Winners of the Essay Contest, along with other selected participants, are invited to present their papers during the Human Rights Essay Colloquium. The colloquium, which takes place each spring semester, is an opportunity for students to present human rights papers and engage in open and lively discussion with other students and faculty members.
View all past Essay Contest winners below. Click on the winner to see their paper abstract.
Columbia College, Undergraduate
The Gender Dimension of Migration as Climate Change Adaptation Strategy: A Case Study of Pakistan
This essay argues that urbanization in Pakistan is a form of climate change adaptation that should be facilitated as a way to mitigate risk and diversify agricultural incomes. Pakistan's blanket policy of curbing rural-to-urban migration ignores the complex drivers of this migration and effective adaptation strategies. National policy must recognize and address the fact that internal migration is as a dynamic process that is being exacerbated by slow-onset drought. Furthermore, current migration practices are highly linked with gendered labor practices that stratify women into low-paid, vulnerable sectors. Pakistan’s climate policy should encourage and facilitate this urbanization rather than fear it, and given the existing structures of patriarchy present in rural areas, policy must ensure that women are a focus.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate
Corruption and Impunity Go Hand-in-Hand in Kyrgyzstan: Explaining Injustice in Osh
Ethnic Uzbeks have been disproportionately punished in the aftermath of the violence between ethnic Kyrgyz and ethnic Uzbeks that took place in Osh, Kyrgyzstan in June 2010. Around 470 people died in the three-day conflict, 75 percent of whom were Uzbeks. However, 90 percent of those charged with murder in connection with the violence were also Uzbeks and in only one case has an Uzbek detainee not alleged torture or ill-treatment, usually used to force a confession. Uzbeks have also been violently repressed by police outside prison and their employment opportunities are dramatically reduced, with many forced to emigrate to Russia. The existing research on the subject has either looked at the initial cause of the violence or uncovered the human rights abuses themselves but this paper asks how and why the crackdown on Uzbeks came to take place. It argues that local authorities acted with impunity due to the weakness of the national Interim Government, in place after President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was ousted in April 2010, and the proliferation of unofficial criminal ruling networks. The paper contends that these ethnic Kyrgyz-run local authorities were motivated to crack down on Uzbeks primarily by criminal and economic concerns rather than by ethnic chauvinism. Osh’s place as the hub of Central Asia’s multi-million dollar drug trafficking network from Afghanistan is believed to have greatly enriched senior local officials and corrupted broad strata of local institutions. Meanwhile, the new interim government had promised to rid the country of corruption and needed the Uzbeks as a support base in the South, so weakening the Uzbek community became a necessity if local elites were to stay in power and in profit.
School of General Studies, Undergraduate
The Detroit City Water Shutoffs: Volatile Possibilities and Complexities of Powerlessness for Human Rights of the Present
This Entire Book is Written in Blood: Amnesty International, Torture in Brazil, and the Creation of a Transnational Anti-Torture Movement
From Amnesty International’s pioneering anti-torture campaign of the early 1970s to the release of the final report of Brazil’s National Truth Commission in December 2014, the practice of torture has long defined perceptions of the repressive military regime that dominated Brazil from 1964 to 1985. Yet natural as it may seem today, this association between Brazil and torture was far from inevitable. Indeed, opposition to Brazilian torture has been shaped by the actions of an array of groups and individuals, in Brazil and beyond. This essay explores an important part of this history by examining the actions of two such bodies: the Brazilian Catholic Church and Amnesty International. The anti-torture campaigns mounted by these two institutions in the 1970s and ‘80s reflect the distinct worldviews and divergent agendas of their authors, and in so doing they reveal the contingency and particularity of the fast-consolidating global human rights movement in which they played a central role. By exploring the competing conceptions of torture advanced by Amnesty and the Church, this paper challenges simplistic understandings of the transnational anti-torture movement as an inevitable, univocal response to the violence of an abusive regime, shedding light on the contingencies and particularities undergirding the explosive global growth of human rights.
Barnard College, Undergraduate
Rural Mental Healthcare in Nigeria: An Analysis of the Challenges and Some Achievable Goals
The purpose of the African Charter on Human and People's Rights is to promote and protect the basic freedoms and rights of all Africans. Under Article 16 it recognizes that all individuals have the right to the best attainable state of mental health, and places the onus on the State parties present to the Charter to take all necessary measures to achieve this. However, in Nigeria alone the prevalence of severe mental illness is at 20%. Nigeria is representative of other West African countries that share similar mental health profiles. The purpose of this paper is to provide a clear picture of the state of Nigeria’s mental health care delivery system with a focus on rural communities, and offer achievable goals and programs as partial solutions. Effective mental health care is a human right and poor mental health is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. It is linked to lower worker productivity, performance, and attendance, and to higher workplace accidents. In Nigeria the current ratio of psychiatrists to citizens is 1:1,400,000 with less than 150 psychiatrists in the whole country. The psychiatrists preside solely in urban areas with rural communities mostly receiving mental health care services through primary health care facilities run by staff lacking in proper mental health care and sometimes primary health care training. The perceptions and beliefs in rural communities toward mental health care and those who are mentally ill cause many Nigerians to either refuse care or to seek services from religious and spiritual healers. These are only some of the challenges in delivering effective mental health care services in rural Nigeria. This paper will begin by providing a historical look at the development of mental health care in Nigeria followed by a discussion of the delivery of mental health care within the Nigerian primary health care delivery system, and an analysis of the perceptions and beliefs in rural communities toward mental illness. Finally, two international advocacy and training programs, the Mental Health Gap Action program and the Mental Health Leadership and Advocacy Program, will be introduced as partial solutions to reducing the gap between need and availability of mental health care services in rural Nigeria.
School of Continuing Education, Graduate
The Detention of U.S. “Sex Offenders” Outside of the Criminal Justice System: A Human Rights Perspective
Using a human rights framework, this paper investigates the practice of civilly committing individuals identified as “sex offenders” in the United States. In the US, sex offenders can be civilly committed after they fully have served their prison sentences. These commitments are indefinite, and there is a great deal of secrecy surrounding the process. The practice of confining sex offenders outside of the criminal justice system is problematic in multiple ways; the legal rationale for this action is connected to broad designations of mental illness, yet sex offenders are categorized primarily as a category of criminal. I argue that the ways in which “sex offenders” have been categorized, stigmatized, isolated, and indefinitely incarcerated constitute a violation of human rights. Finally, I discuss the implications of sex offender human rights for the entire human rights landscape within the United States. The sex offender is one of the most despised categories of human in this country, and the treatment of individuals in this category may be seen as a test case for others who are socially unpopular. Even the most despised groups of humans are still entitled to human rights: that is part and parcel of the human rights concept itself. Taking away the rights of the denigrated few has been historically a first step in a larger progression of human rights violations; the silent acceptance of abuses, as long as they are perpetrated against despised groups, often leads to tacit acceptance to the progressive encroachment of human rights abuses throughout a society.