“We need peace colleges instead of war colleges,” said RC social science Prof. Helen Fox, echoing the sentiment of the evening at the annual Jack L. Walker Memorial Conference on Political Affairs. The five speakers at the conference addressed issues including genocide, international law, the significance of an international criminal court and what the new threat of terrorism means for human rights.
Douglass Cassel, director of the Center for International Human Rights, addressed the war on terrorism in his keynote speech. “The response to terrorism must not be in kind, lest the country sink to the level of terrorists,” he said. The United States must stop turning over terrorist suspects to countries known for using torture, he added.
Cassel questioned whether the United States is conforming to human rights standards by using intelligence information as the basis for detaining suspected terrorists, and in some situations exacting capital punishment without the proper due process. He asserted that many of the measures adopted mark a deviation from established international norms.
“There’s got to be more leadership and less domination,” said Law School Prof. A.W. Brian Simpson in his speech on “U.S. Hegemony and the Protection of Human Rights.” The Bush administration is not the right group of people for the job, Simpson said.
Law School Prof. Dino Kritsiotis reinforced this idea saying, “if you’re going to be a hegemon, lead by principle … don’t lead in a way that will create more enemies.” But the aim of the speakers was not “America-bashing,” as Simpson said, but rather to inspire an open dialogue on human rights issues, and to bring together not only scholars, but also students and people who have actual experience with these issues. “The idiom of human rights presents us with a unique understanding of what’s going on in the world … but we must understand human rights,” Kritsiotis said.
The last speaker of the evening, J. Paul Martin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights, spoke about the critical role students hold in human rights. “You guys have got some work to do – we all have work to do,” he said.
Named after former University social science Prof. Jack L. Walker, the event was sponsored by The Undergraduate Political Science Association. The conference aims to educate the Ann Arbor community about current topics that would interest both professors and students, said LSA senior Laura Zusman, co-president of the Undergraduate Political Science Association. This year’s topic was “Human Rights in the 21st Century.”