Peace, Transitional Justice, and Human Rights in Colombia


This project brings together students, alumni, and faculty conducting academic and applied research related to human rights issues in Colombia in this critical period at the end of the thirty year civil war. The Pozen Family Center for Human Rights has supported investigations of various issues pertaining to the peace process in Colombia, including impunity, identity, the meaning of peace, and the complexities of peace building in a post-conflict democratic society.

The project connects the current situation in Colombia to broader human rights concerns in areas of conflict, post-conflict, and as part of transitional justice. University of Chicago students and alumni are engaged in research and practice in Chicago and Colombia, in Bogotá, Cúcuta, and Barrancabermeja.


These research projects have been supported by grants from the Pozen Center and other sources and have produced the following publications:

Behind the ‘No:’ a lesson in political participation from Colombia’s plebiscite” by Gabriel Velez and Atticus Ballesteros. Latin America Goes Global. October 12, 2016.

How to promote the voice of Colombia’s youth in discussions on peace?” by Gabriel Velez and Atticus Ballesteros. Colombia Reports. August 29, 2016.

Colombia: Learning To Love Soccer Again” by Peter Pizano and Gabriel Velez. The Huffington Post. June 24, 2016.

Past Activities

Students affiliated with the project have also organized activities on campus, including “The Colombian Peace Process: A View From la Havana. A conversation with Former Legal Counsel to the High Commissioner for Peace and current Director of the Institute for Integrated Transitions in Colombia, Juanita Goebertus.” Co-sponsored by Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflict. Chicago, IL. September 21, 2016.


Gabriel Velez
Human Rights Preceptor
PhD student in Comparative Human Development

Gabe’s research focuses on adolescent development and the formation of ideas about citizenship and peace amid conflict and post-conflict contexts. He is interested in supporting understandings of how diverse groups of youth experience, process, and respond to societal level developments and discourses as they begin to establish ideas of themselves as citizens and members of the broader community. His work in Colombia involves mixed-methods analysis of how youth understand peace, their opinions about the peace process, and how factors like geography, socioeconomic status, and gender affect beliefs and attitudes about citizenship. As a 2016 Human Rights Intern, he did extensive interviewing in and around Bogota. He will be teaching a course as a Human Rights Graduate Lecturer in the Spring 2017 entitled, “Constructing A Society of Human Rights: A Psychological Framework.” He is one of the co-founders of the project.

Erin McFee
Doctoral candidate in Comparative Human Development

Erin works on themes of power and social representations among communities with high concentrations of conflict-affected actors. She examines grassroots and internationally-structured community-level interventions in order to better understand how the community-intervention encounter relates to the experiences of ex-combatants attempting to reintegrate into civilian life, as well as those of their fellow community members. She also explores what these experiences reveal about contemporary life in transitioning Colombia. McFee’s principle field sites include two communities in the department of Caquetá (one rural, one urban), Cúcuta-Norte de Santander and the Venezuela-Colombia border, and two intervening organizations based in Bogotá with service centers in Florencia-Caquetá (one NGO, and one international organization). She has been researching the reintegration process in Colombia since 2010, and has published several articles on the topic in peer-reviewed journals and academic blogs. She was a 2014 Human Rights Intern and has also received support from the Pozen Center for her research and teaching.

Meghan Morris
2016 Pozen Dissertation Completion Fellow
Doctoral candidate in Anthropology

Meghan’s research examines the role of law in war and peacemaking, with a particular focus on property over land. Her dissertation, which draws on eighteen months of fieldwork in Colombia as well as Meghan’s ongoing work in the country as a lawyer, examines how property can become understood as both the root of violent conflict and the key to peace. It explores this question through an ethnographic account of how the reordering of property figures as a central element of ongoing efforts to achieve a post-conflict era in Colombia. It focuses on how two state reordering projects – a national land restitution program designed to return rural land to those who lost it in the conflict and a municipal green infrastructure project – mobilize property in an effort to “turn the page on violence” and produce a new post-conflict order. Through ethnographic work and interviews with state bureaucrats, former armed actors, land claimants, squatters, scientists, and other actors, the dissertation explores the conflicts and opportunities that unfold as these projects hit the ground in sites that remain epicenters of violence and the drug trade. The research and writing of this project have been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, the Inter-American Foundation, the Land Deal Politics Initiative, and the Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, Center for Latin American Studies, and Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. 

Atticus Ballesteros
College, Anthropology and Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies

As a fourth year student, Atticus’ research focuses on how political actors in the post-conflict can mobilize distinct formulations of reconciliation, historical memory, and peace-based pedagogy, and the implications of such for Colombia’s peace process. This research is based on ethnographic fieldwork Atticus conducted during the summer and winter of 2016 at Bogotá’s Centro de Memoria, Paz y Reconciliación. Atticus’ research was supported by a University of Chicago Study Abroad grant.

Affiliated Alumni

Jeanne Lieberman, AB’16
2016 Dr. Aizik Wolf Post-Baccalaureate Fellow in Human Rights

Jeanne is a 2016 graduate of the College of the University of Chicago. As the 2016 Dr. Aizik Wolf Post-Baccalaureate Fellow, Jeanne is working for El Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN). Jeanne supports the work of PCN’s Bogotá office to coordinate a network of grassroots organizations that defend the human rights of Afro-Colombians, working to strengthen Afro-Colombian communities’ ethno-territorial rights and self-governance in the face of the displacement, violence, and threats to their land rights that affect these communities as a result of the civil conflict. She is also currently helping to develop a legal analysis of the potential impacts of the ongoing peace process on ethnic and human rights for Afro-Colombian communities. While in the College, Jeanne was a 2015 Human Rights Intern, which supported a summer of work with Afro-descendant communities in Peru. She was also a 2016-17 Internship Peer Leader.

Jose Espinosa Restrepo, AM’16

Jose works with the Colombian Ministry of Education on their initiatives around peace and education. He has previously worked as an attorney and researcher with the Human Sciences Research Council South Africa (as a 2014 Human Rights Intern) and the Center for the Study of Law (DeJusticia) in Colombia. While at the University of Chicago, he was an Internship Peer Leader and Human Rights Preceptior for the Pozen Center. He earned a Masters degree from the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago in 2016 and a masters in law from the Universidad de los Andes in Bogota, Colombia.

Cooperating Scholars

Pedro Pizano

Pedro is a Colombian-born human rights activist. He started his own human rights consulting firm, Pizano Strategies, and is also the co-founder of The World Votes and is a One Young World Ambassador. He previously held the post of Strategy Associate and Global Media Liaison at the Human Rights Foundation and Oslo Freedom Forum where he led, for example, campaigns to expose celebrities who flack for dictators, like Hilary Swank in Chechnya or Julio Iglesias in Equatorial Guinea. He studied International Human Rights Law at Oxford and holds a Bachelor’s degree from Boston University. He was recently recognized by the Diplomatic Courier as one of the top 99 professionals under 33 in Foreign Policy. He is currently pursuing a joint-degree (JD/LLM) in International Human Rights Law at Northwestern.