Since its founding in 1999, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School has been a leading research center that has focused on some of the most intractable challenges facing the world, including genocide, torture, violence against women, and human trafficking.

The Center was founded by director Michael Ignatieff, currently President of Central European University, and Executive Director Samantha Power, who was later U.S. Ambassador to the UN and is the current 19th Administrator of USAID.

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, the Center looked back to examine the progress made to date, and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. Its new areas of focus include the impact of technological advancements on the future of human rights; the power and impact of nonviolent social movements in effecting change; and the renewal of rights and responsibilities in the United States.

Its current Director, Mathias Risse, is a philosopher and ethicist focused on global justice. Its current Interim Executive Director, Maggie Gates, is a researcher and practitioner with experience managing social justice programs and collaborations. By training the next generation of leaders, developing new knowledge and ideas, and holding convenings for human rights scholars and practitioners around the world, the Carr Center seeks to build a more just, peaceful future. 

Timeline

1999 | Carr Center Founded

The Carr Center is founded by Graham Allison and Samantha Power, founding Executive Director, with support from HKS alumnus Greg Carr.

2002 | Samantha Power Book Published

Executive Director Samantha Power publishes groundbreaking book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. It marks the culmination of the Carr Center’s extensive research project on U.S. policy responses to genocide in the 20th century. Power will later serve as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations before returning in 2017 to the Kennedy School.

2003 | Program Launch

The Carr Center launches two new flagship programs—the American Exceptionalism program, led by founding Faculty Director Michael Ignatieff, and the National Security and Human Rights program, led by Executive Director Sarah Sewall.

2004 | Program Launch

The Program on Measurement and Human Rights is established. The program addresses some of the most basic yet difficult questions in the field of human rights: How do we assess progress in promoting human rights, and how can organizations assess their own impact more effectively?

2008 | Rory Stewart Appointed Director

Rory Stewart is appointed director of the Carr Center, and the Ryan Professor of Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School. During his tenure, Stewart launched an initiative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

2009 | Celebrating 10-Year Anniversary

The Center celebrates its 10th anniversary. In its first decade the Center made substantial contributions to policy, research and teaching on genocide, the Responsibility to Protect, counter-insurgency and interventions. The Center grew and flourished with contributions from over one hundred staff, fellows and interns. The Center emerged as one of the leading voices on international intervention, examining the ethical dimensions of foreign policy and its relationship to national security.

2010 | Charlie Clements as Executive Director

Charlie Clements, a respected human rights activist and physician, joins the Carr Center as Executive Director. In collaboration with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Satellite Sentinel Project is launched—the first sustained public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to human security.

2013 | Douglas Johnson and Kathryn Sikkink Join Center

Douglas Johnson joins the Carr Center as Faculty Director, and international relations scholar Kathryn Sikkink joins as a tenured faculty member. Johnson had served as Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture for 24 years.

2015 | Sushma Raman Appointed Executive Director

Sushma Raman is appointed as the Carr Center Executive Director. During her time with the Carr Center, Raman brought with her a rich and diverse background in philanthropy, human rights, and social justice through her work in the U.S. and globally with the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations.

2018 | Mathias Risse Named Faculty Director

Mathias Risse joins the Carr Center as Faculty Director. A scholar, philosopher, and ethicist, Risse has been teaching courses on human rights, ethics, economic justice, and the meaning of life for almost two decades at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard College, and the Extension school. Under Risse’s leadership, the Center launched a new program on the impact of emerging technologies on the human rights framework: The Technology and Human Rights Program.

2018 | Program Launch

Under the leadership of Mathias Risse, the Carr Center launched the Technology and Human Rights Program, which explores the many ways in which advancing technology will impact the future of human rights. It also brings together the Technology and Human Rights Fellowship and hosts the Towards Life 3.0: Ethics and Technology in the 21st Century webinar series, which draws upon a range of scholars, tech leaders, and public interest technologists to address the ethical aspects of the long-term impact of AI on society and human life.

2020 | Program Launch

The Carr Center launched the Racial Justice Program in 2020, which brings together the Racial Justice Fellowship cohort each academic year, alongside numerous event and webinar series, including The Struggle for Black Lives series, The Fierce Urgency of Now series, and the Social Justice Leaders series.

2023 | Maggie Gates Appointed Executive Director

Maggie Gates joined the Carr Center as Executive Director in February 2023. Previously, she serves as Co-Chair of the Executive Committee for Harvard University's Committee on the Concerns of Women. Formerly, Gates managed the Justice, Health, and Democracy Project on public health paradigms for drug control and criminal justice reform and serves as Managing Editor of Transforming Anthropology, the flagship journal of the Association of Black Anthropologists.

2023 | Celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the UDHR

In fall 2023, the Carr Center celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, launching a major publication entitled Making a Movement: The History and Future of Human Rights, which features 90+ Harvard faculty and affiliates and their thoughts on the next 75 years of human rights.

2024 | Celebrating 25-Year Anniversary

In 2024, the Carr Center celebrates a quarter-century of research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain, educating students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and providing policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.