Amnesty International USA director encourages Stanford to ‘bring human rights home’

Sept. 29, 2014, 9:59 a.m.

Steven Hawkins, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, spoke at Stanford Law School on Thursday about the future of human rights advocacy in the United States.

Addressing a diverse audience of law school students, faculty, undergraduates and high school students, Hawkins emphasized the importance of raising awareness of global human rights issues among Americans as well as strengthening the international network of human rights advocacy.

“So often, human rights in the United States is seen as something that happens ‘over there,’” Hawkins said. “Part of how I see the work of Amnesty now is to build what I call ‘bringing human rights home.’”

One of the greatest challenges in human rights, he stated, was the “indifference of everyday folks.” Human rights discourse has historically taken place in academia, according to Hawkins, and he highlighted the need to expand the conversation to grassroots education and movements.

“The use of human rights principles can have traction in the United States,” Hawkins said. “We had success in one of the toughest areas there is, and that’s the death penalty. If we can score victories with the death penalty, we have to begin to use [human rights principles] both in our legal advocacy… and our street advocacy in how we engage with grassroots activism.”

Hawkins, who became the executive director of Amnesty International USA last September, hopes to expand the global reach of the organization moving forward, especially in regions outside Europe and North America.

“Amnesty right now is at this really radical transformation point where there is a recognition that citizens of the global north have an important voice to talk about human rights, and it is important to develop a constituency in the global south,” he said.

He added that these countries in the south are very important on the world stage and in the world economy, and that the next question is to figure out how their citizens can begin to be voices for human rights, both in their countries and also in the larger global context.

Hawkins also spoke to the importance of using technology to facilitate communication within the global human rights network and social media to share the Amnesty International brand.

The talk was part of the Stanford Human Rights Center’s Distinguished Speakers series, The Future of Human Rights. This event marked the beginning of the third year of the Stanford Human Rights Center’s Speakers series. The goal of the series, according to the Center’s executive director Claret Vargas, is to prompt people to think about human rights in a broader perspective and encourage discourse in social justice and human rights.

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