Human Rights Initiative
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
Transparency and Engagement in U.S. Immigration Court by Ensuring the Quality and Utility of Data Collected by Volunteer Observers
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.
Observatory for Disappearances and Impunity in Mexico: Media reporting and human rights accountability
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.
Animating Children's Views: Implementing the UNCRC's Article 12 Using Innovative Survey Methods
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.
The Global Diffusion of Anti-Terrorism Law and Its Impact on Human Rights
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.
Past Human Rights Initiative Projects