MacArthur Awards for Creative & Effective Institutions

Human Rights Center, University of California, Berkeley, School of Law

Berkeley, California | 2015 Award Recipient

Applying cutting-edge science and research to protect human rights globally

Through an approach that merges on-the-ground field work with rigorous academic research, the Human Rights Center investigates war crimes and other serious human rights violations to seek accountability for mass atrocities and support communities and individuals affected by conflict.

The Center’s work is grounded in empirical research and scientific rigor, using DNA analysis and other innovative technologies to conduct human rights investigations around the world. To date, the Center has led investigations and research in more than a dozen countries, including Iraq, Rwanda, Uganda, and the former Yugoslavia.

The Center’s investigations and research have been used by the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, and other organizations in the pursuit of justice for human rights violations. An investigation undertaken with Human Rights Watch during the Iraq war uncovered a mass grave containing the remains of hundreds of Kurdish victims, including many women and children, killed during Saddam Hussein’s campaign against the Kurds in the late 1980s. The investigation led to the identification of scores of Kurdish victims and yielded forensic evidence that supported the prosecution of Hussein.

The Center conducts research, population-based studies, and outreach to communities, victims, and civil society organizations to understand the needs of those affected by war and to ensure their voices are heard by policymakers and government organizations. Its publications My Neighbor, My Enemy and The Witnesses synthesize a large-scale research project in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia on how societies torn apart by war and mass atrocity can pursue justice and rebuild shattered communities. The publications have informed policies on the treatment of victims and witnesses in international tribunals. 

The Center’s Sexual Violence Program applies empirical research methods to improve accountability for and the protection of survivors in post-conflict settings and other humanitarian contexts. It brings together academics, practitioners, and policymakers to promote evidence-based action toward ending wartime sexual violence. The Program’s Safe Haven study examined “safe shelter” options for refugees and internally displaced persons fleeing sexual violence in Kenya, Colombia, Haiti, and Thailand. Undertaken at the request of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the study’s findings are informing the development of global guidance on this protection challenge.

The Center will use its $1 million MacArthur Award to establish an endowment and expand its Sexual Violence Program.

Grantee Profile: Learn more about University of California, Berkeley Human Rights Center

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