Human Rights at Home


This project began as an exploration of the history of the use of international human rights norms by social justice advocates in the United States, a phenomenon that has particularly deep roots in the African American community. “American exceptionalism” to the use of human rights norms to evaluate domestic practices has been a controversial topic for decades despite US ratification of major international human rights treaties.

Pozen Center faculty address the issue in a broad range of courses, listed below. Center activities have included collaborations with the University of Chicago International Human Rights Clinic on petitions to international human rights bodies. The Center has also organized speakers series and other public events.

Affiliated Faculty 

Mark Bradley (History), Jane Dailey (History), Michael Dawson (Political Science), Claudia Flores (International Human Rights Clinic), Susan Gzesh (Pozen Center), Lyonette Louis-Jacques (Law School), James Sparrow (History), Amy Dru Stanley (History), Randolph Stone (Law School)

Select Past Activities

The Chicago Police Torture Case Archives were launched in Summer 2016.

Right to Education Project
2013 - 2014

Coordinated with the International Human Rights Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and in collaboration with theMidwest Coalition for Human Rights, Susan Gzesh and Sital Kalantry began this project in Spring 2013. Spring events included a panel on the privatization of education and a meeting with parents of students subject to Chicago Public Schools’ massive project of school closings.

In summer 2013, faculty and students prepared and filed a Letter of Allegation on behalf of parents, students, and interested organizations and citizens to the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Education, Contemporary Forms of Racism to request an investigation of the human rights impact of the school closures. The Pozen Center organized community and other participants in the petition. The press release and effort received extensive coverage in the local press and online.

Faculty and students also provided support for filing a Shadow Report for the October 2013 United Nations review of U.S. compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  

Hard Times: Black Appeals Local and Global // Lecture Series 
2013 - 2014 

This joint project with the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture was inspired by An Appeal to the World, the 1947 petition to the United Nations by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

The petition was edited and organized by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois. Two chapter authors were Chicago attorney and civil rights leader Earl B. Dickerson and University of Chicago Law Professor William R. Ming, Jr. At the time, Ming was the only African American professor at a non-segregated U.S. law school. Dickerson and Ming were among the first African American graduates of the University of Chicago Law School. The project concluded with a well-attended lecture by future Pozen Visiting Professor Carol Anderson and the installation of the original pamphlet of An Appeal to the World in the Regenstein Library Special Collections.

Read a blog post about the NAACP petition by Lyonette Louis-Jacques, University of Chicago Law School.

Read the full 1947 Petition (NAACP An Appeal to the World) here:

Chapter 1: W.E.B. DuBois

Chapter 2: Earl B. Dickerson

Chapter 3: Milton R. Konvitz

Chapter 4: William R. Ming, Jr.

Chapter 5: Leslie R. Perry

Chapter 6: Rayfod W. Logan



"Blacks In and Out of the Left"
Lecture by Michael C. Dawson with commentary by Robert Gooding-Williams
October 17, 2013

"Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson
Lecture by Barbara Ransby with commentary by Cathy Cohen
January 16, 2014

"Seize the Little Moment: How International Human Rights has Illuminated 8th Amendment Youth Justice in the United States"
Lecture by Bernardine Dohrn with commentary by Randolph Stone
February 20, 2014

When the Levees Broke: A History of Un-civil Rights in America
Lecture by Carol Anderson
April 29, 2014

Related Courses

Human Rights: Contemporary Issues and Concepts | HMRT 20300/30300 (offered every year)
Susan Gzesh (The College)

This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to analyze the application of international human rights to domestic and international issues. We present several specific case studies as a means to explore the interrelationship of human rights instruments and agencies, principles such as universalism v. cultural relativism, and the role of NGOs, film and other media in advocacy efforts. 

The Practice of Human Rights | HMRT 29001/39001 (offered some years) 
Susan Gzesh (The College)

The Practice of Human Rights is a seminar designed to examine human rights advocacy through a set of disciplinary perspectives (humanities, history, law, etc.) Students will engage in a project to analyze and document advocacy undertaken in a contemporary human rights campaign. For Winter 2013, the case study will be the Chicago Police Torture cases. 

Health and Human Rights | HMRT 21400/31400 (offered every year)
Renslow Sherer (Department of Medicine), Evan Lyon (Department of Medicine)

This course attempts to define health and health care in the context of human rights theory and practice. Does a “right to health” include a “right to health care"? We delineate health care financing in the United States and compare these systems with those of other nations. We explore specific issues of health and medical practice as they interface in areas of global conflict: torture, landmines, and poverty. We study vulnerable populations: foster children, refugees, and the mentally ill. Lastly, does a right to health include a right to pharmaceuticals? What does the big business of drug research and marketing mean for our own country and the world?

US Women and Gender | HMRT 27306/37306
Amy Dru Stanley (History)