The Duke Human Rights Center at the Kenan Institute for Ethics explores contemporary international human rights challenges by promoting interdisciplinary faculty-led collaborations and innovative practice-oriented pedagogy. On issues ranging from corporate accountability, human trafficking, and climate justice, it encourages critical investigations from a broad range of disciplinary traditions and constructive projects that engage undergraduate and graduate students and that bridge the often separate spheres of research, advocacy and policy. The Center’s research and activities coalesce around four principal issue areas:
- Business and Human Rights
- Environmental Justice
- International Institutions
- Forced Migration and Human Rights
Business and Human Rights
In the burgeoning field of business and human rights, we are promoting dialogue among stakeholders, engaging students in the intersection between corporate activity and human rights, and conducting independent research. Over the past two decades, companies have come under increasing pressure to consider how their business practices impact human rights. Questions of responsibility, remedy, and what it means to be a “corporate citizen” have given rise to a dynamic research area with a wide range of stakeholders, including states, NGOs, corporations, civil society, and intergovernmental organizations. We are increasingly engaging this area through activities that have included convening an expert meeting on the UN Guiding Principles for business and human rights, which led to a publication on the analysis and implementation of those principles. We also provided support for the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights through the work of Briana Nofil, the 2012 Stephen and Janet Bear Postgraduate Fellow in Business, Law and Human Rights.
A cornerstone of the environmental justice initiative is a collaboration, led by professor Deborah Gallagher, between the Nicholas School for the Environment, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Paul Quinn College, a historically black college/university (HBCU) in Dallas. Participants work together to study the relationship between HBCUs and locally undesirable land uses, participate in student exchanges to create social capital and promote environmental justice, and examine public policies to support sustainable development. Among other activities, we have helped to organize a symposium addressing the ethical dimensions of conservation and development in Madagasar, and sponsored a photography exhibit of small towns in Greenland that are facing significant environmental and economic impacts of a proposed rare-earth uranium mining project.
Our work in this area encompasses research by scholars from a range of disciplinary backgrounds who examine how international institutions define, promote, or hinder human rights worldwide, both historically and in the present day. Topics of study span a broad spectrum, and have included animal rights, multiculturalism, human trafficking, and humanitarian intervention. A current project with additional support through Humanities Writ Large and Bass Connections is exploring the language of genocide and human rights. We have co-hosted conferences with past topics including “The History of Human Rights,” “Human Traffick: Past and Present,” “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on LGBT Human Rights Advocacy,” and “Human Rights and Diaspora: Minorities and Liberal Citizenship” and co-sponsored public lectures by scholars, policy makers and judges, including Dr. Anne Cubilié of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Co-authors Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka (Zoopolis), and Justice Edwin Cameron of the South African Constitutional Court. We have also hosted visiting annual human rights scholars, including professors Michael Ignatieff and Thomas Poggee, and supported art exhibits, such as “The Icon Industry: The Visual Rhetoric of Human Rights,” curated by 2013 Kenan Graduate Arts Fellow Caitlin Margaret Kelly.
Forced Migration and Human Rights
Through research and innovative teaching, we address the ethical and human rights challenges of forced migration. Students in the semester-long DukeImmerse: Uprooted/Rerouted program, a research-based student and faculty collaboration on forced migration, strive to understand the contemporary dynamics of displacement and create concrete research-based interventions to address both its causes and consequences. For the past six years, we have also run the Irish Migration Project through DukeEngage Dublin. Each summer, eight students spend eight weeks in one of the most dynamic and increasingly diverse cities in Europe, where they are placed in small organizations that work on issues including organizing and creating the infrastructure necessary to support the successful integration of migrants and refugees into Irish society. In 2010, we began the Refugee Resettlement Project, a multi-site, community-based research project that has included work in eastern Nepal; Cairo, Egypt; Jordan; and Durham, which has a significant population of resettled refugees. We also help sponsor and host interdisciplinary events, including a workshop series on DNA, Human Rights and Human Trafficking and a panel discussion on the right to remedy for trafficked persons.