Human Rights Essay Contest

The Human Rights Essay Contest aims to encourage and acknowledge students who have written exceptional academic papers that address issues related to human rights. 

Cash prizes will be awarded to two graduate students and two undergraduate students currently enrolled at Columbia University. Contest winners, along with other selected participants, will be invited to present their papers at ISHR's annual end of year Research Poster Session. 

Students also have the opportunity to serve on the Student Review Committee that meets to discuss the submissions and nominate the finalists. The four winners are then selected by a Faculty Review Committee. Contest winners will be announced in late March or early April.

Papers may be written in any discipline or be interdisciplinary. They may be critical analyses, theoretical examinations, or research papers, as long as they address issues, ideas, and questions relating to human rights.

All students currently enrolled in a Columbia University degree program are eligible to apply.


Two $700 prizes will be awarded to graduate students and two $500 prizes will be awarded to undergraduates.

Contest Requirements

  • Only one submission is allowed per student.
  • Papers should be approximately 5,000 words, though substantially shorter papers will also be considered.
  • Your name must not appear in the document you upload. Papers are graded anonymously. Any appearance of your name on the uploaded document may result in your disqualification from the contest.
  • Uploads must be in Word (.doc or .docx), PDF, or rich text (.rtf) format. The upload feature will be disabled promptly at the time of the deadline. It will not be possible to submit late papers, and extensions will not be granted for any reason.
  • Only students enrolled in a Columbia University academic program during the current academic year are eligible to apply.
  • Students from any program are welcome to apply.

Formatting and Citations

  • The body of the text should be double-spaced.
  • Make sure to include page numbers.
  • The choice of style manual (i.e., MLA, Chicago) and citation format is the choice of the student, but must be consistent throughout the paper.


  • All co-authors must be Columbia University students.
  • All co-authors must be undergraduates, or all co-authors must be graduate students.
  • All co-authors must authorize submission of the paper.
  • If awarded the prize, it will be divided equally among all authors of the paper.

Review Procedures

All papers will be reviewed anonymously by Columbia University students and faculty on the basis of their originality, intellectual rigor, relevance and contribution to the field of human rights, and clarity of expression. The Student Review Committee will select finalists and a Faculty Review Committee will choose contest winners from among the finalists. Click here if you are interested in participating in the Student Review Committee.

Submitting Your Paper

To submit your paper, you must:

1. Login or create an account on the ISHR website

When submitting your essay, you will be asked to provide an abstract of your work. The abstract should briefly summarize your work (in no more than 500 words), and should allow the reader to quickly ascertain the paper’s purpose. After submitting, you will receive a confirmation email.

Deadline for Submission

The deadline to submit an essay is January 16, 2024.