparation and reconciliation initiatives and advancing human rights activism in the context of Colombia’s post-conflict transition. Many of these organizations currently rely on the support and expertise of state entities; however, digital tools can be used to address structures of dependency and subordination and equip organizations with autonomy. Additionally, the notion of ‘cultural ecologies’ serves as an interface through which victims and human rights organizations are able to articulate their demands for historical redress, while also making claims for justice and present conditions of marginalization and exclusion. 

The first stage of this project revolves around research, documentation, and assessment using the “activist research” approach in which the researcher (1) affirms a political alignment with the struggles of the communities being studied, and (2) establishes a dialogue with these communities that informs and actively shapes each of the stages of research. The second stage centers on conceptualizing and proposing collaborative and co-custodial models, and forming guidelines and recommendations for the organizations. Ultimately, this project seeks to foster collaborations among organizations in order to broaden possibilities of visibility and impact for their work through the use of digital archival tools, which will promote digital ecologies and tackle structures of dependency.

Deborah Levison (Public Affairs) and Frances Vavrus (Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development)

Funding Years: 2018, 2019

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.

Related Materials: 

Animating Children's Views: An Innovative Methodology For Quantitative Research - CIVIOS

Using cartoon videos to survey children and adolescents in the global south: A Tanzanian example - Statistical Journal of the IAOS, December 25, 2020

Animated Vignettes & Child/Adolescent Perspectives in the Global South 

VV Ganeshananthan (English)

Funding Year: 2017 

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.

Related Materials: 

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)

Funding Year: 2018

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.

Related Materials: 

Our Work in Human Rights: Artistic Outputs- Human Rights Program, December 9, 2021

Holot Legislative Theatre: Performing Refugees in Israel - The Drama Review, 63(2), 166-172. - June 1, 2019

CIVIOS Podcast: A Contested Home healing through art and storytelling

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

Audrey Dorélien (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

Funding Year: 2021

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.

Cosette D. Creamer (Political Science)

Funding Year: 2017 

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.

Related Materials: 

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

Lisa Hilbink (Political Science)

Funding Year: 2017 

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.  

Related Materials: 

Why People Turn to Institutions They Detest: Institutional Mistrust and Justice System Engagement in Uneven Democratic States- Comparative Political Studies Volume 55 Issue 1

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


Carolyn Liebler (Sociology)

Funding Year: 2021

“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.

Greta Friedemann-Sanchez (Public Affairs) 

Funding Year: 2017 

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.

Related Materials: 

Colombia Changes Laws on Domestic Violence Due to Push from Humphrey School Researchers - Humphrey School of Public Affairs, December 15, 2021

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

Comisarías de familia y violencia contra las mujeres en Colombia: Puerta de acceso y retos institucionales. - December, 2019

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

Submission to the Human Rights Council Universal Period Review, available in English and Spanish


Patrick J. McNamara (History)
Funding Year: 2017 

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.

Related Materials: 

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)

Funding Year: 2019

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.

Related Materials: 

The Global Diffusion of Anti-Terrorism Law - October 25, 2018

Joachim J. Savelsberg (Sociology)

Funding Year: 2020

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.

Helen M. Kinsella (Political Science and Law)

Dipali Mukopadhyay (Humphrey School of Public Affairs) 

Funding Year: 2022

There is a noticeable dearth of analysis of the obligations, violations, and effects of international humanitarian law (IHL) across distinct subject positions and the means and methods of armed conflict. This impedes training and negotiation with armed actors regarding their responsibilities under the law, undercuts identification of the consequences of violations of IHL on lives and livelihoods and weakens humanitarian and preventative interventions designed to alleviate the suffering of those caught in conflict.

In partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) we seek to better identify, document, and respond to the differential effects of IHL, to improve training and dialogue on IHL, and to diversify humanitarian and preventative interventions in addressing violations with armed and civilian actors. We will produce a comprehensive research document drawing from interdisciplinary scholarly and policy research, as well as consultative sessions with stakeholders organized through our networks which, in turn, will inform their collective policy and practice. In the first phase, we are focusing on gendered obligations, violations, and effects of IHL with an emphasis on women and girls, and on the conflict in Afghanistan. We do so for two reasons: 1) gender is still an underdeveloped lens of analysis for IHL and, consequently, the experiences of women and girls (except for rape) have been sorely overlooked; and 2) historically, the Afghan conflict (including the U.S.-led post-2001 military intervention) illuminates a range of means and methods of armed conflict and poses great challenges for ameliorating the gendered experiences and consequences of violations of IHL—the significance of which heightened dramatically since the U.S withdrawal in August 2021.

Archives and Special Collections (UMN Libraries)Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (College of Liberal Arts)

Human Rights Program (College of Liberal Arts)

Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

Funding Year: 2022

The Minnesota Human Rights Archive is a new initiative for acquiring and preserving the collections of key human rights actors for future generations. Its purpose is to inspire, educate, and empower human rights defenders and scholars. The Human Rights Program (CLA), the Human Rights Center (LAW), the Roy Wilkins Center for Human Relations and Social Justice (The Humphrey School), the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CLA), and Archives and Special Collections (UMN Libraries) will make accessible new and existing archival materials, as well as create a blueprint for a future exhibition. 

The proposed exhibition, “75 Years of Human Rights Activism in Minnesota,” will serve as the inaugural event to showcase the Minnesota Human Rights Archive.  Students, faculty, and human rights leaders from Minnesota will engage collectively in creating the exhibition to highlight the state’s complicated legacy as both the site of human rights leadership and of continuing systemic racism and inequality.

Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology) and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Law)

Funding Year: 2018

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.

Related Materials: 

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)

Funding Year: 2019

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.

Related Materials: 

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

Observatorio sobre Desaparición e Impunidad en México 

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

Lisa Hilbink (Political Science) 

Funding Year: 2021

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.

Jack DeWaard (Sociology) and Linus Chan (Law) 

Funding Year: 2020

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.

Related Materials:

CIVIOS Podcast 

Howard Lavine (Political Science)

Funding Year: 2018

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.

Related Materials: 

No, Americans don't support airstrikes that kill civilians, even when they target terrorists - Open Global Rights and Washington Post

How Americans Understand Human Rights in a Populist Moment - Human Rights Program, March 27, 2019 

Elizabeth Heger Boyle (Sociology) 

Funding Year: 2020

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.

Alejandro Baer (Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies)

Joe Eggers (Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies)

Funding Year: 2022

The state of Minnesota is finalizing its social studies standards that K-12 educators will use for the next decade, not only including continuing requirements related to the Holocaust, but also Indigenous genocide, references to global episodes of mass violence, and an expansion on human rights education. In order  to strengthen training and resources for educators to meet these new standards this project seeks to create a training program for educators in greater Minnesota with the goal of providing teachers with skills and content knowledge to lead others in their regions on topics of genocide and human rights education. Organizations that currently exist in Minnesota to provide these resources, are disproportionately focused on the Twin Cities area. This project will address this disparity by designing and conducting three workshops.

-“Introduction to Human Rights”

-“The Holocaust, Human Rights, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”

-“Minnesota and Genocide.” 

The workshops will cover introductory topics related to genocide and human rights, while allowing educators to gain a deeper understanding about how human rights are an integral part of history and social justice today. In utilizing the Holocaust as a bridge, the workshops will connect to larger, international issues, as well as our domestic and local history, fostering more engaged discussion on these topics in the classroom.

Jack DeWaard (Sociology) and Linus Chan (Law) 

Funding Year: 2019

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.

Related Materials:

CIVIOS Podcast 

Ryan Allen (Humphrey School of Public Affairs)

Amanda Lyons (Law School)

Michele Statz (University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus)

Funding Year: 2022

Housing challenges are often understood in terms of personal responsibility, emergency, or market-driven forces, rather than as a question of human rights. Moreover, when systemic housing precarity is regarded as a matter of justice, it is often done so in the context of urban settings. As a result, the complex dynamics underlying rural housing precarity across diverse rural spaces are largely overlooked.

To address these gaps, this project will use a human rights-based framework to document the ways that systemic housing precarity manifests and is addressed in two rural contexts in Minnesota. Drawing on international standards related to the human right to housing, including state obligations and private sector responsibilities, this project will advance recommendations for local to international policies and practice. The research team is especially interested to document the ways that rural actors across sectors are innovating and collaborating to advance the right to housing for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded the housing crisis in the U.S., and yet it also signals a unique disruption in which protracted socio-economic crises might be reframed as questions of human rights—and accordingly, where innovative solutions and new voices may find traction. This project promises to generate new insights into important academic and policy debates along these lines.