Author: Christine Ballestrini

Evolving Landscapes of Human Rights

Celebrating 20 Years of Interdisciplinarity & Innovation

March 29-31, 2023 • Storrs, CT

Evolving Landscapes of Human Rights

To celebrate the Human Rights Institute’s 20th anniversary, we are convening an international conference, showcasing the thematic foci of the Institute's research and practice clusters.

This international conference will convene more than 40 speakers over the course of three days. Conference panels will address themes central to the work of the Institute's research and practice clusters, including:

  • Right to health in Latin America
  • Memorialization, transitional justice, and human rights
  • Humanitarian narratives in the global south
  • History and future of war crimes prosecution
  • Human rights, science, and technology
  • Challenges and methodological approaches of monitoring and measuring human rights
  • Reflections on the US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct
  • Supply chains disrupted: the social and environmental dimensions of reform

These panels cut distinct routes through the human rights terrain while remaining rooted in rigorous social science and humanities methods of inquiry. The discussions both reflect and celebrate the interdisciplinarity of HRI’s research programs and the innovative scholarship that have emerged from two decades of hosting conferences, workshops, and invited speakers across these domains. 

Founded in 2003, the Human Rights Institute has fostered an empirical and historical approach to human rights teaching and research that subjects universal moral values and legal rights to rigorous scrutiny. Today’s HRI is a vibrant intellectual community, with 15 core faculty members in 11 different departments, 3 post-doctoral fellows, and nearly 50 associated faculty across the University. It has ten established research clusters. HRI is also home to robust undergraduate and graduate programs, including  the first undergraduate major at a public research university, a university-wide graduate certificate program, and master of arts degree.

HRI has provided a fruitful site for convening for scholars across disciplines, instigating and supporting collaboration across conventional academic boundaries. Situated at the intersection of academic inquiry between the legal, social science, and humanities traditions, the University of Connecticut is a place where the promise and claims of human rights are interrogated through empirical research into institutions and processes, both global and local. Human rights are not simply academic subjects, however, and we seek to inform and shape policy decisions through our empirical investigations. 

This conference will continue its tradition, drawing scholars and practitioners from around the world to renew ongoing conversations and to inspire new ones about the latest challenges in the field.

Conference Overview

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

All events will take place in the Konover Auditorium at The Dodd Center for Human Rights unless otherwise noted.

10:00 a.m. - 10:30 a.m. Opening remarks
10:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. Supply Chains Disrupted: The Social and Environmental Dimensions of Reform

Global supply chains have experienced multiple recent and high-profile shocks, driven in part by labor shortages and transportation snares spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and by commodities shortfalls linked to the war in Ukraine. Beneath these disruptions are underlying problems including a lack of social protection floors for workers in multiple industries, and a lack of regulatory safeguards for new industries integral to contemporary supply networks (e.g., e-commerce and other elements of the digital economy). Panelists will explore problems and proposals for reform aimed at safeguarding the economic rights of workers while shoring up the social and environmental sustainability of global supply chains. 



Tola Moeun, Executive Director, Center for Alliance of Labor & Human Rights in Cambodia 

Marina Colby, Senior Labor Advisor, USAID 

Mark Anner, Professor of Labor and Employment Relations, and Director of the Center for Global Workers’ Rights, Penn State University

Judy Gearhart, Senior Researcher, American University School of International Service


Moderator: Shareen Hertel, Professor of Political Science and Human Rights, University of Connecticut


1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. LunchStudent Union Ballroom, 3rd Floor
3:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. History and Future of War Crimes Prosecution

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has precipitated a turning point in the international law of war crimes. In similar previous moments, new concepts and terms emerged to make sense of crimes and to prepare a path toward justice. "War crimes," "crimes against humanity," "genocide," and "human rights" are examples of these earlier concepts. Recognizing the importance of historical context in establishing these precedents, what new concepts, what new language, can help make sense of crimes committed in twenty-first century warfare and contribute to securing justice?



Predrag Dojčinović, Adjunct Professor and Research Affiliate, Human Rights Institute, University of Connecticut

Emma Gilligan, Associate Professor of International Studies, Indiana University Bloomington

Nathaniel Raymond, Humanitarian Research Lab, Yale University's School of Public Health

Peter Pomerantsev, Senior Fellow, Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University


Moderator: Sara Silverstein, Associate Professor of History, University of Connecticut


4:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. "Legacy Without Limits" Film Screening & Panel Discussion 




Małgorzata Szuleka, Head of Advocacy, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Maciej Nowicki, President, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights


Moderator: Kathryn Libal, Director, Human Rights Institute, University of Connecticut

Thursday, March 30, 2023

All events will take place in the Konover Auditorium at The Dodd Center for Human Rights unless otherwise noted.

9:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. Global Health & the Right to Health: Critical Perspectives from Latin America

The intersection of Global Health and Human Rights has generated concepts, methods, and political debates, as well as legislation and programs. In official accounts, the importance of local activism, social movements, and regional trajectories in the history of global health and the right to health is often overshadowed by international organizations and foundations’ universalizing narratives of what human rights are and how to measure progress. In this panel, leading scholars and activists from Latin America will challenge these top-down accounts by sharing incredible conceptual, methodological and political contributions of subaltern proposals from Latin America. Panelists will not only shed light on the regional specificities of their struggles, but also show how this region is at the forefront of challenging Western perspectives on the right to health, for instance by proposing novel decommodified and pluriversal perspectives on the social determination of the health-disease-treatment process, intercultural health, and healthcare systems.



Jaime Breilh Paz y Miño, Director of the Collective Health Research Center and of the doctorate and postdoctorate programs of the Health Sciences Area, Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, Ecuador

Vivian T. Camacho Hinojosa, General Director, Traditional Ancestral Medicine of the Bolivian Ministry of Health

Mario Hernández, Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Doctorate in Public Health Universidad Nacional de Colombia


Moderator: César E. Abadía-Barrero, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Human Rights, University of Connecticut 


10:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. The US National Action Plan on Responsible Business Conduct

On June 16, 2021, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on behalf of the Biden-Harris Administration that the federal government would soon begin updating and revitalizing the United States’ National Action Plan (NAP) on Responsible Business Conduct. Interested parties were provided the opportunity to submit written comments for federal government agencies to consider in developing the NAP. Submissions from business, civil society, and academia were followed by informal consultations between these groups and the government in 2022. The United States published its first NAP in December 2016, one of about 30 countries throughout the world to have done so. The panel will consider the role of NAPs and how the NAP could and should take forward the business and human rights agenda in the United States.



Jena Martin, Robert L. Shuman Professor of Law and Ethics, West Virginia University

David Sullivan, U.S. National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises (on Responsible Business Conduct), and Senior Adviser on Corporate Social Responsibility, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs

David McKean, Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable

Eric Biel, Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB), U.S. Department of Labor


Moderator: Rachel Chambers, Assistant Professor of ​Business Law, University of Connecticut School of Business


12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m. Lunchtime Breakout SessionsStudent Union, 3rd Floor
1:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Human Rights Measurement and Monitoring: Challenges and Methodological Approaches

In order to document and describe the extent of human rights conditions and abuses, advance our understanding of their causes and consequences, and inform policy and advocacy requires that we accurately and systematically observe and measure these phenomena. Because human rights abusers seek to obfuscate their actions and deny access to evidence, this is a tremendous challenge. The Human Rights Research and Data (HuRRD) Hub workshop session brings together scholars working on cutting edge techniques to improve and expand the measurement of human rights fulfillment and violations, as well as the institutional and policy approaches to prevent or address them, around the world. Panelists will explain the key challenges to human rights measurement and observation that their research aims to address, introduce their innovative methodological approaches to meeting these challenges, and discuss how their data can be used in human rights research, policy, and advocacy. Panelist presentations will lead to an open format discussion to 1) elicit critical feedback on the projects from the audience, 2) make these cutting edge methodological advances in human rights research accessible to the audience, and 3) identify present limitations in human rights measurement and the needs for innovation and future research to address these gaps.



Rebecca Cordell, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Texas-Dallas

Chris Fariss, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan

Kelebogile Zvobgo, Assistant Professor of Government, William & Mary and Director, International Justice Lab

Skip Mark, Assistant Professor and Director, Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies, University of Rhode Island


Moderator: Mike Rubin, Assistant Research Professor, Human Rights, Engineering & Business and Director, Human Rights Research and Data Hub


3:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. Transforming Human Rights Education for Contentious Times

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “every individual and every organ of society…shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms” (1948). Since then, human rights education has evolved from a field that aims to raise awareness about respect for human rights to one through which a person or community has the potential to transform as a result of realizing human rights and one’s ability to influence positive social change. At the same time, scholars and practitioners have critiqued human rights and human rights education for privileging Western and Eurocentric contributions to the fields over non-Western knowledge, values, and perspectives. As a result, they have been engaged in the work of decolonizing human rights education. In this panel, leading human rights education scholars will draw on their decades of experience to reflect on the past and discuss how human rights education needs to continue to evolve at present to meet these contentious times. They will discuss how human rights education can address global challenges such as prejudice and discrimination, economic injustice, and the effects of the climate crisis, and examine how scholarship can inform practice to contend with the human rights challenges of today.  



Audrey Osler, Professor Emerita of Human Rights Education and Citizenship, University of Leeds

Michalinos Zembylas, Professor of Educational Theory and Curriculum Studies, Open University of Cyprus

Andre Keet, Chair of Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation, Nelson Mandela University


Moderator: Sandra Sirota, Assistant Professor in Residence, Experiential Global Learning & Human Rights, University of Connecticut


4:30 p.m. - 5:45 p.m. Gladstein Visiting Professor Keynote Address: "Accountability and its Discontent – Between Hope and Despair"

Rashida Manjoo, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its Causes and Consequences, and Professor Emerita, University of Cape Town

Friday, March 31, 2023

All events will take place in the Konover Auditorium at The Dodd Center for Human Rights unless otherwise noted.

9:00 a.m. - 10:15 a.m. Memorialization, Transitional Justice, and Human Rights

The power of memorialization is widely recognized as a form of symbolic reparation aimed at redressing social injustices in the aftermath of mass violence. Yet its potential to activate the connection between repair and social transformation remains underutilized in contexts of transitional justice and international human rights law. This panel unites memorialization practitioners with experts in international human rights law to address how we can integrate memorial practices into multilayered strategies for justice and social reconciliation.



Diego García Sayán, former President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

Sergio Beltrán García, Assistant Researcher, Forensic Architecture

Jha D Amazi, Principal, Co-Director, Public Memory & Memorials Lab, MASS Design Group

Claret Vargas, Senior Staff Attorney, Center for Justice & Accountability


10:30 a.m. - 11:45 a.m. Humanitarian Narratives in the Global South

This panel will reassess the narrative conventions surrounding human rights and humanitarianism as well as the responses they are presumed to evoke in readers and publics. Can appeals to empathy with human suffering or stories of traumatized refugees and witnesses to mass crimes still have a lasting and substantial impact in enlisting public support for human rights?  What role can literature play in identifying new narrative forms or alternative kinds of evidence, including historical evidence, to make sense of the current relationships between humanitarianism, human rights, and global economic inequality?



Joseph R. Slaughter, Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Executive Director, Institute for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University

Yogita Goyal, Professor of English and African American Studies, University of California Los Angeles

Eleni Coundouriotis, Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Connecticut

Kerry Bystrom, Associate Dean, Bard College Berlin


Moderator: Sarah Winter, Professor of English and Comparative Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Connecticut


12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m. LunchWilbur Cross Reading Room
1:30 p.m. - 2:45 p.m. Biomedical Technologies and Human Rights: Conceptual, Ethical and Legal Considerations

Emerging biomedical technologies, such as genetic engineering but also applications of artificial intelligence in medicine and healthcare, provide exciting new opportunities for improving human health and well-being. At the same time, they may create substantial ethical and legal challenges and the rapid pace of innovation makes responsible governance of these technologies increasingly complex. In this panel, we shall highlight some of the most pressing ethical and legal concerns and discuss possible approaches to more adaptive governance and regulation.



Phillipp Kellmeyer, Neurologist, University of Freiburg and FRIAS 

Fruzsina Molnar-Gabor, Professor of Law and BioQuant, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences

Molly Land, Professor of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law


Moderator: Sebastian Wogenstein, Associate Professor of German Studies, University of Connecticut


3:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. Closing Celebration & Reception



Registration is required so we may account for your presence.

If you are a faculty member and would like to bring your class, please email Erica Laplante and have your students register using the same form.