Minnesota Human Rights Lab

The Human Rights Lab is a new, interdisciplinary space for faculty and students at the University of Minnesota to investigate and model ways that cutting-edge research can be used more effectively with NGOs, communities, institutions, and policymakers to reduce inequalities in the enjoyment of human rights.

A group of faculty across several colleges and degree programs have designed this joint endeavor to build on areas of established expertise and leadership, as well as on the existing institutional foundation at the University for excellence in human rights research, teaching, and outreach.

The Lab was catalyzed by the University’s Grand Challenges strategic initiative and made possible through the award of one of the highly competitive Grand Challenge Exploratory Research Grants as seed money for 2016-2018.


Bridging our academic human rights community with partners working on the frontlines for more just and equitable societies.


Building on existing collaborative initiatives at the University, the Human Rights Lab aims to make significant advances on four fronts:

  • Research–strengthen existing faculty work and leadership in research intended to advance human rights;
  • Students–expand the experiential, intercultural, and interdisciplinary aspects of the training of our human rights students;
  • Impact–reduce inequalities by making meaningful contributions with partners that are on the frontlines of promoting the rights of marginalized groups in contexts of severe power disparities; and
  • Sustainability–build our lasting capacity as a nationally and internationally recognized “Human Rights University”

How the Lab works

Over the course of the initial two years, the Human Rights Lab will workshop and support 12 projects, selected for their potential contributions to the four Lab objectives. Each project will have a lead faculty member, a graduate student, and an identified partner organization or entity currently working to address a human rights challenge.

Together, the faculty-student team will lead a 3-hour interdisciplinary Lab session with diverse experts to workshop the human rights problem in question, the research methodology, and the practical application. Following the Lab session, the project will receive funding for the student to spend a full summer doing supervised field research on-site with the partner organization. For each project, the Lab will also fund one additional travel component (for either faculty or partners) to increase the knowledge-transfer across settings.

Lab projects 2016–2017: Round 1

Observatory on Disappearance and Impunity in Mexico

Lead: Barbara Frey, Global Studies, Director of Human Rights Program

This project focuses on developing a database and other resources to combat impunity for extrajudicial executions in Mexico. PDF iconRead the report: The Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity in Mexico.

Transformative Reparations and the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims

Lead: Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Law, Director of Human Rights Center

This project aims to identify transformative reparations parameters for the ICC with a focus on the case of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.

Accountability for Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Violations in Latin America

Lead: Leigh Payne, Senior Research Fellow, Human Rights Program

This project focuses on developing strategic litigation tools to advance accountability for corporate complicity in human rights violations in Latin America.

Expanding Local Support and Funding for Human Rights Organizations

Lead: James Ron, Political Science and Humphrey

This project supports local human rights organizations in Mexico by building their capacity to garner increase moral and financial support among local stakeholders.

Ex-combatant and Victim Groups, Memories, and Transitions to Peace

Lead: Joachim Savelsberg, Sociology and Ohanessian Chair

This project will explore questions of ex-combatant and victim groups, memories, and transitions to peace in the case of Northern Ireland. PDF iconRead the report: Associational Groups, Memories and Transitions to Peace: The Case of Northern Ireland.

Using International Human Rights Law to Protect Refugees

Lead: Stephen Meili, Law

This projects focuses especially on the use of international human rights law in domestic settings in Mexico to protect Central America refugees.

Transitional (In)Justice and Collective Memory in Minnesota (1862-2015)

Lead: Alejandro Baer, Sociology, Director of Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies

From “Sioux Massacres” to the “Dakota Genocide” – Transitional (In)Justice and Collective Memory in Minnesota (1862-2015).


The Lab is administered by the Human Rights Center at the University of Minnesota Law School.


  • Fionnuala Ní Aoláin (Law, Director of Human Rights Center)
  • Barbara Frey (Global Studies, Director of Human Rights Program)
  • James Ron (Political Science and Humphrey)
  • Joachim Savelsberg (Sociology, Ohanessian Chair)



  • Leigh Payne


  • Greta Friedemann-Sánchez


  • Jennifer Green
  • Stephen Meili
  • Christopher Roberts


  • Steven Miles


  • Cheryl Robertson


  • Catherine Guisan
  • Lisa Hilbink


  • Harry Lando


  • Alejandro Baer
  • Elizabeth Heger Boyle

Contact Information

University of Minnesota Law School

Walter F. Mondale Hall | 229 19th Avenue South | Minneapolis, MN 55455

P: 612-625-1000

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