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Mission & History

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2011-2012 Biennial Report

Focus

Mission

To increase understanding of the history and issues relating to genocide and other violations of human rights with the intent of preventing such atrocities in the future and advancing human rights on all levels.

Method

Create a multidisciplinary program that facilitates research and teaching across disciplines

Projects

Potential Archival Projects: Ethiopia, Nuremberg, Rwanda

Educational Projects: Increase UND course offerings; create multi-disciplinary classes; Develop K-12 curricula

Advocacy/Outreach: Work with other organizations on HR advocacy overseas; link up thematically-related UND programs; partner with similar regional institutions such as neighbor universities, International Peace Garden, NDHRC, and Winnipeg's Canadian Museum for Human Rights; host conferences

History

Archival Origins: Ethiopia and Nuremberg Projects

The University of North Dakota (UND) Center for Human Rights and Genocide Studies (CHRGS) has its origins in projects dedicated to preserving and making available to the public archives related to massive human rights violations. In 2006, CHRGS Director Gregory S. Gordon, a UND law professor and former human rights prosecutor, was contacted by Hirut Abebe-Jiri, a survivor of the Ethiopian Red Terror. She wanted Professor Gordon's help in establishing an archive related to the 1970s Ethiopian Red Terror, during which millions of innocent Ethiopians were tortured and/or murdered. Gordon invited Abebe-Jiri to the UND campus and she spoke with students and administrators about her experience. She urged UND officials to help her collect the Red Terror documents, organize them, preserve them, and make them available to the public. UND's then-Provost Greg Weisenstein agreed to sponsor a trip to Ethiopia, sending Abebe-Jiri, Gordon and UND Library Director Wilbur Stolt to Addis Ababa to meet with Ethiopian officials, examine the archives, and lay the groundwork for establishing a documentation and research center. The UND delegation met with top-level members of the Ethiopian government and secured a memorandum of understanding from the government that committed government support for the project. To implement further the project, Abebe-Jiri founded the Ethiopian Red Terror Documentation and Research Center (ERTDRC) and UND established CHRGS. The Red Terror documentation project is still in progress.

In the meantime, CHRGS began to consider other archival projects. One such project involved digitizing portions of the historic Nuremberg trial transcripts. UND is one of only perhaps a dozen institutions worldwide that holds the complete Nuremberg trial record. Given the Norwegian connection in North Dakota, CHRGS began by digitizing those portions of the Nuremberg archives related to the Nazi occupation of Norway. Thanks in large part to a generous grant by the Norwegian Resistance Museum in Oslo, the digitized "Nazi Occupation of Norway" archive is now up on the CHRGS website. CHRGS currently seeks funding to continue the project, with its next stage involving the digitization of the IG Farben trial archives (the company that manufactured the toxins used in the Nazi death camp gas chambers). North Dakota Supreme Court Justice James Morris was an IG Farben trial judge and UND has his personal papers. Those papers will be included in the next batch of materials digitized. CHRGS has also been in discussions with a prominent Rwandan genocide researcher to explore organizing, archiving and possibly digitizing the researcher's extensive original documentation of Rwandan mass murder in 1994.

Fellowship Program

CHRGS has also pursued its core mission beyond the archiving projects. Since 2008, it has hosted a series of Visiting Fellows who have spent time on the UND campus, conducted research and made scholarly presentations to the community. In partnership with the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center, CHRGS has been bringing in Humphrey Fellows as part of the CHRGS Visiting Fellow program. Our inaugural Visiting Fellow was Dr. Sudip Chakraborty of West Bengal's Ananda Chandra College, an expert on the subject of exploitation of child labor. In the spring of 2010, CHRGS hosted Dr. Zhiyuan Guo, a highly respected legal scholar and judge from the People's Republic of China with an expertise in alternative dispute resolution in the human rights context. In the spring of 2011, Jolanta Samuolyte, who has served as Legal Director of Lithuania's Human Rights Monitoring Institute, will join CHRGS for a week of scholarly presentations on the theme of human rights in a post-Soviet society.

CHRGS has also hosted Visiting Fellows separate from the University of Minnesota-linked scholars. In the fall of 2009, Professor Margaret McGuinness of St. John's School of Law (formerly University of Missouri), an expert on U.S. exceptionalism in the area of human rights, spent several days on the UND campus sharing her scholarship. Dr. James D. Boys of Richmond, the American International University in London, spent some time researching two papers on the UND campus in the spring of 2010 -- "The Clinton Administration and the Rwandan Genocide: Politics, Denial, Remorse and the Development of a Responsibility to Protect Doctrine for Africa" and "The Perpetual War on Terror." Dr. Boys is returning to the UND campus for the fall semester to present those papers, guest lecture and engage in a faculty workshop as well as a debate and town-hall meeting in the community room at the Grand Forks Herald.

Special Events

CHRGS has also presented a series of human rights-themed special events on campus. In light of a rash of swastikas painted on campus in the spring of 2008, some of these events have attempted to raise awareness regarding the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. In the fall of 2008, Dr. Fred Lyon, a survivor of the infamous 1938 Nazi pogrom known as Kristallnacht, spoke to UND students about his witnessing this precursor to the Holocaust. Later that fall, CHRGS brought on campus Gunnar Soensteby, the leader of the Oslo resistance during Nazi occupation and the most decorated man in Norwegian history. He spoke about life under Nazi rule and the true meaning of the swastika. The following spring, Martin Weiss, a survivor of Auschwitz, spoke to a crowd of middle school children at the Chester Fritz Auditorium and a standing room only audience at the Memorial Union ballroom. In the fall of 2010, Sandra Schulberg will present her documentary "Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today" at the Empire Arts Theater. The following spring, Claudia Taylor, a music professor at William and Mary and the child of Holocaust survivors, will perform "An Evening with Madame F," one-person show about a woman in the Auschwitz prisoner orchestra.

The Center has also hosted events related to more contemporary human rights themes. In the spring of 2009, it invited Camp Darfur to campus. Camp Darfur set up a simulation of a Darfuri refugee camp in the Hyslop gym. A year later, North Dakota journalist Roxana Saberi related to a packed Chester Fritz auditorium her internationally well known tale of imprisonment in Iran and eventual liberation. She also signed copies of her book Between Two Worlds: My Life and Captivity in Iran.

Education and Research

At the same time, CHRGS has been working as a multidisciplinary program to facilitate research and teaching across disciplines at UND. In particular, CHRGS has worked to increase human rights course offerings on campus and raise awareness regarding existing courses. The Nuremberg digitization project, which implicated law and history, was largely the product of students working in English 417 courses, particularly the Practicum in Digital Humanities. Currently, CHRGS is in the process creating a special cross-disciplinary course for UND's Honor's Program. The course will be on a general human rights theme that will be team-taught by CHRGS faculty members from departments such as English, Law, Modern & Classical Languages and Literature, and Political Science.

Off campus, CHRGS has also been working with K-12 students to increase awareness regarding human rights issues. Director Gregory Gordon has spoken to middle and high school classes regarding the Holocaust and contemporary human rights problems. Since 2008, working with the Jewish Community Relations Council for Minnesota and the Dakotas, CHRGS has sponsored a Holocaust essay writing contest for middle school children in North Dakota. For the past two years, a North Dakota student has been chosen as a contest winner and has been flown to Washington DC to visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.