March 28, 2002
Vol. 21 No. 12

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    Human Rights Program will sponsor April conference, welcome noted international activist Cuellar in May

    By Peter Schuler
    News Office

    The University’s Human Rights Program, known for its ongoing Scholars at Risk Network, will sponsor two upcoming events this quarter. Human rights advocacy leaders will examine current issues from a variety of perspectives at an April conference, and noted international human rights activist Benjamin Cuellar will participate in the 12th annual presentation of the Ignacio Martin-Baro Human Rights Essay Awards in May.

    The one-day conference titled “A Conference on Civil Society and the Practice of Human Rights” will be held Saturday, April 13, at Judd Hall. The day’s discussions will cover the role of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, human rights practices in Midwestern United States, the establishment and implementation of human rights policies, and transnational human rights advocacy.

    “Our panel is intentionally very diverse,” said Susan Gzesh, Executive Director of the Human Rights Program. “We’ve invited individuals who work in all aspects of human rights, including those at the local, national and international levels,”

    University faculty members who will participate are Edward Lawlor, Dean of the School of Social Service Administration; Michael Geyer, Professor in History and the College; Mae Ngai, Assistant Professor in History and the College; and Alison Boden, Dean of Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. Other academic institutions will be represented, as well.

    Additional panelists include John Donahue, Director of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless; Krishanti Dharmaraj, Executive Director of WILD, a human rights advocacy group for women and girls; Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director of the Midwest Immigrant and Human Rights Center; Standish Kwame Willis of the National Conference of Black Lawyers; and Jon Cortina of the Universidad Centro Americana, San Salvador, El Salvador.

    Cuellar, Director of the Human Rights Institute of the Central American University in San Salvador, El Salvador, will be visiting in May as part of an exchange program of human rights advocates between the United States and El Salvador. His visit is planned in conjunction with the 12th annual Ignacio Martin-Baro Human Rights Essay Awards ceremony.

    Each year, three undergraduate and graduate students are awarded the prizes, which honor the memory of Martin-Baro, a Jesuit priest from El Salvador who had earned a Ph.D. in Social Psychology at the University in 1979.

    Martin-Baro became a teacher at the Universidad de Centro America in San Salvador and was a leading scholar and advocate for social justice and human rights issues. In 1989, the El Salvadoran army assassinated Martin-Baro and seven others for their vocal support on behalf of El Salvador’s dispossessed.

    The University established its Human Rights Program in 1997, and since August 2001, Gzesh has served as its director. She is a Lecturer in the Law School as well as an expert on immigration policy. As part of the Center for International Studies, the Human Rights Program is an interdisciplinary initiative that taps expertise from across the campus. Rashid Khalidi, Professor in History and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations, is Director of the center.

    One initiative of the program is the Scholars at Risk Network, a coalition of more than 70 academic institutions that works to promote academic freedom and defend the human rights of scholars worldwide.

    As Director of the Scholars at Risk Network, Robert Quinn coordinates its initiatives. “The network responds to attacks on academic communities,” said Quinn, “and we work to reduce the severity and frequency of attacks over the long term.”

    The network’s principal activity is to arrange temporary positions for displaced and persecuted scholars at participating institutions. Those positions include appointments as visiting scholars, researchers, research assistants, lecturers or visiting professors, ranging from a few months to a few years.

    Scholars from any country or discipline are eligible, including non-traditional scholars such as artists, poets and public intellectuals.