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Partnerships: Scientists Working With Human Rights Organizations

  1. Assessing Adequacy of Medical Treatment for Inmates in Washington, DC, USA
  2. Investigating Mass Graves in Bosnia
  3. Documenting Human Rights Violations in Darfur, Sudan
  4. Protecting Human Rights for Farm Workers in Florida, USA
  5. Investigating Treatment of the Mentally Disabled Worldwide
  6. Identifying the Disappeared in Argentina
  7. Analyzing State Violence in Guatemala
  8. Surveying Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone

Partnership 1: Assessing Adequacy of Medical Treatment for Inmates in Washington, DC, USA

Human Rights Organization: Prisoners’ Legal Services Project
Scientist: Chris Beyrer, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Expertise: Medical Epidemiology

In 2004, Chris Beyrer, MD, an epidemiologist, was approached by Phil Fornaci of the Washington DC Prisoners’ Legal Services Project to work with him to investigate the health consequences of interruptions and delays among incarcerated women, focusing in particular on treatment access for infectious, chronic, and mental health conditions among the women inmates. The Johns Hopkins team trained lawyers and law students to conduct health interviews with inmates and staff in the jails. The interviews revealed lengthy delays in inmates receiving needed medication for all three categories of illness. These findings led the Prisoners’ Legal Services Project to take legal action on behalf of inmates, and resulted in the implementation of policy and procedural changes in DC jails.

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Partnership 2: Investigating Mass Graves in Bosnia

Human Rights Organization: Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)
Scientist: Yvonne Milewski, New York Medical Examiner’s Office
Expertise: Forensic Pathology

In 1996, PHR recruited Yvonne Milewski, MD, a forensic pathologist, to travel to Bosnia to participate in the largest forensic investigation of mass graves ever conducted. Overcoming scientific, as well as political and logistical challenges, forensic evidence gathered by Dr. Milewski and other scientists in and around Srebrenica has contributed to arrests and convictions of individuals for war crimes. PHR and Dr. Milewski have continued to partner in training and human rights investigations. The experience gained by Dr. Milewski in her work with PHR also prepared her for the unexpected task of examining the remains at the World Trade Center.

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Partnership 3: Documenting Human Rights Violations in Darfur, Sudan

Human Rights Organization: Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)
Scientist: Lars Bromley, Director, Geospatial Technologies and Human Rights Project, AAAS Science and Human Rights Program
Expertise: Geography

In 2007, Lars Bromley and Ariela Blätter, Director of the Crisis Prevention and Response Center at AIUSA teamed up to document human rights violations in Darfur, Sudan. Over the course of six months, Bromley, a geographer, secured and analyzed satellite images of villages that were reported to have been destroyed. By compiling and comparing “before” and “after” imagery, the AAAS project enabled AIUSA to better communicate the situation in Darfur to the world community, and raise awareness of villages threatened with attack. In June 2007, AIUSA released its Eyes On Darfur website, featuring the results of these image acquisitions and analysis.

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Partnership 4: Protecting Human Rights of Farm Workers in Florida, USA

Human Rights Organization: National Economic and Social Rights Initiative (NESRI)
Scientist: Patrick Mason, Florida State University
Expertise: Economics

Beginning in 2008, Cathy Albisa, Executive Director of NESRI, and Professor Patrick Mason, an economist, began to collaborate on the human rights of farm workers. Through its Right to Work with Dignity program, NESRI supports the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a diverse group of farm workers campaigning for decent wages and human rights monitoring in the fields of Florida. Professor Mason and NESRI are collaborating to develop a groundbreaking code of conduct and monitoring mechanism which large food purchasers, including McDonalds, Burger King, Whole Foods, Yum! Brands Inc, and others, have agreed to impose on growers as part of their contractual obligations. As an economist with special expertise in labor issues, Professor Mason has been able to help develop various models to audit how wages are provided to workers within the context of a transitory day labor environment.

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Partnership 5: Investigating Treatment of the Mentally Disabled Worldwide

Human Rights Organization: Mental Disability Rights International (MDRI)
Scientist: Robert L. Okin, San Francisco General Hospital
Expertise: Psychiatry

Since the mid-1990s, Robert L. Okin, MD, former Chief of Psychiatry at San Francisco General Hospital, has volunteered to support the work of MDRI. Attorney Eric Rosenthal founded MDRI in 1993 to protect the human rights of individuals with mental disabilities around the world. Together, Rosenthal and Okin have conducted investigative missions in Hungary, Kosovo, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine. On such missions, they assess treatment practices and human rights conditions in psychiatric institutions and other social service programs. They have offered governments and mental health authorities technical assistance on the mental health services needed to abolish abusive practices and end social segregation of people with mental disabilities. In 2009, the American Psychiatric Association awarded Dr. Okin and Mental Disability Rights International their human rights award “to recognize an individual and an organization exemplifying the capacity of human beings to protect others from the damage related to the professional, scientific, and clinical dimensions of mental health, at the hands of other human beings.”

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Partnership 6: Identifying the Disappeared in Argentina

Human Rights Organization: AAAS Science and Human Rights Program
Scientists: Clyde Snow, Robert Kirschner, Mary-Claire King and Christian Orrego
Expertise: Forensic anthropology, Pathology, Genetics

During Argentina’s military dictatorship, which ended in 1983, at least 9,000 civilians were murdered and more than 20,000 people “disappeared.” In 1984 and 1985, at the request of the Argentine government, AAAS sent two teams of forensic scientists to travel to the country to help identify the skeletal remains of victims. Forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow and pathologist Robert Kirschner trained Argentine students in the techniques of forensic science. The newly trained experts formed the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and worked with Snow and Kirschner to excavate mass and individual graves and recover bones recently exhumed. The scientific evidence collected by these experts led to the conviction of nine former Argentine junta members of human rights violations. In addition, at the request of Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo, geneticists Mary-Claire King and Christian Orrego developed a method for establishing grandpaternity. As a result, 43 children who had been abducted during the dictatorship were reunited with their surviving family members. This technique continues to be used to help surviving children, now adults, locate their biological families.

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Partnership 7: Analyzing State Violence in Guatemala

Human Rights Organization: Centro Internacional para Investigaciones en Derechos Humanos (CIIDH)
Scientist: Patrick Ball, then Deputy Director, AAAS Science and Human Rights Program
Expertise: Statistics

CIIDH is the research arm for a number of Guatemalan human rights groups. By the mid 1990s, these groups had collected 19.000 case reports detailing human rights violations between the late 1950s and early 1990s. Patrick Ball, a statistician, led a small team of researchers that provided a quantitative and qualitative analysis of these reports which documented 43,070 violations against 16,265 victims. The data spanned the years from 1959 to 1994 when Guatemala relied on extrajudicial violence to maintain political control. The analysis documents how state forces steadily widened their focus from killing militants in the 1960s to terrorizing the civilian population through massacring large groups of Mayan villagers by the 1980s.

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Partnership 8: Surveying Human Rights Abuses in Sierra Leone

Human Rights Organizations: Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, American Bar Association (ABA)
Scientist: Jana Asher, StatAid
Expertise: Survey Methodology, Statistics

In 1999, the ABA established a Sierra Leone War Crimes Documentation Project aimed at contributing to the documentation of the war crimes committed in Sierra Leone between 1991 and 2002, and, thereby, strengthening the ongoing truth and reconciliation process. Supported by the ABA, Jana Asher, a statistician, assisted the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission in their statistical analysis of data extracted from testimonies, and developed and implemented a national survey of human rights abuses. Relying on an extensive literature search of survey methods research as well as her own experience and training in survey methods, Asher developed a national survey aimed at capturing information about human rights abuses from a mostly illiterate population. She worked closely with civil society in Sierra Leone to ensure that the national survey was representative and would provide data of use by and interest to the local population. Asher’s analysis contributed to a larger data analysis of war crimes in Sierra Leone undertaken by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, begun at AAAS in 2002, and her findings were ultimately incorporated into the report of the Commission. Asher reports that this was remarkable for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission and allows the report to present stronger, more credible, findings that encapsulate the voice of the victims in a comprehensive way.

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