University of Minnesota Law School and Public Affairs School Honor Assassinated Attorney Dana Seetahal

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Human Rights Advocates: David Biggs

Lenin Statue-47David Biggs has a B.A. in English Composition and Language from the University of North Texas and worked in different professions being including as a technical writer at various companies. In his early 30s, he decided to get a J.D. at the University of Minnesota Law School. Working as a research assistant, David maintained the University of Minnesota Human Rights Library which houses one of the largest collections of more than sixty thousand core human rights documents. After a couple of years as a research assistant at the University of Minnesota Law School, David started working as a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State. Since 2013, he has served at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

David chose that particular job because he felt working in the State Department was one of the best places he could be to see why the USA gets some things wrong in international diplomacy and because he wanted to try to have a hand in making correct decisions, if possible. David desired an up close view of how policy is made and enacted, which can greatly affect the drafting and enforcement of international laws.

 Since working abroad, David has often been confronted with the power of people who stand up for human rights. Five months after he arrived in the Ukraine, hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life were camping on Independence Square protesting first their president’s coerced decision to steer away from closer relations to the EU and then protesting the corruption and abuses that have been commonplace in Ukraine for more than 20 years. Those protests and now the war with Russia really illustrate the need for strong rule of law and transparent government actions.

 For David the term “human rights” means the rights that we are all born with, or that we all should be born with. Humans in an ideal world would act within bounds that don’t interfere in another’s fundamental rights. These are the basic constructs that should define civilization and humanity.

In Ukraine, David observes human rights violations every day. In his experience rule of law including the reliable and effective enforcement of law has to be in place to a large extent before human rights will improve. He has watched as the wealthy in Ukraine and in Russia do as they please, up to and including extra-judicial killings, safe from the law. In his future positions within the Foreign Service, he hopes to find ways to convince oligarchs and other power players in the countries where he will serve that setting up a reliable court system with consistent enforcement mechanisms is in their own best interest as well as that of the general population.

Respect for human rights and the desire to promote those rights will be with David wherever he serves and whatever he does. His next assignment will be supporting U.S. efforts at the UN in Vienna, Austria. What about the assignment after that? Who knows? He may find himself with a direct human rights portfolio, or he may have a job helping underprivileged citizens of a poor country to start businesses and help their economy. But for sure he will always look at the problems he faces with an eye toward how he can help the most people and how he can help to promote a stable and effective legal system.

David’s general advice for people who want to work in the field of human rights:

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“If you want to pursue a human rights related career, you should figure out what subjects make your heart sing. Find out what goals make you want to get out of bed in the morning. Then view those goals through the lens of the application of human rights. How can you do what you love in such a way that it transforms others, increases their dignity, gives them hope, and inspires them to also want to help? If you can get that snowball rolling, even on a small scale, you’ve done a lot.”

Today’s Human Rights Workshop held by Aneeta Aahooja

Culture and Child Exploitation
Feb 3, 12:15 PM-1:15 PM, University of Minnesota Law School, Mondale Hall Room 65

Humphrey Fellow Aneeta Aahooja is currently a Child Protection Officer at the Child Protection Unit of UNICEF-Balochistan in Pakistan. She is responsible for the implementation of children’s and women’s protection initiatives in the province through advocacy, monitoring, and advising on legislation and policy. During the past 5 years, she has worked closely with hundreds of children who were abused sexually or forced to perform intensive labor, and has made miracles happen in these children’s lives. On February 3, Ms. Aahooja will be sharing with us some stories that are close to her heart. She will lead us to think about what we, as individuals and part of a society, can do to end child exploitation in the world.

Albie Sachs, South Africa’s former Constitutional Court member, meets with Fellows

Fellows Lourens Grove and Gladys Kudzaishe Hlatywayo met with South Africa’s former Constitutional Court member, Albie Sachs. Sachs, a lifelong human rights activist, wrote the Constitutional Court’s unanimous opinion in the landmark 2005 decision legalizing same-sex marriage in South Africa.Albie

Is Love Alive? Benefit Concert

The Enchantments

Enjoy live music performances and supporting a great cause? Come to the “Is Love Alive? Benefit Concert” on Wednesday, March 27th at Bordertown Coffee! The event will be hosted by The Enchantments (an all female a capella group on campus directed by Allison Boyle: former Upper-Midwest Fellow) from 6pm-8pm at Bordertown Coffee. This event will help bring funding for Casa de Proyecto Libertad – a non-profit which promotes human rights advocacy and legal support for battered women seeking U-visas and relief under VAWA in the United States. Allison Boyle worked for Casa de Proyecto Libertad during her fellowship and is very passionate to find funding that the firm can use to help the battered immigrants.  She is also director of The Enchantments, a group of powerful women who promote human rights advocacy through music and their powerful voices. So come grab a cup of coffee, watch a great performance by The Enchantments, and support a great cause!!                 Bordertown-handout                  Bordertown_poster1

Women Who Have Inspired the World

Arvonne Fraser and Marsha FreemanArvonne Fraser, Kristi Rudelius-Palmer and Marsha Freeman are two inspiring leaders, who have engaged women and men all around the world to promote and protect women’s human rights. I feel so lucky to have benefited from their efforts and mentorship.

I would love to hear from you TODAY — International Women’s Day — about women, who have inspired you to make a difference!

Thanks for all that you do to support Women’s Human Rights! Feel free to share what you are doing TODAY to celebrate and honor the human rights of girls and women around the world!

Best wishes,

Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, University of Minnesota Human Rights Center Co-Director