Human Rights Initiative
2017-2018 Human Rights Initative Report
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; to learn more about future funding cycles please visit this page.
Current Human Rights Initiative Projects
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.
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.
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.
Past Human Rights Initiative Projects