CHESTNUT HILL, Mass., Nov. 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Boston College officially
launched its interdisciplinary Center for Human Rights and International
Justice this week with a public forum on the issue of worldwide refugees.
Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and past
president of Ireland Mary Robinson, featured speaker at the November 3
inaugural event, said that the new center, with its distinctly holistic
approach to human rights issues, can play a critical role in addressing the
plight of the world's refugees, and in particular that of migrants facing
increasingly stringent deportation policies.
"A significant number of asylum seekers today are not necessarily genuine
asylum seekers but are just desperate to get out of the extreme poverty
they're in -- and all legal outlets are closed because of Fortress Europe,
because of the shutting and harshness of the borders surrounding this country
and other developed nations," said Robinson, now executive director and chair
of the Ethical Globalization Initiative, a human-rights organization she
founded. "The climate has gotten tougher, especially since the terrible
attacks in this country of 9/11 and other terrorist attacks around the world.
"There are so few avenues now for legal movement and authorized movement -
- apart from trying to climb barbed wire fences and come though tunnels --
[that] there's an overuse of the refugee/asylum routes, and that tends to
prejudice genuine refugees and asylum seekers," she said. "They're thought to
just be 'trying to get into our country.' It's sad to see the greatening
populist exploitation of those who are very vulnerable in countries and the
lack of leadership on these issues.
"I am pleased that one of the areas of particular focus for [Boston
College's] center is on deportation from this country: how widespread it is,
how harsh it is and the need for a more humane, human rights-based approach,"
said Robinson. "On that issue in particular, the center will be able to make
a real mark on policy in this country probably at a relatively early stage."
Robinson, noted for humanitarian efforts during her seven years as
Ireland's president, added that the new Boston College center is significant
due to its interdisciplinary focus, which will enable it to "reclaim the true
agenda of human rights" by addressing not only the political and civil rights
of refugees but also "the economic and social dimensions of conflict and
displacement and the harrowing realities of refugee status and camps."
"We want to be very deeply interdisciplinary," said center director Rev.
David Hollenbach, SJ, a Boston College theologian who specializes in issues of
global social justice. "We normally think of human rights as something that's
concerned with the law, but it's really about suffering, and how we respond to
that suffering in its multiple dimensions: physical, psychological and
political, among others.
"Most of the human rights centers at universities in the United States
today tend to be focused in law schools and political science departments,"
added Fr. Hollenbach, who has been a visiting professor in Africa and Ho Chi
Minh City and has traveled to Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt to
research religion and human rights in the Middle East. "We have law and
political science very much represented in our center but we also have
community social psychology, theology and ethics.
"We also have a very strong commitment to working very closely with
practitioners in the field who are working on some of the major human rights
and humanitarian crises of today," he said, citing the center's connections
with organizations such as the Jesuit Refugee Service, operating in 50
countries around the world, as well as with Catholic Relief Services and a
number of immigration organizations working to defend people faced with
serious deportation orders in the United States.
There are some 35 million refugees and forced migrants worldwide -- a
number roughly equivalent to the populations of New England, New York and part
of New Jersey, said Fr. Hollenbach. "The question is whose responsibility is
it to take care of these people?" he said. "It's not just that these people
become hungry, but their spirits and their psyches are wounded. How do we
help fix that?
"We want to take a very strongly humanistic approach to these questions
and that's part of our commitment as a Jesuit university to approaching issues
from a deeply human level," Fr. Hollenbach said, citing Boston College's
religious and ethical tradition.
Among the questions the Center for Human Rights and International Justice
also will examine is what roles international legal structures and
organizations can play in a world where right seems increasingly identified
In addition to Fr. Hollenbach, the center's leadership includes associate
directors Donald Hafner, a Boston College political scientist who specializes
in international politics, U.S. foreign policy and national security; Daniel
Kanstroom, a clinical professor at Boston College Law School and director of
its Immigration and Asylum Clinic, whose book on the U.S. deportation system
is forthcoming and who has extensive experience litigating immigration and
asylum cases; and M. Brinton Lykes, a professor of social psychology at BC's
Lynch School of Education, whose research includes the effects of state-
sponsored terror and organized violence.
SOURCE Boston College