Clinical consultation

Lab Projects

How the Lab works

Over the course of the initial two years, the Human Rights Lab will workshop and support 12 projects, selected for their potential contributions to the four Lab objectives. Each project will have a lead faculty member, a graduate student, and an identified partner organization or entity currently working to address a human rights challenge.

Together, the faculty-student team will lead a 3-hour interdisciplinary Lab session with diverse experts to workshop the human rights problem in question, the research methodology, and the practical application. Following the Lab session, the project will receive funding for the student to spend a full summer doing supervised field research on-site with the partner organization. For each project, the Lab will also fund one additional travel component (for either faculty or partners) to increase the knowledge-transfer across settings.

Strategic Partnerships

Embattled Battlefield Instruction: Fragmentation and Saturation in Law of Armed Conflict Training

Lead: Cosette D. Creamer, Political Science
Student Lead: Tracey Blasenheim, Political Science, PhD Candidate
Partner: International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL)

The 21st century has raised numerous challenges for the relevance and effectiveness of both global human rights protections and international humanitarian law (IHL)—the legal regime governing civilian protection and combatant conduct during armed conflict. To enhance awareness and internalization of these laws, governments and non-governmental organizations have greatly expanded the availability and reach of programs that train arms carriers and noncombatants on their legal rights, authorities, and responsibilities during war. To date, however, we lack a broad study of the reach, content, and impact of the global expansion of IHL training.

In this project, Professor Cosette D. Creamer builds on her recent collaboration with the International Institute of Humanitarian Law (IIHL) in San Remo, Italy to address this gap. Working with the IIHL and a team of student researchers led by Tracey Blasenheim (PhD Candidate in Political Science), Professor Creamer is constructing a database that documents IHL training institutes and courses around the world. Together, this research team is surveying a wide range of courses that provide practical instruction for militaries, policy-makers, journalists, and humanitarian activists. Their goal is to help interested human rights and refugee organizations better link up with IHL training programs and to ensure that human rights and refugee protections remain a key component of instruction provided to arms carriers. The long-term objective is to link variation in IHL training to compliance outcomes on the ground.

Enhancing Access to Justice through Legal Empowerment

Lead: Lisa Hilbink, Political Science
Student Lead: Valentina Salas, Political Science, PhD Candidate
Partner: Research Department of the Supreme Court of Chile

Access to justice is a human right, and is fundamental to building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. Yet surveys show that in many Latin American democracies, people express little confidence in judicial institutions. This collaborative research project, ongoing since 2017, seeks to understand why. The project uses research findings to help local partners in Latin America to design policy responses and organizational strategies to improve access to justice in contexts of multiple, overlapping inequalities.

This project supports an “action research” project anchored by a pilot program for legal empowerment in one lower income municipality of Santiago, Chile. The project supports the ongoing effort of partners in the Chilean judiciary to extend their services to a wider population of potential users and puts into action their previous proposal (2015) to create “Citizen Justice Centers.” The project engages new partners and stakeholders in local government and NGOs to identify what they see as the most pressing legal needs in the community and their priorities for action on legal empowerment.

In addition to the immediate and tangible benefits to community members, this project provides important data for local government and judiciary partners regarding legal needs, socio-cultural and cognitive barriers for access to justice among marginalized populations, and possible policy solutions that emerge from the community.

Innovative Responses to Refugee Crises in Mexico and South Africa

Lead: Stephen Meili, Law
Partners: Instituto de Justicia Procesal Penal and the Clínica Jurídica Alaíde Foppa at IBERO University in Mexico, and the Legal Resources Centre in South Africa
Student Leads: Kimberly Medina, 3L and Sara Halimah, 3L

South Africa has more pending asylum cases than any other country in Africa as many refugees seek asylum there after fleeing other countries in the region. Mexico is facing an exponential increase in asylum-seekers, the result of an unprecedented number of refugees fleeing the Northern Triangle of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) and Venezuela, as well as a more hostile approach to refugees by the U.S. government. Each of these refugee-receiving nations has adopted policies and procedures that violate the human rights of asylum-seekers, including prolonged detention, deportation without due process, and inadequate refugee status determination processes.

This project works with partner organizations in analyzing two inter-related questions that typify the Minnesota Model: 1) Why the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers are in crisis in the Global South? and 2) What are the local and institutional responses that are most likely to help alleviate these crises and prevent them from recurring? The main policy goals of these efforts include greater access to the refugee determination process for those seeking relief from persecution and other harm in their home countries; governmental compliance with domestic, regional and international human rights laws that affect the refugee population; and access to social and economic benefits for refugees. The project is measuring the success of these efforts by monitoring the results in strategic litigation, changes to relevant law or regulations, and ongoing public education and outreach efforts.

Public Education on Indigenous Dispossession and Reparative Justice across Minnesota and Manitoba

Lead: Alejandro Baer, Sociology, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Students: George Dalbo, Curriculum and Instruction, Social Studies Education, PhD student and Jillian LaBranche, Sociology, PhD student
Partner: Minnesota Historical Society, Manitoba Museum, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights

This project examines whether and how public education functions as an arena for reparative justice in societies with a history of foundational violence perpetrated against its Indigenous population. Examples of reparative justice in these contexts frequently involve the revision of educational standards and curricular content, the development of new pedagogical approaches, and changes in classroom practice. Primarily it implies the opening up of these means of shaping and disseminating historical knowledge to communities long ignored by the educational canon.

This project assesses the extent to which such reforms and goals are initiated and accomplished in Minnesota and the neighboring Canadian province of Manitoba. Team members work with partners in the field of education and public institutions in both locations to identify lessons around successes and challenges among past and current initiatives gleaned from either context.

Rights of Rural Communities in Colombia

Lead: Amanda Lyons, Human Rights Center, Law
Partner: Tierra Digna

In December 2018, the UN General Assembly adopted the hard-fought Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and other people working in rural areas. The Declaration recognizes the unique collective identity stemming from peasants’ special relationship with the land, water, and environment on which they depend and the differential human rights considerations that identity implies.

This project explores the potential for emerging progressive human rights norms to contribute to the rights-based strategies of two rural communities in Colombia. The first case is in Tolima where the community has resoundingly and repeatedly voted against the installation of a pending gold mine. The second case in the neighboring department of Huila, concerns a mega-project hydroelectric dam implemented over strong objections from the communities.

This Strategic Partnership project works with the renowned Colombian NGO, Tierra Digna, which is dedicated to working with affected communities to transform economic models at the root of social and environmental injustice. Together the research looks at the jurisprudence in international and regional systems and documenting these cases in light of those criteria. Understanding the situation, barriers, and strategies in these two paradigmatic cases has the goal of strengthening the international norm development.

Faculty-Led Projects

Applying a Human Rights Framework to Immigration Policy at the Municipal Level

Lead: Ryan Allen, Urban & Regional Planning, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Student: Kimberly Horner, Public Policy, PhD student
Partner: Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, City of Minneapolis

The Trump Administration has a strong anti-immigration agenda as characterized by the declaration of a national emergency at the US-Mexico border and the significant changes made to US policy aimed to curb immigration and ramp up deportations. As a response, many local governments have increasingly taken the initiative to pass legislation and ordinances that protect these vulnerable communities. This project uses a human rights lens to understand the rationale and imperative of local government actions that seek to counteract federal government policies that undermine legal due progress and social and economic outcomes for immigrants in the U.S.

The project will include a literature review and national scan of local government practices related to local government policy support for immigrants. Using a human rights framework, this review will include a summary of evidence of the impacts that such interventions have on outcomes experienced by immigrants. This data will inform the drafting of a set of policy proposals that the City of Minneapolis could implement to respond to violations of the human rights of immigrants caused by federal policies. The project strives to use its findings to inform ongoing policy debates related to immigrants in not only the City of Minneapolis but potentially other municipalities around the U.S. as well.

Do Refugees Effect Host Community Outcomes? Studies of Refugee Camps in Sub-Saharan Africa

Lead: Ragui Assaad, Global Policy, Humphrey School of Public Affairs
Student: Colette Salemi, Applied Economics, PhD student

As of 2018, there were 25.4 million refugees in the world. The public often perceives refugees as an economically burdensome population that drives local wages down and unemployment up, competes with host community members for access to services, and depletes the natural environment. The reality, however, is that the effects of refugees on host communities and the environment are poorly understood and currently under-studied.

This project aims to use spatial and household data at the sub-continental level to provide a more generalizable understanding of whether and how refugee camps influence their surrounding areas. The region of interest is sub-Saharan Africa, where about one-quarter of the world’s refugee population resides. Using the geographic coordinates of refugee camps throughout this region from 2000 to 2016, along with camp years of operation, this project will identify the places and people most exposed to camp-based refugee populations.

This project consists of two separate papers using the refugee camp geographic data combined with other data sources. The first paper examines the effect of refugee camp proximity on host community employment outcomes. The second paper examines deforestation and refugees. To improve on the understanding of refugee camp characteristics, the project conducts a qualitative study with at least 20 key informant interviews of individuals who have experience managing camps in the region of interest.

Forced migration and SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity & expression): An initial field assessment focused on the health experiences of LGBTQ+ urban refugees in Kenya

Leads: G. Nic Rider, Program in Human Sexuality, Medical School; Eunice M. Areba, Nursing; and Sarah Hoffman, Nursing
Student: Nova Bradford, Social Work, MSW student
Partners: GALCK and the Refugee Coalition of East Africa

Research describing the breadth of gender identities claimed by people who are displaced and migrating, and the health experiences that refugees who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum encounter is sorely limited. In particular, there is little understanding about vulnerabilities faced by LGBTQ+ communities, or factors that promote strength and resilience. LGBTQ+ refugees are more likely to experience traumatic events prior to migration and are vulnerable to ongoing trauma from other refugees, migration officials and receiving communities upon resettlement.

This project looks specifically at this issue in Kenya, where acceptance of diverse gender identities and expressions is limited, especially as it relates to sexual attraction and gender nonconformity. Through the partnership with GALCK and the Refugee Coalition of East Africa the project aim to: (1) establish and build stakeholder and community relationships, (2) conduct a field-based preliminary needs assessment focused on the health needs of LGBTQ+ refugees, and (3) consider opportunities to develop targeted psychosocial health-related initiatives led by LGBTQ+ refugee community members. Key outcomes for this research include an increased understanding of the available health resources and patterns by which urban LGBTQ+ refugees in Kenya access these resources.

Prosecuting Corporate Crimes

Lead: Associate Clinical Professor Jennie Green
Student: To be identified
Partner: Amnesty International

This project will address the entrenched problem of impunity when corporations are alleged to cause, contribute to or be directly linked to human rights abuses. Associate Clinical Professor Jennie Green and a graduate research assistant will work with Amnesty International to assist in mapping possible opportunities for U.S. criminal prosecutions for potential cases resulting from Amnesty investigations. The practical outcomes are expected to provide critical assistance in assessing the applicable statutes and making detailed assessments of the viability of legal claims for the potential cases.

Participating in this analysis will present the graduate research assistant the opportunity for hands-on learning in a groundbreaking area of human rights work, including the complex factual, legal and strategic questions in human rights criminal prosecutions. Outcomes for the Lab will include the inclusion of an analysis of the value of criminal prosecutions in the overarching goals of fulfilling the right to remedy for human rights victims and deterring further human rights violations by corporate actors.

Sexual Violence against Female University Students in Ethiopia: Narrating Lived Experiences and Identifying Interventions

Lead: Joan DeJaeghere, Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development
Student: Hannah Wedajo, Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development, PhD student
Partner: Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, Dire Dawa

This project seeks to understand the experiences of university women who have been sexually violated and to identify strategies for prevention and intervention for use in higher education institutions, in the context of Ethiopia. Sexual violence against women is a global human rights problem, though the forms and prevalence of it vary greatly in different context. Education institutions, particularly higher education, have been called out as complicit in perpetuating an environment for sexual violence in the U.S., across countries in Africa and elsewhere. While there is a heightened attention to the prevalence of sexual violence, strategies for prevention and intervention are fraught with challenges in implementation, and higher education institutions across the globe, and particularly in East Africa, are seeking ways to address this human right violation.

This study seeks to first identify the current state of research and forms of intervention that higher education institutions in Ethiopia (and East Africa more broadly) are taking to address the problem. Using participatory research that involves female students as well as a woman’s advocacy group in all phases, the project will undertake interviews with women across the university (Dire Dawa University). The analysis will seek to provide recommendations for strategies for prevention and intervention to university units responsible for addressing sexual violence. The research and strategies identified to redress sexual violence against women will be useful for advocacy and women’s organizations to address sexual violence against women at universities throughout the region.

Youth Engagement in the Promotion of Human Rights of Marginalized Groups in the US and Hungary

Lead: Michael Winikoff, Director, Science Communication Lab, Director of Outreach and Public Engagement, BioTechnology Institute and College of Biological Sciences
Student: To be identified
Partner Organization: Hungarian Helsinki Committee, Budapest; Contact person: Eszter Kirs, Ph.D.

In the age of populism and growing hostility towards human rights and social justice discourse, the engagement of young people in conversations and public action related to human rights is both a growing necessity and a significant challenge.This project seeks to develop and test innovative methods to educate and engage young people in reflection and debate on the significance of a civic response to restrictions on human rights and social justice. It builds on the Hungarian Helsinki Committee’s (HHC) seminar series, Encouraging Youth Civic Participation in the Defense of Individual Freedoms, Democracy and the Rule of Law in Hungary, and proposes the development of a “Twin Project” in the U.S.

The UMN Faculty and participating student will have the chance to test engagement methods developed at the University of Minnesota in the challenging context presented by a Hungarian political environment unfavorable to the promotion of human rights. While some of the content is specific to the Hungarian context, the framework was conceived as a pilot to be tested and replicated elsewhere in Hungary and modified for use in the U.S. and globally. The Human Rights Lab will provide an opportunity for the UMN Lead and participating student to gain insight and contribute to the development of educational programming designed to foster a new generation of youth activists and promote a culture of balanced and peaceful dialogue around current human rights and social justice issues.

NGO-Led Projects

Assessing Mental Health-Related Needs of Refugees in Humanitarian Contexts

NGO: The Center of Victims of Torture (CVT)
Faculty Liaison: Elizabeth Boyle, Sociology
Student: Tayler Nelson, Sociology, PhD student

There is very little representative data about refugee mental health in humanitarian contexts. Most existing research on the psychological impacts of conflict or human rights abuses is conducted outside of the contexts in which most refugees are located. Analyses of refugee mental health in humanitarian settings typically relies on data from help-seeking (non-representative) populations or data from key informants or stakeholders. These factors contribute to a substantial information gap for those implementing interventions or advocating for the rights of refugees in humanitarian settings.

In 2016, The Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) began conducting surveys in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, and Uganda, assessing mental health-related needs of refugees fleeing violence and human rights abuses in their countries of origin. With the support of the Human Rights Lab, CVT is producing and disseminating a methodological toolkit for conducting representative surveys with refugees living in humanitarian contexts about sensitive human rights-related topics. This project consolidates lessons learned from survey implementation, reviews relevant literature, and refines the rigor of recommended methodology. Outcomes include production of a written toolkit and best practice recommendations for carrying out surveys about human rights- related topics with refugees in humanitarian contexts and dissemination of the toolkit. While CVT’s surveys have focused on mental health, this methodology is likely applicable to a range of other domains and topic areas relevant to refugees’ human rights.

Civilian Protection and Violence Prevention as a Human Rights Outcome

NGO: Nonviolent Peaceforce
Faculty Liaisons: Tanisha Fazal, Political Science; David Weissbrodt, Law Emeritus; and Jessica Stanton, Temple University
Student: Paige McLain, Master of Human Rights student

Violent conflicts are increasing obliterating human rights in their wake. The current approaches for the protection of civilians and violence prevention are insufficient to meet the needs and are often ineffective. Increasingly unarmed civilian protection (UCP) is recognized as an effective and affordable approach to protect civilians and prevent violence, demonstrating its particular effectiveness in protecting human rights defenders, preventing gender-based violence and protecting children from grave violations of their rights. Forty-two nongovernmental organizations now practice some form of UCP in 24 regions. Yet, few of these groups know, share or communicate with each other.

This project identifies and documents unarmed civilian protection (UCP) methods that are effectively protecting civilians and preventing violence in areas of violent conflict around the world. Through review of documentation from regional workshops made up of UC practitioners, field partners, beneficiaries, and scholars and subsequent interviews, the student researcher is defining and illustrating practices, identifying threats, and highlighting limitations. The concluding research outcome document shares “Good Practices” with current civil society organizations that are conducting UCP as well as organizations with an interest in doing such work.

Lab Projects 2016–2018

Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity in Mexico

Lead: Barbara Frey, Global Studies, Director of Human Rights Program
Student: Paula Cuellar, History, Ph.D. Candidate

The Observatory is a collaborative research project designed to construct databases of information about the phenomenon of enforced disappearances, which number more than 32,000 in Mexico in the past decade. The Observatory, led by Professors Barbara Frey, Leigh Payne, and Karina Ansolabehere, involves teams of student researchers in Mexico and Minnesota who are coding available sources of information to help explain this pattern of disappearances. The project aims to decrease impunity by increasing knowledge and public visibility. The Observatory’s research findings reveal patterns of perpetration on a state-by- state basis, and provide information for families of victims and human rights organizations who are working for accountability in Mexico.

The Observatory is systematizing large amounts of information to show, specifically: who are the disappeared, where the crimes occur, who carries out these crimes, what efforts are made by families and by public officials, and what are the outcomes of judicial and non-judicial actions (i.e., justice and location of missing persons). Students in Minnesota are coding news reports on disappearance from the Mexican press and graduate student, Paula Cuellar, spent summer 2017 interviewing journalists, family members of disappeared persons and human rights advocates to understand the media’s narrative about these systemic violations.

Read the report: The Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity in Mexico.

Reparations as a Means to Enable Transformation in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings

Lead: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Law, Director of Human Rights Center
Student: Anne Dutton, Law & Social Work

This project aims to identify transformative reparations parameters for the International Criminal Court (ICC) with a focus on the case of the northern Uganda. Reparations are increasingly part of the package of measures that accompany post-conflict and post- atrocity legal remedy and reform. They are also organically linked with truth processes, and other mechanisms that identify ‘victims’ offering financial and other types of supports to those most affected by violent conflict. Reparations have been one of the most under-enforced aspects of post-conflict and post-atrocity justice. There are few, if any, comprehensive examples of grand-scale administrative reparations programs that have been fully implemented in post-conflict or post-atrocity settings.

Based on extensive prior work with the Trust Fund for Victims, the OHCHR and UN Women, the goal of this project is to assess and review the work of the ICC and the Trust Fund for Victims in respect of Reparations. The project sought to address and evaluate the most successful likely interventions for collective reparations in fragile states using the northern Uganda as a case study, and to provide both conceptual analysis of the value of reparations in fragile and post-conflict states as well as to provide concrete policy assessment of what works and what does not.

From the Holocaust to Apartheid: Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Violations

Lead: Leigh Payne, Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Program
Student: Ami Hutchinson, Law

This project seeks to track innovative transitional justice efforts from Nuremberg to the present, establish accountability patterns, generate models for overcoming barriers to justice for corporate complicity in human rights violations, work with practitioners on the ground to adapt these models to local contexts, and contribute to growing theoretical developments in the area of “justice from below.”

The project will consider the notion of Archimedes’ Lever, or how with the right tools, practitioners might begin to lift international human rights law to provide justice for victims of corporate abuses during dictatorships and armed conflict. This project will develop effective models of strategic litigation from the global database and the specific country studies on Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and South Africa, developing a set of possible cases for strategic litigation in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Peru, and developing a proposal for a truth commission/section of a truth commission to be used in Colombia. The project will also launch a new study on "blood banking" with the South African partners taking the lead.

Expanding Local Support and Funding for Human Rights Organizations

Lead: James Ron, Political Science and Humphrey
Student: Andrea Martinez, Humphrey-CLA, Master of Human Rights

This project supports local human rights organizations in Mexico by building their capacity to garner increase moral and financial support among local stakeholders. Government crackdowns on civil society resulting in tighter restrictions on foreign funding are leaving local human rights organizations in an uncertain position. However, local funding from the general public is an untapped resource that could possibly create a sustainable future for these organizations—this is what we are trying to understand better.

In 2017, we organized a workshop in Mexico City – in cooperation with two Mexican academic institutions, CIDE and FLACSO – to present the findings of a comprehensive research about the potential for local funding of Mexican Local Human Rights Organizations. This project helped us understand how willing members of the public in the global south are to donate to local human rights organizations, and under what conditions they are most willing to do so.

After the workshop, we strengthened our relationships with the human rights organizations that participated in the research process and worked with them during the summer to improve their fundraising strategies based on the results of our research.

Ex-combatant and Victim Groups, Memories, and Transitions to Peace: the Case of Northern Ireland

Lead: Joachim Savelsberg, Sociology and Ohanessian Chair
Student: Michael Soto, Sociology, Ph.D. student

This project explores the role of ex-combatant and victim groups in the aftermath of violence and massive human rights violations, specifically for Northern Ireland after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The project will be expanded to Colombia, a case with interesting parallels to that of Northern Ireland. It addresses the following questions: What role do ex-combatant and victim groups play in the transition from civil war to peace, specifically after negotiated peace agreements? How do these groups reshape memories, identities and balance their own role with that of state law? Do ways in which they adjust to changing conditions ease or hamper the solidification of peace and reintegration? Do they thus contribute to ending cycles of violence?

By examining the role of local, community-based institutions, this project adds to dominant scholarship that examines how nation- and global-level formal transitional justice institutions contribute to peace building. After a productive summer of research in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2017, sociology doctoral student Michael Soto will begin field research in Colombia in the summer of 2018. Joint preparation between Savelsberg, as faculty advisor, and Soto and weeks of collaborative work in Belfast, provided a unique advising and learning opportunity.

Read the report: Associational Groups, Memories and Transitions to Peace: The Case of Northern Ireland.

Using International Human Rights Law to Protect Refugees

Lead: Stephen Meili, Law
Student: Mary Georgevich, Law

This projects focuses on the use of international human rights law in domestic courts in Mexico to protect Central America refugees. The number of refugees from Central America’s so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras) has increased exponentially in recent years, fomented by a marked rise in gang and drug-related violence that has caused tens of thousands of adults and children to leave their homes. While their ultimate destination is frequently the United States, many of these refugees are apprehended by Mexican law enforcement (which has received funding from the United States for this purpose) and sent back home without being advised of or accorded their rights as refugees. Worse still, thousands have been disappeared while in Mexico. Although Mexico has laws on its books, including its Constitution, protecting the rights of non-citizens, until recently those laws have been ineffective.

Through an analysis of the relative effectiveness of the various strategies through which Mexican and transnational NGOs have attempted to utilize domestic and international human rights law to protect the rights of refugees, this project aims to produce a series of recommendations for lawyers and other human rights activists regarding the most effective use of human rights law in protecting refugees.

Transitional (In)Justice and Collective Memory in Minnesota (1862-2015)

Lead: Alejandro Baer, Sociology, Director of Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Student: Brieanna Waters, Sociology, Ph.D. student

This project addresses unequal access to the shaping of public narratives on Indigenous peoples, and more specifically White-Dakota relations, in Minnesota. The project focuses on representations the US-Dakota war in newspapers from the Twin Cities and Southern Minnesota and in history/social studies textbooks. These sources shed light on how the state remembers, or chose to not remember, this important chapter of its history. We will work with K-12 educators, Dakota community representatives and education specialists at the Minnesota Historical Society and local Historical Societies to explore how practitioners accept, interrogate, or question available representations of the conflict and the Dakota people.

The US-Dakota War of 1862 represents a watershed moment in Twin Cities, Minnesota, and United States history. The six-week conflict shifted populations for decades, forcing the Dakota out of Minnesota. In the metro area, 1600 Dakota women, children, and elderly were interned in the Fort Snelling compounds after the conflict and before their forced removal from the state. The Fort historical site, operated by the Minnesota Historical Society, epitomizes the state’s approach to remembrance and redress –or lack thereof– as it continues to grapple with its role in the Dakota conflict and subsequent genocidal acts more than a century and a half later.

From “Sioux Massacres” to the “Dakota Genocide” – Transitional (In)Justice and Collective Memory in Minnesota (1862-2015).

Understanding Citizen Perceptions of and Engagement with the Judicial System in Chile

Lead: Lisa Hilbink, Political Science
Student: Valentina Salas, Political Science, Ph.D. Candidate

This project, which builds on a series of focus groups we conducted in Chile and Colombia last year, seeks to explore how, why, and with what consequences citizens perceive the legal remedies available to them when they experience rights violations. Even judiciaries with high institutional capacity cannot contribute to a rights-based rule of law unless citizens are willing and able to turn to them to resolve disputes, to respond to victimization, and to provide recourse if and when their rights are violated.

We are partnering with the Research Department of the Supreme Court (RDSC) of Chile to assist them in planning and conducting focus groups with populations that face unequal access to justice such as rural dwellers, indigenous people, immigrants, LGBT, and people with disabilities. Together, we will then plan a survey informed by the focus group results. The objective of the partnership is to obtain a better sense of the reasons behind and the consequences of the extremely low levels of confidence in the judicial system in Chile, as well as what policies the RDSC might recommend such that, in their words, the public will view the Chilean judiciary “as trustworthy, accessible, and transparent, and the right to an effective judicial remedy be realized in practice.”

Forced Disappearances and Mass Violence in El Salvador, 2010-2016

Lead: Patrick McNamara, History
Student: Maria Mendez Gutierrez, Political Science, Ph.D Student

While El Salvador’s current status as one of the most dangerous places in the world based on per-capita intentional homicide rates is well-known, the situation regarding forced disappearances has received very little attention. Currently, no government agency or NGO in El Salvador or in the world has fully examined this issue. As official data released by the government indicate, however, forced disappearances over the past seven years have become a crisis connected to the larger issue of mass violence in El Salvador. Newspapers have called for an impartial group to organize the different data sets, to develop standards and rubrics for further research, and to reach out to family members of disappeared persons to help with the search for information about their loved ones

We intend to add crucial new information about the crisis of disappeared persons since 2010. We will create a more complete profile of disappeared people that will include municipality, family information and contacts, and known or suspected perpetrators. In addition, aggregate data are less useful than data normalized by per capita populations, so we will recalculate information based on population sizes in departments and municipalities. Finally, we will interview employees at the national morgue to learn more about the work they do in matching reports of disappeared persons to unidentified bodies.

Documenting Truth, Trials, and Memory in El Salvador & Guatemala

Lead: Ana Forcinito, Spanish & Portuguese Studies
Student: Carolina Anon Suarez, Spanish and Portuguese Studies, Ph.D. student

This project will preserve and disseminate information from the series of presentations, lectures, and discussions that took place at a unique conference on the University of Minnesota campus. In early November 2017, an international gathering of scholars, activists, human rights experts, jurists, United Nations officials, and filmmakers met to contemplate issues of transitional justice in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the Peace Commission Report for El Salvador, and the 20th anniversary of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Guatemala. 

"Truth, Trials, and Memory: An Accounting of Transitional Justice in El Salvador and Guatemala," fostered an unprecedented exchange of ideas among people connected to these two countries and working on similar issues within different paradigms. A team of faculty and graduate students from the University of Minnesota will work with human rights museums in El Salvador and Guatemala to curate these materials for use by scholars, human rights defenders and the general public.

From Dissemination to Implementation: Responding to Compliance Crises with the Laws of Armed Conflict

Lead: Cosette Creamer, Political Science
Student: Tracey Blasenheim, Political Science, Ph.D. student

This project explores the origins of a shift towards ‘compliance innovation’ at the Institute for International Humanitarian Law (IIHL) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). This has spurred new research programs that aim to promote ‘best practices’ for integrating international law into military organizations. While not a new phenomenon, the ICRC identifies flagrant noncompliance as the most serious challenge to international law’s relevance in 21st century combat operations. Over the last fifteen years, the ICRC and affiliated NGOs have devoted significant attention to developing innovative approaches and tactics for generating robust compliance habits.

This project will undertake research with IIHL and ICRC to: identify the factors leading to this shift in advocacy strategy; assess the impact of this shift on research, policy development, and outreach at the ICRC; and collaboratively develop a report on the progress and effects of these programs, specifically those initiatives aimed at integrating international law into the organization, daily practices, and institutional culture of militaries. This research will both enhance our understanding of cutting edge developments in humanitarian advocacy and contribute to the programmatic efforts of human rights NGOs by providing a collaborative analysis and assessment of this 21st century trajectory.

A Human Rights Framework to Monitor Special Zones for Industrial Agriculture in Colombia

Lead: Amanda Lyons, Human Rights Center, Law
Student: Georgette Marling, Law

This project monitors the evolving legal framework for large-scale agriculture and rural development in Colombia. The aim is to increase the capacity of civil society to intervene in decision-making spaces.

In 2016, Colombia passed a controversial law creating the framework for ZIDRES - “Zones of Interest for Rural, Economic, and Social Development.” Use and control of the land is at the heart of Colombia’s conflict and central to the new peace accord with the FARC. There are multiple and competing interests in the available land from ongoing transitional justice measures, communities affected by mega-projects, and from agrarian movements. Civil society is denouncing the intensifying situation of deadly violence against human rights defenders working in the territories to demand environmental, land, and community rights.

This project will establish criteria to evaluate the initiative on the basis of positive and negative impacts on the enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil, political, and environmental rights. In doing so, it will provide a useful framework to document and monitor the individual and collective human-rights impacts related to the ZIDRES model and increase the ability of Colombian civil society to engage in related decision-making spaces.