Human Rights Center Materials

Document Type

Conference Report

Publication Date


Publication Source

The Social Practice of Human Rights: Charting the Frontiers of Research and Advocacy


Universities have new importance in the global human rights movement.

This was the resounding message the University of Dayton heard at its global conference on human rights advocacy in October 2013. The human rights movement is experiencing dramatic changes. Dynamic new NGOs in the global South are resetting the human rights agenda. Popular movements inspired by human rights ideals are arising around the world to demand justice. New information technologies are creating the possibility of real global solidarity. The movement must adapt. Human rights organizations must imagine new strategies to address poverty and other root causes of human rights violations. Human rights organizations must collaborate more intentionally with humanitarian and development organizations, foundations and popular movements. Advocacy must be directed at transformative solutions to systemic patterns of injustice.

It is time for new thinking about human rights advocacy. This is the challenge for the global human rights research and advocacy community. The Human Rights Center at the University of Dayton, with its singular focus on advocacy, is rising to this challenge.

The global conference on the Social Practice of Human Rights set in motion the Human Rights Center’s commitment to education, research and dialogue. Over three days, veteran human rights professionals presented research and engaged in constructive critique of the human rights movement, all to serve a vital purpose: to produce concrete proposals to strengthen the human rights movement’s capacity to confront emerging threats to human dignity and rights. The conference’s plenary dialogues yielded recurring themes about the movement’s achievements and failures, challenges it must confront, actions it must undertake, and changes it must make. A consensus evolved:

  • Solid empirical and applied research is critical to meaningful human rights advocacy.
  • Advocacy benefits from critical introspection and constructive critique.
  • Dialogue leading to collaboration is the key to bringing about real change to the systemic patterns of injustice that cause human rights violations.


This report summarizes the dialogue and commentary from the 2013 conference "The Social Practice of Human Rights: Charting the Frontiers of Research and Advocacy." Featured speakers included:

  • Juan Méndez, U.N. special rapporteur on torture; formerly of Human Rights Watch and the International Center for Transitional Justice
  • Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation; research professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University
  • Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director, Human Rights Watch
  • Alison Brysk, Mellichamp Professor of Global Governance, University of California, Santa Barbara
  • Larry Cox, former executive director of Amnesty International USA
  • Sam Gregory, program director, WITNESS
Many other prominent people in human rights practice and research also participated in dialogues and plenary sessions.


University of Dayton

Place of Publication

Dayton, OH