Final Assignment (Group): Human Rights Dossier (15 pages)


Prompt: Write a Human Rights Dossier on a contemporary issue in Latin America.           

As we will see throughout the quarter, human rights issues are complex and multidimensional. Activists, students, and advocates to need to be able to engage in deep and broad research in order to gain enough expertise to be able to understand the complexities associated with each case and engage meaningfully in debates about how to prevent human rights abuses. This quarter your group will be responsible for constructing a human rights dossier on an ongoing human rights issue in Latin America. The goal of this assignment is to give you practical research experience and an opportunity to apply the theoretical frameworks and debates that we have used during the quarter.

Description: You will engage in broad research in order to gain expertise in one human rights case of your choice by creating a Human Rights “dossier” that gathers, compiles, and analyses a particular human rights case. Your task for this final project is to write a briefing book dossier and develop a website directed to a general public who might be interesting in learning more about your case. Thus, your purpose is to be informative and educational, not to be persuasive/rhetorical, although, I would imagine that you will be interested in expressing a specific point of view. Your will be writing as a historian (not as a policy person), as someone who has studied the purpose, methods, and outcomes of dictatorships in Argentina and Guatemala. Your purpose is to engage with what you consider to be the lessons of history from Guatemala and Argentina and when and how they are applicable to the different context surrounding your contemporary human rights case.

As the quarter progresses your group will be responsible for producing the assignment in four stages: Proposal, Case File, Analysis, Website. After each stage, you will be asked to complete a peer evaluation of your group members and their contributions.

Proposal: The proposal will be a one-page research proposal that briefly describes the case that your group intends   to study. You will be required to have your assignment approved by the professor or graduate reader.

Due Date: Week 4 – Friday April 24

Case File: The Case File will be a collection of contemporary accounts of your human rights case. You will collect between 15 and 20 accounts of your issue from a wide variety of sources: Newspapers (national and international), periodicals, blogs, activist/NGO reports, and government documents are all acceptable. Be creative here. Explore national English Language newspapers, find local accounts, look for activist descriptions, try to find government responses. The more varied your sources, the better your understanding of the case and your final analysis will be. So, this task of investigation and interpretation raises questions of representation: What are the debates about the case? That is, what conflicting views of the facts and the interpretations of those facts exist? How do you know how to evaluate this case? That is, what information do you have and how can you trust it? Who are the authors of the information you find and what are their goals and biases? Your group is responsible for photocopying each source and writing a one-paragraph annotated bibliography entry for each source.

Due Date: Week 7 your group must bring a complete case file to class for review

 Analysis: The final component of the assignment will be a 15-page description and analysis of the case organized in three parts:

  • Executive summary (1-3 pages)
  • Historical context (6-8 pages)
  • Analysis of case based on evaluation of sources and course materials (4-6 pages)

Your opening summary should summarize the case itself. Who are the actors? Are international agencies or NGOs involved? What are their goals and what are the effects? What claims for rights are being made and by whom? Be specific about what norms, treaties, or laws form (or might form) the basis of the claims. What tensions or contradictions are revealed by the case?

The middle section should be a detailed discussion of the relevant historical context necessary for understanding your case. How does the historical context in a particular country explain why human rights are being violated or are endangered?

In the final section, analyze the case by making an argument using the material from the course. How does this case help us to understand human rights discourse and practice or challenge our understanding of human rights? How does the case expand current thinking about human rights? What might come next in the case? What are the possibilities for adjudication, reconciliation, or justice? What new forms of activism have been involved in bringing the case to light? Make these arguments by referring to relevant readings and arguments from the class.

Use Week 9 and class time on May 27 and May 29 to meet with your group to work on the project, complete your website, and consult with the TA.

Due Date: During Week 10 each group will give a presentation (5 min) of your website to the class and will submit a final hard copy of your dossier to the professor.

Your final dossier must contain all parts of the assignment. Take this as an opportunity to explore a topic and an area that interests you. If you are planning on studying, working, or traveling somewhere use this as a chance to learn about that place. If you have a family or personal connection to some issue then choose that. Don’t pick something to impress us, the more excited you are about the project the better the final product. Take this as an opportunity to consider how you might further your own human rights activism.

[Many thanks to Dr. Nancy Postero at UC San Diego for developing the original version of this assignment]

About Marian Schlotterbeck

Historian of Modern Latin America Assistant Professor at the University of California, Davis

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