Human rights talk series begins

UND professor Brian Urlacher talks about transnational human rights groups. Photo by Nicholas Nelson/The Dakota Student.

An international studies speakers series of talks about “exploring international human rights” kicked off on Feb. 4, featuring UND professors Paul Sum and Brian Urlacher.

The first talk was on “Exploring the Focus of Transnational Human Rights Groups” and was held at the Empire Arts Center. “We are interested in the role human rights organizations play in shaping human rights internationally,” Sum said. “What’s striking is the growth of these organizations over time.”

Sum said the growth of human rights organizations started to take off around 1975 due to the Helsinki Accords, increased democratization, the communication revolution and the codification of human right standards.

“We want to know, have they made a difference?” Urlacher said. “Have they changed anything? How have they changed policy, changed states? Have they made oppressive countries a little less oppressive?”

Sum and Urlacher used Genocide Watch, a human rights organization out of Washington, D.C., as an example.

“When they start seeing deterioration, they start sounding alarm bells,” Sum said. “They look at eight stages of genocide. But, they are one organization and can’t throw the same amount of weight to every situation.”

The two relied on event data from 1992-2004 in newspapers where human rights organizations went after countries.

“What we found, the good news is that human rights organizations are more critical of states that have horrific violations,” Urlacher said. “This suggests that the organizations are doing what they say.”

The United States is one country that is targeted by human rights groups in regards to Guantanamo Bay, incarceration rates, racial discrimination and racial profiling.

“This is not looking exclusively at genocide,” Sum said. “It’s looking at human rights violations, and the U.S. is regularly called out.”

There will be three more talks on March 4, April 1 and April 29. All are sponsored by the UND International Studies program.

Megan Hoffman is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].