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.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate
Queering Rights? Sexuality, Gender and Identity in the Yogyakarta Principles
One of the most common arguments against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) rights is that they are new, special or additional rights. LGBTI rights advocates respond by clarifying that they are not asking for new rights; they are simply calling for the fundamental rights to which all humans are entitled. The Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, created in March 2007, exist to support that claim and represent a major step forward for the recognition of rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). While the Yogyakarta Principles succeed in including LGBTI people in the human rights framework, this paper argues that the narrow construction of sexual and gender identity in the Yogyakarta Principles ultimately limits their transformative potential. The Principles construct fixed sexual and gender identities from a Western perspective; they fail to address intersectionality; and they include LGBTI people as a population entitled to rights rather than advancing a sexual rights agenda. As a result, SOGI advocacy that uses the Yogyakarta Principles as its framework often misses opportunities to build coalitions and expand the human rights framework in ways that are critically needed. I conclude by offering the sexual rights framework as a more liberating approach to establishing rights and freedoms related to sexuality and gender.
School of General Studies, Undergraduate
Defending Digital Natives: Young People as a Protected Class Within the Emerging Right of Data Privacy
This paper poses two questions: should young people constitute a protected class under emerging human rights frameworks involving digital privacy and the right to internet access (RTA)? If so, which actors should be targeted by human rights advocates, and which privacy protections should be suggested for software or put into law to guard this protected class? Any new framework will need to safely navigate the growth of business and new technology, free speech, and demands from other non-youth stakeholders that do not infringe upon RTA. Youth voice has been sorely lacking from RTA debates, leading to the ineffectiveness of current privacy protection regimes and considerable disruption to international youth culture. By examining the current state of international policies on this topic as they apply to contemporary dilemmas in American primary education, this paper demonstrates the need for targeted protections involving minors to occur when data privacy is eventually addressed for all persons under international law.
Columbia College, Undergraduate
A Bridge of A Difference: The Underlying Factors Characterizing the Kingdom of Bahrain’s and Saudi Arabia’s Respective Approaches to Women’s Public Participation
This paper examines the case studies of the Kingdoms of Bahrain and Saudi Arabia in their respective approaches to women’s participation in the public sphere. More specifically, the paper will consider the driving factors behind the formation of state policies and agendas that allow women to partake in activities beyond traditional domestic roles, or stifle their ability to do so. Although Bahrain and Saudi Arabia share a border, similar religious identities, traditional gender schemas, and monarchical authority the situation of women marks a point of difference between the two nations. Bahrain’s workforce is over 30% female, amongst the highest rates in the Gulf, while the female percentage of Saudi Arabia’s labor force falls short of 15% (Global Gender Gap Report 2012). These patterns also extend into spheres of education and political participation—shared borders do not indicate shared ideologies. Bahrain presents an increasingly accommodating environment for women in the workforce and political sphere, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, which remains hostile to female employment and involvement outside traditional boundaries.
Barnard College, Undergraduate
Water Apartheid: The Struggle for Water in Palestine
The Middle East and North Africa are facing the most extreme problems of water scarcity worldwide. Issues like poorly developed infrastructure and non-cooperation regarding sharing between nations are amongst the top contributors as to why these countries suffer from water shortage. One of the best examples of these issues lies in Israel and Palestine. Israel, the occupying power, has continued to consume water comparable to that of other developed nations while systematically denying the Palestinian Territories of the water necessary to live. The Gaza strip is facing serious water quality issues, and because of this, serious quantity issues as well. The West Bank suffers mainly from water quantity issues. Though there are organizations and non-state actors that supply humanitarian aid for the Palestinians, there is no sustainable system that exists in the territories for cleaning and distributing water. Also, much needed information to more properly assess the water crisis is not made public due to “national security” conflicts. These constraints only add to the problems facing the region. Without proper assessment of the full extent of the problem, and without a reform in the discriminatory policies and system in place, no steps can be taken at resolving this human rights crisis.
From Gender-Blindness to Gender-Blindness: The Illegitimate Victims of Sexual Violence in the Congolese Conflict
There exists little knowledge about the experiences of male victims of sexual violence, and even less about its connection with norms governing masculinity and power in the context of armed conflict. This intersection deserves attention, both in order to address male experiences of victimhood, and to bring about a more inclusive understanding of the gendered component of sexual violence in conflict (SVC). This paper looks at data gathered on male and female victims of sexual violence in Eastern DRC in March 2010 and discusses a number of assumptions regarding the crime of SVC, such as social stigma and the victim-perpetrator stereotype. Its objective is to highlight the need to transcend conventional societal perceptions of SVC, and by avoiding simple narratives, adopting a more nuanced understanding of its victims, perpetrators, causes, and consequences. This study thus seeks to allow for a more dignified victim response, and in a more general sense, hopes to take steps to engage the human rights framework with rights issues concerning gender and sexuality.
A New Conception of the Citizen: Reconciling the Space between Tribal Sovereignty and U.S. Citizenship
For the past two centuries, Native Americans in the United States have been collectively (and sometimes unwillingly) naturalized as American citizens, putting all Native American nations under the jurisdiction of the American government and preventing them from attaining full sovereignty. These circumstances lead to questions about the nature of the citizen-state relationship between a government and its indigenous bodies, which can be answered in the frame of the conflict between Native American tribes and the U.S. government: What are the implications of a citizen-state relationship where the citizen does not care to be a citizen? In what ways might citizenship be considered detrimental to a person or group? How has the new international discourse of human rights and rights of indigenous peoples affected conceptions of state and citizen? How will the increasing political presence of indigenous groups affect the current relationship between state and citizenship? This paper will address these questions in the context of the United States’ relationship with Native Americans and will attempt to provide solutions to the problems posed by the ambiguous space of citizenship of indigenous peoples.