News Archive

Human Rights Center Finds New Home Under Berkeley Law Tent

By Andrew Cohen

A powerful human rights presence at UC Berkeley for 15 years, the Human Rights Center (HRC) has found a new home within Berkeley Law. By adding HRC to its roster of multidisciplinary research centers, Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. says the law school is positioned to become “home to one of the nation’s most comprehensive, globally active, and student-oriented human rights programs.”

Led since 1996 by faculty director Eric Stover, an adjunct professor of law and public health, HRC gathers and analyzes data to protect and expand core human rights—particularly in populations vulnerable to war, ethnic hatred, poverty, and exploitation. In doing so, the center works to pursue accountability for mass atrocities, address the needs of survivors, and strengthen the research and advocacy capacities of human rights groups.

“We’re delighted to become part of Berkeley Law and formalize the longstanding partnership we’ve had with the International Human Rights Law Clinic (IHRLC) and other law-school colleagues,” says HRC executive director Camille Crittenden. “This move will align our research strengths with the advocacy skills and training opportunities at Berkeley Law for the benefit of faculty, students, and the external populations we serve.”

The center has partnered with IHRLC on projects that produced groundbreaking studies about the lives of Guantánamo detainees after their release, the prevalence of forced labor in California, and the hazards facing undocumented workers in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Both together and individually, HRC and IHRLC have used large-scale, evidence-based field studies to document major human rights issues and help policy makers develop solutions to complex problems.

Stover believes that such interdisciplinary work is crucial for students who plan to pursue a career in human rights and international humanitarian law. “They need to develop a broad understanding of the law, its foreign policy implications, the social psychology of violence, and its effects on individuals and society,” he says, “all while being effective researchers and communicators. That’s why our research teams consist of graduate students from all over campus, and why one of the most rewarding aspects of my job is watching students from different disciplines teach one another.”

Collaborating with a wide network of associates and partners, HRC has focused on many of the world’s most turbulent areas, including Rwanda, Congo, Uganda, Iraq, Cambodia, and Kosovo. Edley says HRC’s decision to move under the Berkeley Law tent “begins a momentous new chapter in our shared history” and that the center’s research projects are “ambitious, intellectually rigorous, evidence-based, and, more important, serve the higher causes of positive social change and human progress.

Currently, HRC’s Sexual Violence and Accountability Project aims to improve the effectiveness of investigations of rape and other sex crimes in countries afflicted by armed conflict or political unrest, strengthen implementation of national legislation, and ensure that survivors receive medical and psycho-social services.

"While there's significant advocacy around the need to stop these crimes and punish offenders," Stover says, "the capacity to collect evidence and protect survivors is greatly lacking. We hope to bridge that gap through targeted training of investigators and health professionals in specific countries."

A pioneer in uitilizing empirical research methods to address emerging issues in human rights law, Stover conducted the first research on the social and medical consequences of land mines in Cambodia and other post-war countries. His work helped launch the International Campaign to Ban Land Mines, which received a Nobel Prize in 1997.

HRC regularly fields teams of UC Berkeley staff and local villagers to interview thousands of people to create a clear picture of the needs of large populations affected by genocide and crimes against humanity. Crittenden says the depth of this data forms a foundation "both for policy recommendations to protect vulnerable communities and for proceedings to bring perpetrators to justice."

To commemorate its transition to Berkeley Law, HRC is co-sponsoring a symposium today entitled Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law. It will highlight research and other opportunities for student involvement, feature a keynote address by Michael Posner '75, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, and present panel discussions on "Armed Conflict and Accountability" and "Justice and Transition."

The symposium will also include the announcement of this year's HRC fellows, who will assist human rights organizations this summer both domestically and abroad. Center fellows have assisted 140 such groups to date, and have worked on designing and implementing grassroots advocacy campaigns on four continents on behalf of landless, poor, and urban workers; drafting legal briefs for political asylum seekers in the U.S.; assisting the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia; campaigning for adequate medical care for AIDS victims in Russia; and advocating for the rights of farmers displaced by the construction of large dams in India.