2020 Small Faculty Grants for Human Rights Research

The Human Rights Institute established the Human Rights Research Grant Competition for the Faculty and Staff at the University of Connecticut to support and promote research projects on human rights related questions.
2020 Small Faculty Grants for Human Rights Research Recipients:

Gerlinde Berger-Walliser, Assistant Professor of Business Law

Dr. Berger-Walliser’s research focuses on comparing current issues in U.S. business law with European civil law systems. She is particularly interested in the positive role business can play in transnational, intergovernmental, and public-private governance, with particular attention to social issues such as sustainability and human rights. In addition to her focus on international business law and CSR, Professor Berger-Walliser conducts research in proactive law and legal design exploring ways in which contracts and the law can be made more efficient, user-friendly and ultimately function as a lever to value-creation for companies and society.

About the project:

The Future of International Corporate Human Rights Litigation: A Transatlantic Comparison

Internationally operating companies are making headlines for their involvement in human right abuses around the globe. Though public awareness has grown exponentially in recent years, imposing legal liability on corporations for human rights violations remains problematic for various reasons. First, the traditional view was that international human rights law protects individuals from violation by governments. Private actors were not subject to human rights obligations and were therefore immune from criminal prosecution or civil liability. Though this view gradually has been challenged, the legal foundation for civil claims remains unclear, and has been addressed inconsistently by courts in different countries. Second, the company responsible for human rights violations typically operates or is headquartered in a different country than the one where the abuse occurred, and where legal protection often is difficult to obtain. Hence, human rights victims seek legal remedies in a third country where legal protection is actually possible, but which may have only loose connections to the claim. Against this background, the project investigates the current state and potential future development of corporate human rights litigation in the United States and in Europe, and seeks to answer the following questions. Is the United States losing its prominent place as a preferred forum for human rights litigation against corporate defendants as recent Supreme Court decisions suggest? What made the attractiveness of U.S. courts in the first place? Is Europe taking over this role, and if yes, should the United States be concerned about these developments? Are recent doctrinal and legislative trends in Europe transferable to the United States legal system and suitable to fill the gaps left by the Supreme Court’s decisions in Kiobel and Jesner? Finally, what do these shifts on both sides of the Atlantic mean for human rights abuse victims and their prospects of effectively pursuing their rights?

Maria D. LaRusso, Assistant Professor in Human Development and Family Sciences

Dr. LaRusso studies clinical and school-based interventions to support social and emotional development and well-being of children and adolescents.  Her current research focuses on increases in children’s emotional and behavioral dysregulation over the past decade, as experienced by school and health professionals, and the influence of new childhood epidemics on behavior and social-emotional well-being of youth.


About the project:

Healthcare Providers’ Perspectives on PANS, Mental Health Symptoms, and Children’s Rights to a Healthy Development

Dr. LaRusso’s HRI project focuses on Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome (PANS), considered a “new childhood epidemic” that is triggered by a range of infectious and non-infectious agents. With HRI funding, Dr. LaRusso and her colleague Cesar Abadia will interview healthcare practitioners to examine the range of perspectives on PANS within the medical community (including pediatricians, pediatric specialists, and other practitioners, such as child psychologists and social workers) and to better understand the barriers to meeting these children’s needs.  This research builds on their previous findings that parents often struggle to access proper diagnosis and care and refer to their children as having “lost” their childhoods. This project aims to uncover how misdiagnosis and ineffective responses to emotional and behavioral challenges may constitute a violation to children’s rights to develop normally and to achieve their potential.