MacArthur Foundation awards $1 million to Human Rights Center

The MacArthur Foundation has recognized the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law for its investigations and research on war crimes and human rights abuses with a 2015 MacArthur Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.

Researchers at the UC Berkeley Human Rights Center discuss their efforts to investigate war crimes and other serious violations of human rights. (Video courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.)

The UC Berkeley Human Rights Center is one of nine nonprofit organizations worldwide receiving the award, announced today (Thursday, Feb. 5). The award comes with $1 million, which the center will use to establish an endowment and to expand its sexual violence program.

The MacArthur Foundation, known for its “genius awards” to exceptional individuals, also honors extraordinary organizations that tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems. In honoring the Human Rights Center, the foundation cited decades of work on war crimes and abuses in more than a dozen countries, spotlighting recent research on wartime sexual violence.

“The Human Rights Center combines rigorous, leading-edge scientific research with on-the-ground work, yielding valuable contributions to our understanding of rights violations and our collective commitment to hold perpetrators accountable,” said MacArthur Vice President Elspeth Revere, who leads the institutional awards program. “MacArthur applauds the Human Rights Center’s creativity and effectiveness, and we hope this recognition and investment will help sustain its work and expand its impact.”

The Human Rights Center's Kim Thuy Seelinger discusses findings from sexual violence research with colleagues in Kenya. (Photo by Stephen Smith Cody)

The Human Rights Center’s Kim Thuy Seelinger discusses findings from sexual violence research with colleagues in Kenya. (Photo by Stephen Smith Cody)

From gathering evidence of Saddam Hussein’s abuse of Iraqi Kurds to interviewing former Guantanamo detainees about torture and documenting the needs of sexual violence survivors, the Human Rights Center has conducted research on war crimes and other serious human rights violations for more than 20 years. The center has trained hundreds of students and advocates, and is currently harnessing the technological innovations of Silicon Valley to strengthen human rights investigations.

“We have been on the frontlines providing local non-governmental organizations and international criminal courts with the scientific and technological tools to hold perpetrators accountable, reintegrate child soldiers, and reunite families separated by war,” said faculty director Eric Stover, who has led the Human Rights Center’s investigations and research globally since 1996.

Executive Director Alexa Koenig said the MacArthur award will help the center do what it has done well for two decades.

“In the aftermath of war — often when the cameras have disappeared and the rest of the world has turned its attention elsewhere — the Human Rights Center is on the ground, listening to survivors and bringing their perspectives to policymakers, to help prevent further violence and respond to urgent needs,” Koenig said.

“With the MacArthur award, we hope to continue and expand on these activities for another 20 years or more,” said Stover.