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.
School of General Studies , Undergraduate
When Catholicism, Government, and Social Movements Come to Play: A Historical Comparison of Abortion Policy around the World and its Implications on Human Rights
Abortion and reproductive rights are highly contested topics among individuals, parties, religions, and governments. Policies vary cross-nationally, and change over time within countries depending on a variety of salient reasons. This paper, based on research and an analysis of scholarly writings on abortion policy, examines five countries across areas of the world: Latin America (Brazil), Central/Western Europe (Germany), The Global West (United States of America), Eastern Europe (Poland), and Northern/Nordic Europe (Sweden). I attempt to comparatively consider the reasons and motivation for their respective abortion policies over time. In this paper, I will argue that there are three main players that tend to shape the policies in a country: the level of Roman Catholic Church influence, the government type, and the strength/success of social movements. I conclude my argument with a discussion of how policy players and policy feedback shape abortion discourse and laws. I discuss the importance of recognizing reproductive rights as human rights vital to approach with as much equality as any other human right may be. It is time to step out of discriminatory and divisive policies and into ones that treat all sexes and genders equally, worldwide. Understanding the policy players in this fight will help move towards success.
Columbia College, Undergraduate
Climate refugees, and their ‘refugee’ status
This article explores the manner in which the growing problem of climate refugees poses a significant legal, social and ethical challenge to international humanitarian law. It takes note of the obligations of the Global North, and takes into account different humanitarian and legal arguments that have been acknowledged by national courts. It goes on to talk about legal obligations to deal with climate change in the Netherlands, and what this means for climate refugees. It proposes solutions, and emphasizes the necessity of a synthetical approach to accommodate climate refugees.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate
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.
The Rights of Migrant Labor: Farmworkers in Florida
Migrant agricultural workers in the United States face conditions ranging from sub-poverty wages and exclusion from social safety nets to circumstances that meet the legal standards of slavery. Almost half of these workers are undocumented and the political debate surrounding their situation is intertwined with a growing national concern about illegal immigration. Meanwhile, various human rights organizations have picked up on these workers’ plight; as evidenced by a recent increase in fair food campaigns across the US. This paper uses secondary sources and interviews with legal advocates to examine the mechanisms for the delivery (and denial) of rights of migrant farmworkers in Florida. It explores the challenges of organizing workers to collectively claim these rights, the loopholes in domestic law and the limitations to using an international legal framework for access to justice. An analysis of the sources reveals that much of the progress in Florida has been achieved through legal advocacy rather than collective organization; this speaks to an interesting general tension between human rights and labor rights movements and what happens when the twain meet. Another topic of interest is the ambiguous role of international law in this issue and the possibility for transnational arrangements.