A message from a former Human Rights Fellow

A message from former Human Rights Fellow Keramet Reiter

In the summer of 2010, I was honored to have a Human Rights Center fellowship. My host organization was the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland, California. They supported me intellectually as I pursued a critical branch of my dissertation research, interviewing former prisoners who had previously spent three months or more in solitary confinement while in U.S. prisons. Through the support and encouragement of the HRC fellowship advisers and community of scholars, I made my first public presentations about the detrimental effects of solitary confinement at the annual fellows conference and in the local news media.

Over the past three years, I have continued to speak publicly about these issues, recently testifying before the California legislature about the state’s overuse of solitary confinement. And I have maintained an ongoing relationship with my Human Rights Center host organization, serving as a member of their Institutional Review Board, reviewing criminal justice related research protocols.

I am a committed supporter of the Human Rights Center because of the way the center’s work, in combination with the fellowship program, promotes creative, rigorous research, and facilitates policy-oriented reform through this research.

In other words, the center a fulfills critical role bridging academic research with human rights advocacy.


The Human Rights Center has received a $100,000 challenge grant from the Sandler Foundation. So far we have raised $80,011 toward the match. We need your help to meet the match and to support important human rights work. Please donate now!

Join us for our annual UC Human Rights Fellowship Conference on Friday, Nov. 8, from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m., at International House on the UC Berkeley campus. Visit our website to learn more.

Read about our 2013 Human Rights Fellows!




The Human Rights Center’s first years: finding mass graves in Bosnia

A message from Faculty Director Eric Stover
When I came to UC Berkeley in 1995, the Human Rights Center was just a year old—a brilliant seed of an idea planted by our founders, Herb and Marion Sandler. We had set up shop in Stephens Hall on the UC Berkeley campus with one bright graduate student, a few desks, and a rather lethargic computer.

Human rights were under siege from Bosnia to Rwanda.

Just a month into my job, Richard Goldstone, the Chief Prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, asked if I would accompany a team of prosecutors to eastern Bosnia to locate several mass graves believed to be near the Omarska prison camp—a dreadful concentration center run by Serb paramilitaries.

I spent weeks trudging through the snow until I finally found one of the graves just outside the camp. Since the area was still occupied by Serb forces, I conducted a preliminary excavation, marked the site on a map, and quickly left, hoping it would remain undisturbed. Years later, a forensic team completed the excavation of the grave and several other massacre sites nearby.

Convictions followed, and the prisoners of Omarska finally had their day in court—they had names and a past that the killers had tried to erase. Justice was finally done.

Over these past 20 years, the Human Rights Center has witnessed, listened, analyzed, collaborated, and reported the facts—helping to shape the world’s response to atrocities. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to do and am optimistic about the next 20 years.

We’re grateful that the Sandler Foundation is supporting our work by issuing a matching challenge to raise $100,000 from new or expanded pledges. We need your help during the next three weeks to meet this matchPlease donate today. 



Human Rights Center convenes global workshop on war crimes investigations

The first Salzburg Workshop on Improving War Crimes Investigations is bringing together technology innovators, human rights investigators, International Criminal Court prosecutors, legal scholars, and others this week to examine and debate the most effective use of cyber-technology in documenting and investigating atrocities.

Held at the Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg, Austria—a castle once occupied by the Nazis and now used for global meetings—the workshop promises to yield new ideas for  how people on the ground, who are closest to conflict, may document genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes in court-admissible ways. A public report that outlines conclusions and protocols will be made available in the coming months.

“Documentary evidence can be minutes from meetings, telephone intercepts, written orders, or information gleaned from cellular devices,” explained Professor Eric Stover, faculty director of the Human Rights Center. “The aim is triangulate such evidence with testimonial and physical evidenced obtained at the crime scene.”

The workshop, organized by the Human Rights Center in partnership with the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS), is funded by Humanity United, the Open Society Justice Initiative, the Oak Foundation, and Sigrid Rausing Trust. It is the first of three Salzburg Workshops to focus on technology and improving war crimes investigations.

Professor Eric Stover, faculty director of the Human Rights Center, delivers opening remarks at the first Salzburg Workshop on Improving War Crimes Investigations. Also pictured are Dr. Camille Crittenden, deputy director of the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) and Professor Laurel Fletcher, director of the International Human Rights Law Clinic at UC Berkeley.



How CA Bikes is making a difference in Uganda

During my UC Human Rights Fellowship in Uganda this summer, I took a day trip with CA Bikes founder Christopher Ategeka deep into Kyenjojo village to meet a recipient of a hand-pedaled tricycle, which can be ridden by people unable to use their feet. CA Bikes makes bicycles and wheelchairs to distribute to HIV-positive youth and other vulnerable children in Uganda who live between 8 and 20 kilometers from their schools.

The boy we met, a 17-year-old named Valist, lived in a room with walls made of mud, wood, and newspapers. When we walked into his 8 x 8 room, I saw blood pooled on his sheets and smelled a horrid odor of rotting flesh.

Valist greeted me and thanked Chris for the tricycle. Through the translator, I immediately asked what happened and the boy shared his story

Valist was walking to school on a Thursday morning eight years ago when he fell ill with a fever. A few weeks later, he lost all sensation in his lower body and was no longer able to stand or walk.

Receiving a hand-powered tricycle from CA Bikes allowed him to continue to do daily functions and go to school for a short period. A bright boy, Valist was doing very well in school. But after a couple of years without going to the hospital and seeking treatment, his condition had worsened.  We were told that he could not feel or move his lower body, and that rats were even seen biting and feasting on his feet.

The ordeal caused tension at home and led his parents to argue. Valist says his father was jailed for six months for trying to cut his throat. The father felt his boy’s illness was a burden and wanted to end the family’s misery and Valist’s suffering. Valist’s mother felt otherwise and continued to fight for and care for him.

I watched Valist knitting a reed basket—facing the most difficult, unimaginable circumstances—and I felt a range of sadness, uncertainty, and hopelessness. Ironically, I did not see those same feelings in the boy. Valist seemed so full of life and determined to overcome his hurdles.

Although Chris arranged for the boy to be transported from his home and brought to a hospital the next day, we soon found that other challenges awaited us. First, hospitals in Kyenjojo do not perform services such as picking up sick or dying patients from far villages. We had to privately hire nurses and buy fuel for the ambulance. Moreover, even after we were able to help Valist get to the hospital—which is government-funded and thus more affordable—we learned that only one surgeon in the entire town could help him. This surgeon was also running a private clinic where he could make more money.

We also wanted to place Valist in the care of a school or organization where his health could be monitored daily and where he could start attending classes again. In addition to helping children access school, CA Bikes connects kids with health care and other services in an effort to meet more of their needs. Cases like Valist’s are also why CA Bikes has ventured to designing and distributing motorcycle ambulances.

While the experience of meeting Valist was heartbreaking for me, the work of CA Bikes, coupled with the young boy’s strong will, have also inspired me.

The views expressed are that of the individual Human Rights Fellow and not necessarily of the Human Rights Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law. 

Assembly-line justice at the border: Investigating the human costs of Operation Streamline

Sergio Savala sat in a migrant shelter in Nogales, Sonora, just an hour south of Tucson, Arizona. For the past four years, Savala had tried three times to return to his family in the United States. His son was born since he was first deported, and he has seen him once when his wife brought their child to the border. Savala was able to touch his son through the enormous steel pillars (in Nogales) that separated him from the U.S. and his family. But making consistent visits could threaten the child and mother, as both are undocumented and driving long distances in Arizona without a driver’s license can result in being stopped and then deported. Now, after having been imprisoned under a program known as Operation Streamline, Savala struggled with whether to try again since getting caught this time would mean at least six months in a federal prison. The thought of abandoning his family brought tears to his eyes. He didn’t think he would return. But then again, “there are times when the desire to be with your family wins,” he said.

See here for my story about Operation Streamline and interview with Savala that appeared on ABC News/Univision in July.

The criminalization of reentry, on the southern border, comes as a result of an eight year-old Border Patrol program known as Operation Streamline in which all migrants detained on the border, from Texas to Arizona, are required to serve prison time for the felony charge of reentering the United States unauthorized. Here in Tucson, Arizona, the federal district court processes seventy migrants every business day through Operation Streamline. The detained are packed into a courtroom, many spilling over into the jury box. They are cuffed hands and feet with a chain around their waist to keep them from lifting their arms too high. The judge calls as many as eight people forward and the defendants shuffle to the stand, their shoes still dusty from their trek across the Arizona desert. Within minutes the migrants plead guilty and are sentenced to up to six months in detention for their “criminal” offense of re-entering the U.S. All seventy migrants are processed in the space of 30 minutes to an hour depending on the judge. They are then shipped off to private prisons in Florence, Arizona—just an hour and a half north of Tucson.

Operation Streamline has received scathing criticism from organizations like the Warren Institute, the ACLU, and Human Rights Watch. Yet, with the support of Senator John McCain and others, the program seems set to become a permanent approach to dealing with unauthorized immigration. 

Steve Fisher is a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and a 2013 UC Human Rights Fellow, a program sponsored by the Human Rights Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law. He is spending the summer investigating Operation Streamline in Tucson, Arizona. 

Missing Peace to help shape world’s response to sexual violence

How do we effectively respond to sexual violence during war, and how can we better protect people during and after violent conflicts? International scholars, policymakers, human rights advocates, and foreign military leaders will take up this issue and more in The Missing Peace Symposium 2013 in Washington, D.C., co-hosted this week by the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law.

“Sexual violence against women, men, and children during war is a human rights abuse that threatens international peace and security,” explains Kim Thuy Seelinger, director of the Sexual Violence Program at the Human Rights Center. “Even when fighting ends, sexual violence often does not.”

Seelinger, a lawyer and international expert in sexual violence, has worked with the U.S. Institute for Peace, the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute North America for the past year to organize and lead the global event that runs from Thursday, February 14–Saturday, February 16.

A live webcast of the Missing Peace Symposium will begin at 8:30 a.m. (EDT) on Feb. 14. The link and further details can be found at: www.usip.org/events/the-missing-peace-symposium-2013

Three UC Berkeley School of Law students who work with Seelinger in the International Human Rights Law Clinic will act as rapporteurs and help to draft the symposium’s final policy brief. A fourth Berkeley Law student was selected to attend as a “Young Scholar.”

The three-day global symposium will feature Nobel Laureate and human rights security expert Jody Williams, the vice president of the World Bank, special advisers to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, academics, and key practitioners and funders who provide support to survivors of conflict-related sexual violence.

Missing Peace will provide an opportunity to take stock of current knowledge about conflict-related sexual violence; exchange information about the latest research on causes, scope, and patterns of sexual violence; and strengthen an understanding of sexual violence beyond national boundaries. Participants will identify priority areas for research and policy development, as well as ways to improve documentation and response.

For more information, contact the Human Rights Center at 510.643.7215.