NEWS RELEASE, 12/09/99
UC Berkeley spotlight increasingly focuses on
international human rights
By Kathleen Maclay, Public Affairs
BERKELEY-- Students and faculty members at the University of California, Berkeley, are traveling to Tibet, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and elsewhere to help stem human rights abuses as the campus assumes leadership in this field.
"Berkeley is viewed as the place to be," for those dedicated to human rights, said David Caron, a professor at UC Berkeley's School of Law (Boalt Hall)."The law school and university are now important actors in the field, and students come here directly because of the Human Rights Center."
The campus's Human Rights Center was established in 1994 and, at Boalt Hall, the International Human Rights Law Clinic was set up in 1997. The two, said Caron, "totally transformed human rights at Berkeley, in my view."
UC Berkeley's orientation is less traditional than most and emphatically embraces a wide range of academic disciplines, said Eric Stover, director of the human rights center and an adjunct professor at the School of Public Health. His own experience ranges from surveying mass graves in Rwanda to researching social and medical consequences of land mines in Cambodia to testifying for the prosecution in the trial of Argentine junta leaders.
Examples of the campus's broad leadership in field of human rights include:
· A new Organs Watch center at UC Berkeley that investigates the growing international traffic in human body parts and further defines ethical transplant surgery;
· "Communities in Crisis," a program to promote reconstruction in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia with cooperation from staff and research centers in Rwanda, Bosnia and at UC Berkeley;
· An effort to establish an endowed chair to teach human rights reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism. Funds also are being sought for a student internship at the Human Rights Watch organization and to help pay student expenses for human rights reporting;
· Students in an education minor class teaching a middle school class how to trace the production sources of their clothes and shoes, and to evaluate working conditions of workers producing the goods;
· Opportunities to study the health status of and health care access for refugees from Bosnia and Russia who now live in Santa Clara County;
· Plans for an immigrant rights education center in Los Angeles to help Mexican immigrants learn English, and work more cooperatively with authorities in fields such as health, safety and teaching;
· Filming a lesbian conference in Sri Lanka as part of a human rights education course in the Graduate School of Education;
· Teaching elementary school students about child abuse and domestic violence;
· Research to help pregnant women and new mothers in Zimbabwe who have the HIV virus, focusing not only on the women's health, but also their social and economic rights.
Human rights classes at UC Berkeley are popular, according to administrators. Students also are flocking to do volunteer work related to human rights, and a large number of students are pursuing degrees in fields related to human rights, said David Leonard, dean of International & Area Studies, home of the Human Rights Center.
"If you look back 25 to 30 years, we had a very limited interest in human rights, actually," he said. "And we've just seen a whole land shift, a dramatic change in the amount of interest in this subject."
"Berkeley's strengths are that it's very research-oriented, interdisciplinary and takes a critical approach," said Stover, former executive director of Physicians for Human Rights. "It's not just do-gooderism for do-gooder's sake."
Orville Schell, dean of the journalism school, said that, in his department, it just makes sense to zero in on human rights. "No free expression, no journalism," he said.
Charles Henry, a professor in African-American studies at UC Berkeley since 1981 and former chair of the board of directors of Amnesty International, said UC Berkeley has long had an affinity for human rights.
For example, he said, its Amnesty International chapter is one of the largest and oldest campus groups within the human rights organization.
"People at Berkeley have had a fairly important leadership role in human rights," said Henry, also a faculty equity associate in the executive vice chancellor and provost's office. "Institutional development has sort of lagged behind."
However, Henry said establishment of the Human Rights Center has helped give the effort more visibility and a broader scope than before.
In today's global climate, what happens in one hemisphere tends to take on more importance elsewhere on the planet.
"Whether it's Chechnya or China or Rwanda, it's very close to the heart of the matter," said Schell. "We exist only at the sufferance of those who protect our rights."
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