Urban and economic planners increasingly speak about “clusters” of industries driving, and even defining, a region. Think Silicon Valley or the burgeoning med-tech industry thriving in multiple Minnesota communities.
The same concept seems to be in effect locally regarding advancing global human rights. The latest indication is the recently announced collaboration between the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs and Human Rights Watch (HRW), an independent, international organization that documents human rights conditions and presses for “positive and sustainable change.”
The link between documentation and action is essential, and so it’s notable that Humphrey School graduate students will help HRW evaluate its research and advocacy work.
“HRW is one of the world’s most important human rights groups; it sends the tone for most other like-minded groups,” Prof. James Ron, who teaches international studies at the Humphrey School, told an editorial writer. “Whatever changes we help HRW come up with now will likely spread to other groups around the world.”
Beyond the Humphrey School, the U is involved in human rights research and advocacy through its Human Rights Program, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Human Rights Center, and the Program in Human Rights and Health.
The concept is “ideas and action,” said Barbara Frey, director of the Human Rights Program. “Not only taking steps to protect people, but taking the best steps possible.”
The U’s involvement in human rights bolsters, and is bolstered by, Minnesota-based nongovernmental organizations such as the Center for Victims of Torture, the American Refugee Committee and the Advocates for Human Rights, among others.
Just a quick scan of the headlines shows that a global focus on setting and implementing human rights standards is necessary. Consider the allegations of horrific crimes committed by totalitarian states like North Korea and Syria, as well as in failed states filled by nihilistic groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
And while not nearly as extreme, there’s unfortunately room for improvement right here in the United States, as evidenced by revelations in the U.S. Senate’s report on torture.
Reports of ongoing human rights violations might create a sense of hopelessness for some Americans. But the work being done to chronicle those violations is a sign of progress that human rights leaders, including many in Minnesota, are taking necessary steps — “ideas and action” — to improve matters.