Dear Friends of the Donia Human Rights Center,
I am delighted to be taking over from Professor Kiyo Tsutsui as Director of the Center. Kiyo has done a masterful job building our program from an initiative to a thriving center. Throughout this process, he has had the unfailing and generous support of our patrons, Bob Donia and Jane Ritter; and in recent years superlative administrative guidance and assistance from Nataša Gruden-Alajbegović and Bryna Worner. The Center continues to be supported by its dozens of Faculty Associates. They serve as teachers and resources for undergraduates and graduate students interested in human rights, as participants and attendees at our events, as ambassadors for the Center outside of U-M, and as generators of ideas for the future of the Center. I’m also thrilled to be working with Professor Mary Gallagher as the new Director of the International Institute.
By way of my own background, I've been teaching at Michigan since 2004, following 11 years at the University of Texas at Austin. I started my professional life as an attorney-adviser at the US Department of State, an experience that shaped my view of international law as helping to create cooperative structures between peoples, promote international peace, and protect human rights. At Michigan Law, I teach the introductory international law course, international human rights, and international investment law; as well as seminars on the law of armed conflict, business and human rights, and global justice (which I also taught to undergraduates). I founded and am the faculty director of the Law School's Geneva International Fellows Program, which places law students in leading institutions in Geneva for academic credit. Outside of my academic work, I've served as an expert of the UN Secretary-General to guide the UN's approach to accountability and justice in the wake of two contemporary human rights catastrophes—as a member of the UN Group of Experts for Cambodia in 1998-99 (concerning the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge), and the UN Group of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka in 2010-11 (concerning war crimes at the end of that state's civil war). I also spent one academic year each working for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's High Commissioner on National Minorities in The Hague and the International Committee of the Red Cross in Geneva. Recently, I've been working on a project to promote observance of human rights by foreign investors in their operations in global supply chains.
The Center is a young institution and has a great future ahead. We are working on a number of initiatives for the short-term, as well as beginning to think about those for the medium and long-term. As a priority for the short-term (and beyond), I would like DHRC to be an important venue on campus for discussions about race, one with a special perspective and expertise different from those of other campus units. To start things off, we hope to organize an event for early in the fall on the role of international human rights for thinking about and acting on problems of racism and race relations in the United States. We expect this event will be part of a series of events on racism organized by various campus units. We will most likely conduct the event through Zoom or another online platform. In addition, because students will also be interested in looking at the human rights implication of the pandemic—both in terms of its effects on the enjoyment of human rights and the implementation of the human right to health—we will aim to organize an event on that topic.
Beyond speakers, we are currently making some improvements to the web page. One is a list of all U-M undergraduate and graduate courses on human rights, as a “one-stop shopping” for students. Another is an expanded list of outside resources on human rights that students may use for both research and job-hunting.
For the longer term, a number of initiatives are under consideration, including expanding various fellowships and internships for both students and professionals in human rights. I’d like to explore other initiatives as well for our students. If you have specific suggestions, please pass them on to us!
As friends of the Center, I greatly appreciate your support, whether through attendance at our events, speaking with our students, or your advocacy for human rights. I look forward to meeting many of you soon—probably first on line but eventually in person.
Bruno Simma Collegiate Professor of Law