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.
Mailman School of Public Health and School of International and Public Affairs, Graduate
The Funding of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: How to Leverage Participatory and Gender Transformative Grantmaking Approaches
Women and girls around the world have yet to realize their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). This paper addresses what the institutional philanthropic sector, including private and public foundations, women’s funds, and corporations/corporate foundations, can do to best leverage their funds to fulfill the SRHR of women and girls, and a broader gender equality agenda. It examines the current state of funding for women’s and girls’ initiatives, with an analysis of positive trends and areas of concern. It contends that there is room for growth in the magnitude of funds, as well as in the sophistication of funding strategies of institutional funders interested in investing in the health and human rights of women and girls. This paper makes the case that funders should incorporate two innovative approaches into their funding strategies: (1) participatory grant-making practices and values and (2) gender transformative grant-making. Participatory grant-making ensures that solutions are crafted and driven by the communities themselves, who are the recipients of programs. It necessitates deepened connections and collaboration with women’s rights organizations that are already embedded in local communities. A gender transformative approach to grant-making leads the philanthropic sector in a direction in which gender norms are recognized and elevated as an essential element of public health, rights based, and equality strategies. It is also inclusive of men, boys, and LGBTQ individuals and is fully intersectional by considering how multiple factors, including race, class, age, gender, and sexual orientation, among others interact to simultaneously marginalize people who are affected by them. A gender transformative lens enables funders to make strategic investments by funding programs that authentically tackle the roots of gender inequality, and thus lead to longer-term, more sustainable change.
Columbia College, Undergraduate
Juvenile (In)Justice: A Global Flaw
Child incarceration, otherwise referred to as “juvenile justice,” is intrinsically at odds with the rights outlined in the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In signing the UNCRC, nations around the world promised their children special protections from discrimination (article 1), violence, neglect, and abuse (article 6), and mandated that the primary consideration in all matters concerning children be the best interests of the child (article 21). However, these promises continue to be breached around the globe, as States essentially desert their children in so-called “juvenile justice” institutions—systems embedded with various levels of corruption that manifest themselves in various forms of physical, mental, and sexual violence. Examining case studies from South Asia, England and Wales, and finally, the United States, I argue that child incarceration is by definition a systematic violation of the universal rights of the child. While systems of juvenile detention often parade as welfare-oriented, these systems are actually highly politicized, their aims involving not the best interests of the child, but rather the state’s desire to display its ‘power to punish’ and to assert a façade of social control. Finally, I argue that child incarceration functions, paradoxically, as both the chicken and the egg in a vicious cycle of violence by and against children—a cycle that Retributive approaches to juvenile justice, while seemingly logical, fail to take into account.
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.