Defending Human Rights in the Face of Armed Conflict 

May 15, 2024 | Serious and ongoing crises and conflict around the world result in widespread human rights violations, often with disproportionate impacts on minorities and marginalized groups. In the face of such pervasive abuse, it is often difficult to know what to do. The Human Rights Institute hosted a special series in Spring 2024 to examine how leading activists are protecting and promoting rights, justice, and peace in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Israel/Palestine, Myanmar, Nagorno-Karabakh, Sudan, and Ukraine. The series shared innovative and impactful tactics and strategies for change. 

The series was organized by HRI Faculty Director Sarah Knuckey and Managing Director Tor Hodenfield, and co-sponsored with the Columbia Society of International Law. 



Feb 15 speakers

Remembering Human Rights Advocate Raoul Kitungano 

Thursday, February 15 | 12:10 - 1:10 pm EST 

This lecture examined the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo focused on the role of civil society in addressing human rights violations committed against vulnerable communities. The speaker was Bukeni Waruzi, who is the Executive Director of Free the Slaves and an expert on children affected by armed conflict, modern slavery, human rights, and international criminal justice. He spoke about the legacy of Congolese Human Rights Defender Raoul Kitungano and his unique contributions as an advocate for the political, economic, cultural, and environmental rights of local communities impacted by mining corporations.  This event was moderated by Joseph Slaughter, Executive Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Rights.  


March 19 Speakers

Women Human Rights Defenders: Working in Conflict and Crisis-Affected Settings

Tuesday, March 19 | 12:10 - 1:10 pm EST 

This event focused on the role women human rights defenders (WHRDs) working in conflict and crisis-affected settings play, with a particular focus on Armenia, Mexico, Sudan, and overall global trends. Panelists included: Nazik Kabalo, Director of the Sudanese Women Rights Action; Anna Nikoghosyan, Executive Coordinator of the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition; and Guadalupe Marengo, Head of Global Human Rights Defenders Programme and of Global Relief Programme at Amnesty International. The panelists spoke about restrictive measures and protection gaps that existed in the current global situation facing WHRDs during conflict and emphasized the need for this to be addressed. They also expressed frustration over the lack of accountability for human rights violations committed in countries like Armenia and Sudan. This event was moderated by Manmeet Kaur Nijjer, Program Associate at the Human Rights Institute. 


March 25 Speakers

Impacts of Ethnic Cleansing: Armenian Insights Through Science, History, Culture, and Law

Monday, March 25 | 12:10 - 1:10 pm EST 

This interactive conversation focused on the impacts and mitigation of ethnic cleansing with Armenian insights through science, history, culture, and law. This panel was led by prominent scholars and lawyers which included: Anoush Baghdassarian, Co-Founder of Rerooted; Patricia Ononiwu Kaishian, Scientist and Professor of Biology at the Bard Prison Initiative; Khatchig Mouradian, Lecturer in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University; and Yelena Abartsumian, Of Counsel, Amineddoleh & Associates LLC: Art, Cultural Heritage, and Intellectual Property Law Firm. The panelists discussed how destruction of cultural heritage is a component of genocide and the complexities of documenting human rights violations during these conflicts, especially rights related to health, access to food, and basic necessities. Another topic they explored was the role of historical denialism in ethnic cleansing and the impacts of this on accountability. They underscored that it is imperative to mitigate the damages of ethnic cleansing and to prevent atrocities as such from occurring again. This event was moderated by Columbia Law School Student Arman Antonyan ‘25.


April 2 Speakers

Pathways to Peace: The Role of Diplomacy and Peacebuilding in Advancing Human Rights During Conflict 

Tuesday, April 02 | 12:10 - 1:10 pm EST 

This talk discussed pathways to peace, specifically the role of diplomacy and peacebuilding in advancing human rights during conflict. The geographical areas of focus on this topic were Ethiopia, Myanmar, and overall global trends. The panelists were: Gareth Sweeney, United Nations Director at Crisis Action; Carol Sivpey Te, Programme Manager at Peace Nexus Foundation and Senior Researcher for the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar; Meseret Ali, Executive Director at the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia. Crisis Action spoke about advocating for the protection of civilians during conflicts including the UN Security Council’s response to the conflict in Gaza. Other panelists mentioned root causes which fueled the conflicts in Myanmar and Ethiopia and gave an overview of the international community’s response to the conflict’s impacts. They also highlighted the importance of resolving these conflicts, particularly mentioning individuals coming together as a collective and advocating for a resolution. This event was moderated by Manmeet Kaur Nijjer, Program Associate at the Human Rights Institute. 


The Human Rights Institute advances international human rights through education, advocacy, fact-finding, research, scholarship, and critical reflection. We work in partnership with advocates, communities, and organizations pushing for social change to develop and strengthen the human rights legal framework and mechanisms, promote justice and accountability for human rights violations, and build and amplify collective power.

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