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.
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.
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.
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.