Center for Human Rights and International Justice Director David Hollenbach, SJ, center, with (L-R) associate director Daniel Kanstroom, administrative assistant Elizabeth King, and associate directors Donald Hafner and Brinton Lykes.
Center Explores Human Rights, Justice
By Greg Frost
Boston College's new Center for Human Rights and International Justice is going above and beyond the law. Literally.
The center, which has been several years in the making, will officially be launched next month with an address by Mary Robinson, former United Nations high commissioner for human rights and former president of Ireland.
Under the direction of Flatley Professor of Catholic Theology David Hollenbach, SJ, the Center for Human Rights and International Justice aims to take a more comprehensive approach to human rights issues that traditionally have been viewed through the prism of law.
That strategy, along with a commitment to work with organizations that are already on the front lines of human rights efforts around the world, will make Boston College's center unique, Fr. Hollenbach said.
"We normally think of human rights as something that's concerned with the law, but it's really about suffering and how we respond to suffering in its multiple dimensions: physical, psychic and political, among others," he said.
"We want to take a very strongly humanistic approach to these questions and that's part of the Jesuit university commitment to approaching issues from a deeply human level," Hollenbach said, citing Boston College's religious and ethical tradition of service to others.
Robinson's speech at the center's inaugural event - which takes place Nov. 3 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. in Robsham Theater - will focus on human rights for refugees, an area of particular interest to Fr. Hollenbach and the center's three associate directors: Prof. Donald Hafner (Political Science); Clinical Prof. Daniel Kanstroom (Law), director of the Law School International Human Rights Program; and Prof. M. Brinton Lykes (LSOE).
According to Fr. Hollenbach, there are some 35 million refugees and forced migrants worldwide - a number roughly equivalent to the populations of New England, New York and part of New Jersey.
Fr. Hollenbach and his colleagues say the center seeks to view the world's refugee problem not just from the traditional legal standpoint, but also examine the political ramifications, the ethical and religious issues, as well as the psychological impact on the refugees.
"The question is whose responsibility is it to take care of these people?" Fr. Hollenbach said. "It's not just that these people become hungry, but their spirits and their psyches are wounded. How do we help fix that? The fact that we're going to have both the psycho-social dimension and the religious, theological dimension involved in this makes it broader than almost any university I know."
Fr. Hollenbach said it makes sense to include theology and religion in the study of human rights and refugee problems because religion plays an increasingly notable role in conflicts around the world.
Among the questions the Center for Human Rights and International Justice will also examine is what roles international legal structures and organizations can play in a world where right seems increasingly identified with might.
Accordingly, Fr. Hollenbach said, the center is committed to working closely with practitioners like the Jesuit Refugee Service, a Catholic relief organization active in more than 50 countries.
"We want to work closely with people who are suffering from these realities - this is not work we are going to do in the library," Fr. Hollenbach said. "I mean, the library is important, but we've got to be in a dialogue with people who are really struggling with these issues."
Kanstroom, an expert in immigration and deportation law, said he is excited to be involved in the center and expects the interdisciplinary approach will yield better, richer theories of law, and may even help shape public policy.
Kanstroom said he hopes the work of the center and particularly the "Ruby Slippers Project" - a post-deportation program that counsels, supports, and represents those who have been deported from the United States - could eventually prompt credible proposals for legal change that could be adopted in the United States.
"The current system is not working, so something is going to have to change," Kanstroom said.
The Center for Human Rights and International Justice's inaugural event on Nov. 3, featuring the address by Mary Robinson, is free and open to the public. For tickets and more information on the center, visit www.bc.edu/humanrights.