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UI Center for Human Rights marks decade of making impact near and far

  burns weston meets with students at the UI Center for Human Rights
Burns Weston (standing, left) meets with Gregory Hamot, UICHR director and faculty member in the UI College of Education, and students at the UI Center for Human Rights. Weston cofounded the center 10 years ago. Photo by Kirk Murray.

What started out as a campuswide commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has evolved into a center that shapes curriculum, facilitates scholarship and teaching, provides student scholarships for experiential learning, and promotes and helps to protect myriad human rights domestically and internationally.

The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR), part of UI International Programs, is celebrating its 10th anniversary this November with a celebration featuring lectures, a film series, panel discussions, and performances, all of which are free and open to the public.

Burns H. Weston, the Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus; UI geography professor Rex Honey; and Dorothy M. Paul, the associate director for community affairs for the center, founded the Center for Human Rights in 1999. It grew out of the 50th anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the University’s “Global Focus: Human Rights” programming efforts in 1998, led by Weston.

“The center gives the campus a world view that is inclusive of all people and it takes seriously the suffering of people around the world as well as at home,” says Weston, who served as the center’s founding director.

UICHR originally focused on child labor research and curriculum development; Weston says a child labor law database developed at the center became a world-class, world-recognized resource.

Lately, through its Climate Legacy Initiative, the UICHR has sought to bridge the gap between human rights and the environment, particularly in the context of climate change. It also participates on a continuing basis in research and outreach on such specific human rights concerns as immigration and sexual violence in conflict zones.

In recent years, the UICHR has shifted some of its focus away from thematic issues to the teaching mission at The University of Iowa, becoming a significant resource for students and faculty on human rights educational opportunities.  But it does so always with the wider community within which it lives firmly in mind, Weston says.

The “One Community, One Book” initiative, which also grew out of the center in 2001, remains a central part of UICHR programmatic work. The annual communitywide reading project invites the public to discuss one human rights–related text each year. Not to be overlooked is its triannual Human Rights Index, now in its 10th year, prepared and published in collaboration with the Iowa Review.

While UICHR has made an impact around the world, it also has affected students on campus. The UICHR has funded more than 40 students to pursue summer internships with human rights organizations since 2005, and roughly seven to 15 students intern directly with the center on campus each year. Every year, hundreds of students also participate in Careers for Change, student discussion forums, workshops, film series, and other activities through the center’s diverse offerings.

UICHR deputy director Amy Weismann adds that there isn’t a day that passes without a news story or event that brings a human rights issue to people’s attention, ranging from issues as diverse as child labor to intergenerational justice and climate change, making the study and understanding of human rights vital to the University’s role in creating civically engaged and aware citizens.

Eventful month to mark monumental decade

The center’s 10th anniversary marks the premiere of Worldways from 5 to 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 13, in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. The new UI International Programs radio and television program focuses on topics that are international in scope and blends discussion of culture, history, literature, language, politics, and art. The program will regularly air on UITV and KRUI radio.


UICHR celebration events

Click here for more information on UICHR 10th anniversary celebration events, or contact Liz Crooks, 319-335-3900,; or Amy Weismann, 319-335-0483,


Worldways will be produced in partnership with the UI Pentacrest Museums one Friday a month, from 5 to 7 p.m., in the Senate Chamber of the Old Capitol Building, and members of the public can participate as members of the live audience. This program is free and open to the public.

The debut program will be dedicated to human rights topics and will feature among its guests former Iowa governor Robert D. Ray; Michael Ratner, civil rights attorney, president of the New York–based Center for Constitutional Rights Board of Directors, and author of Guantanamo: What the World Should Know; and founding director Weston. Joan Kjaer, formerly of Know the Score on Iowa Public Radio and currently senior communications advisor for International Programs, will host the show each month.

Some of the other celebration highlights include:

  • Cathy Mansfield, composer/librettist and Drake University Law School professor, will give a lecture, “The Sparks Fly Upward: Learning About the Holocaust, Defying Genocide,” at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 10, in the UI Music Recital Hall in room 1670 of University Capitol Centre. UI School of Music students and faculty will provide a performance from her libretto “The Sparks Fly Upward.”
  • The UICHR will commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) with a panel moderated by Weston at 7 p.m., Nov. 12, in room 40 of Schaeffer Hall.
  • On Nov. 14, the UICHR will host a symposium exploring current issues in human rights activism and scholarship with visiting scholars and activists from around the country. Michael Ratner will give the keynote address at 9 a.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber.

Gregory Hamot, the current UICHR director, says he hopes the anniversary celebration raises both awareness of the center’s critical role in the state, nation, and world, as well as funds to keep the center running in the future.

For more information on UICHR 10th anniversary celebration events, visit; or contact Liz Crooks, 319-335-3900,; or Amy Weismann, 319-335-0483,

by Ashton Shurson

Office of University Relations. Copyright The University of Iowa 2006. All rights reserved.