HKS Affiliated Authors

Director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights, Global Affairs and Philosophy

Faculty Director Mathias Risse and Executive Director Sushma Raman address hope and gratitude in a letter from the Carr Center. 

Dear Friends of the Carr Center,

We write today to express gratitude for your engagement with the Center and its mission, convey our best wishes to you and your family for your health and safety, and to share some brief updates. In some ways, the work of the Carr Center has never been more important. Much of our work continues, even though our events have been suspended for the rest of this semester, and in the coming weeks, we will think of ways of adjusting our work to the new conditions.

Carr Center Faculty Member Kathryn Sikkink wrote eloquently this week about rights and responsibilities in the coronavirus pandemic, where she urges us to balance our individual rights with collective responsibilities. Another Carr Center Faculty Member Tim McCarthy just returned back to Cambridge after spending part of the semester in Little Rock, Arkansas teaching students about the intersections between global development, economic inequality, and human rights.

The Center recently announced the second round of Topol Fellows, a group of five students working on nonviolent solutions to social and political conflict. Supported by philanthropist and peace activist Sidney Topol, the fellowship program is run by Carr Center Faculty Member Erica Chenoweth, who is a leading scholar on civil resistance and nonviolent social movements. Societies around the world are grappling with deepening inequality, social conflict, and governance challenges, and Faculty Director Mathias Risse’s December visit to Chile to give a talk on human rights and social order highlighted themes of government legitimacy, policy-based versus justice-based protests, and implications for highly unequal societies.

Established last year by Secretary Pompeo, the U.S. Commission on Unalienable Rights (also referred to as the Pompeo Commission) was met with concern by human rights organizations because of its perceived anti-human rights agenda. Carr Center Faculty Director Mathias Risse’s discussion paper on the Pompeo Commission, as well as former Harvard Law School Dean and Carr Center Faculty Associate Martha Minow’s recent important testimony to the Commission, now published as a discussion paper in the Carr Center’s series, offer critical insights into the evolution of rights and where they are headed. Although the Commission might be less in the news at this moment, its work could have significant implications for US foreign policy and human rights in the years ahead.

The role of big technology in responding to the pandemic is both cause for celebration and concern. The Carr Center’s Technology and Human Rights program examines the ethical and rights implications of technological advancements on the human rights framework. Fellow Neal Cohen’s recent research on why the AI we rely on can’t get privacy right (yet) is of particular importance during an era of big data and automated decision making, but particularly so during a pandemic. Fellow Mark Latonero published in Harvard Business Review on the implications of Facebook’s global Oversight Board for content moderation, a topic of concern as we tackle disinformation that is widely spread through social media about the coronavirus. A recent event we hosted featured Shoshana Zuboff, author of The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, who also spoke to the implications of data privacy in an age where almost all of the world’s information is in digital format. Mathias Risse’s ongoing research explores the nature and interpretation of human rights in a digital world. Carr Center Senior Fellow Bill Schulz and Executive Director Sushma Raman’s upcoming book examines the evolution of rights that will come about in the coming decades due to technological, scientific, and societal changes.

Protecting the rights of the most vulnerable during politically and economically uncertain times is imperative. The Carr Center’s most recent Justice Matters podcast, featuring Victor Madrigal-Borloz, UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, addresses the state of discrimination around the world, and how we need to address identity and discrimination in an intersectional manner. The Center’s podcast, hosted by Sushma Raman, covers a range of other timely topics, including press freedom, algorithmic bias and surveillance, and migration.

The Center’s support to work with students continues during this difficult and uncertain time. Our students continue to learn, albeit online now. A group of 15 student researchers are in the midst of finalizing research and policy papers on a range of topics such as due process and equal opportunity, as part of the Carr Center’s project on Renewing Rights and Responsibilities in the United States, led by John Shattuck. And we will find a way to support student learning and summer internships, but with modifications, if needed, to ensure our students are equipped to face the complex and unpredictable challenges that will face them and us upon graduation.

In closing, we would like to share a reflection and an ask. In a time of physical distancing and economic and political uncertainty, let us focus on social solidarity—not just within our families and immediate communities, but with those who are most dispossessed, the most vulnerable, and the most marginalized. As we write this, an outbreak of COVID-19 has occurred in Rikers and it is only a matter of time before individuals held in immigrant detention centers, juvenile youth facilities, prisons, and other institutions become affected. Very often, those with “no rights to have rights” are most affected during times of natural disasters and human-made crises, and it is incumbent upon each of us to “expand our circle of concern” and express social solidarity. As always, the standpoint of human rights must pay particular attention to the most vulnerable in society. For more on the Center’s work during this time, please visit our website, follow us on social media, and remain in touch. Again, we will think of ways of adjusting some of our work to the online world. Please be in touch in particular if you have ideas on that front.


The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy