Archival Collections
Rare Book & Manuscript Library

Center for the Study of Human Rights Records, 1981-2004 [bulk dates: 1987-2001] 

Creator: 
Columbia University. Center for the Study of Human Rights.
Phys. Desc: 
11.5 linear feet (25 document boxes, one index card box)
Call Number: 
HR#0005
Location: 
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
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Online information

Biographical Note

Founded at Columbia University in 1978, the Center for the Study of Human Rights is one of the oldest university human rights programs in the United States. The Center advances the understanding of human rights issues through its goals of "providing excellent human rights education to Columbia students, fostering innovative interdisciplinary academic research, and offering its expertise in capacity building to human rights leaders, organizations, and universities around the world." The Center plays a supporting role in human rights instruction at Columbia; it does not oversee or evaluate programs, but helps facilitate communication between interested students and faculty members from several departments. The Center posts lists of courses with a human rights focus, helps find adjunct faculty to teach specific topics, and coordinates interdisciplinary events, such as a colloquium for dissertation students. The overall goal is to make human rights education an integral part of many fields of study, rather than a separate component. Research carried out by CSHR has taken many forms over the years. Initially, CHSR focused on projects that would encourage constitutionalism as a basis of government. In the early 1990s, for example, the Center created Constitutionalism and Rights: Project on China, which brought Chinese and Western scholars together to research and discuss constitutional questions. CSHR also supported the Cambodian Genocide Documentation Project (1983-1987), created in collaboration with David Hawk, which documented destruction in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge through taped oral histories and reports, and the Project on Children and War (1988-1992) which provided research and analysis to back other organizations fighting for policies and programs for children in war zones. More recently, the Center has been committed to research that helps developing countries create effective local institutions, such as judiciary bodies and human rights organizations, which can make a democratic system run more smoothly. The Center's capacity building programs are intended to provide training and skills to human rights leaders and researchers, especially those who have difficulty acquiring them in their own countries. CSHR's ongoing Human Rights Advocates Program brings twelve such individuals from countries in the Global South to Columbia University each year. Advocates participate in courses and training workshops on topics such as networking, fundraising, and law, attend brown bag seminars, and meet with human rights leaders in New York and Washington, DC. The program has met with considerable success; participants frequently express their gratitude for the new abilities and knowledge they take back to their organizations. The Center has completed many shorter programs, including the Uganda Visitors Project (1990) and the Liberia Project (1993-1996) which bring training people that need it. Between 1995 and 1999 the Center conducted the Religion, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom Program, which aimed to "promote interaction between religious communities and the international human rights movement, as well as to enhance concern for religious freedom and religious tolerance." Funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and generally referred to as the Pew Program, it provided training for scholars from Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The seven-month fellowship was divided into two parts; for the first four months, fellows studied at Columbia and attended seminars and workshops on human rights issues. Following this, each fellow completed a three-month internship with a human rights organization that specialized in religious freedom and tolerance. The program also featured an annual conference on religious issues in Eastern Europe. The Center also managed the Belldegrun Human Rights Research and Training Fellowship from 1998 until 2001. It allowed one advocate from Denmark, Finland, Norway, or Sweden to attend Columbia for a year. Fellows studied alongside members of HRAP and other programs while outlining a course schedule and research project in an area of international human rights.

Scope and Contents

Although the collection documents a number of the Center's activities, the bulk of the material relates to its training and capacity building programs. The Human Rights Advocacy Program (HRAP) and the Religion, Human Rights, and Religious Freedom Program (Pew Program) are most thoroughly represented, but smaller amounts of material exist for the Belldegrun Fellowship, the Human Rights Colloquium (HRC), and others. Correspondence, project goal descriptions, admission criteria, schedules, evaluations, and reports show how these programs operated and changed. The collection also contains administrative documents such as meeting minutes and annual reports; brochures and notes from workshops and conferences; general information on other NGOs; and materials such as course lists, course descriptions, syllabi, and long-term plans that demonstrate the Center's role in human rights instruction at Columbia.