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A look back at the decade and a look around the next corner were both on the agenda at Wednesday night’s (Oct. 21) Harvard Kennedy School forum, “Why Human Rights Matter: Human Rights as Public Service,” celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy.
Founded in 1999 with a gift from Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) alumnus and voicemail entrepreneur Greg Carr, the center seeks to train future human rights leaders and to lead policy debates by working with governments, human rights organizations, and other groups — such as corporations and the military — not traditionally considered players in the field. Expanding the definition of human rights to include such nontraditional participants was a recurring discussion theme.
“None of [those working with the center] from the beginning were traditional human rights specialists,” said Samantha Power, the Carr Center’s founding executive director and a Pulitzer Prize–winning author. “That informed the way we looked at human rights — not a narrow-based approach, but in a sense centering on how to increase human welfare. What FDR called freedom from fear and freedom from want.”
One of the most gratifying aspects of her work with the Carr Center, Power said, was to see how questions being asked 10 years ago were no longer on the table. On the other hand, she asked, if “everyone” agrees that human rights protections are necessary, “Why do things still lag behind?”
But Sarah Sewall, the center’s director from 2005 until this year and a lecturer in public policy at HKS, said she wasn’t sure the fundamental questions had indeed changed. “The questions are still: What are human rights and how best to promote them,” she said. Other questions touched on during the evening concerned how to galvanize a multifaceted response to human rights issues, and how to “move not just American machinery,” as Power put it, “but also international machinery” on issues such as global warming, human trafficking, mass atrocities, and state-building.