Human Rights Research Prize: Call for Applications

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

The ISHR Human Rights Research Prize will provide students with an opportunity to gain valuable research experience, while supporting the work of Columbia faculty conducting human rights-related research. Students who receive the Prize are expected to complete approximately 80-120 hours of research assistance during the academic year. The research opportunities selected for the 2021-2022 academic year are available below. ISHR will award one research prize per opportunity in the amount of $1,500. Priority will be given to HRSMA and UHRP students. Please contact us at with any questions.



Project Title: Surrogacy: perspectives from women's rights.  Chapter for The  Research Handbook on Surrogacy and the Law, edited by K. Trimmings, S. Shakargy and C. Achmad. This chapter fits into Prof. Ergas' larger project on reproductive politics: liberalism, neoliberalism, and the body politic. 


Supervising Faculty: Yasmine Ergas, Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of International and Public Affairs and Director of ISHR.

Summary of Project: The politics of reproduction have long been fraught.   Who can and who must bear children for whom, how, when and with what implications? Who is barred from doing so, why, by whom and how?  Long-standing conflicts over abortion dominate public debate, focusing attention on women's self-determination and reproductive justice. The forceful emergence of reproductive surrogacy as a transnational mode of reproduction has underscored their importance.  But the disputes surrogacy has provoked have a broader scope. Is surrogacy a form of baby-selling?  What, ultimately, is pregnancy and what relation does it bear to embodiment? Who is a parent, of whom and who can decide? And, how can national and supranational institutions regulate  transnational markets in the (re)production of human beings? What, most urgently, does "human rights" have to say about these issues? These and similar questions relate directly to women's rights as embodied human beings.  Focusing on women's rights, this  project explores what may have been gained and what may have been lost as international and national institutions have grappled with the growing marketization of reproduction. 
Research Assistance: This project needs a research assistant with an interest in -- and commitment to -- women's rights.  Ideally, they would have taken courses regarding gender and international human rights law. They will: 
1. Research key aspects of women's rights regarding surrogacy in a sample of countries
2. Identify statements and other documents of international treaty bodies regarding surrogacy, including CEDAW; CRC; CAT; HRC; and CRPD
3. Conduct  a bibliographic survey of scholarship in this area. 
The project will be especially intense in February and March, but will continue to the end of the semester. 
Submission Requirements: Please submit your application to by Monday, January 31 at 9 a.m. Please include: a cover letter, cv, list of relevant courses (undergraduate and graduate), and a sample research paper. 

Project Title:  The New Humanitarians: The Volunteers of the Refugee “Crisis”

Supervising Faculty: Lara Nettelfield, Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Human Rights, Institute for the Study of Human Rights

Summary of Project: Why did hundreds of thousands of people put their lives on hold to help refugees and migrants who travelled along the so-called Balkan route since 2015? Why did so many individuals willingly take up the roles that have traditionally been assigned to states and international humanitarian organizations? What did they accomplish? What are the implications for future crises and the relationship between citizens and states along the Balkan route and beyond? Through oral histories with volunteers, The New Humanitarians examines these questions in order to understand this diverse social movement on a continent increasingly engulfed by division and fragmentation.  

Research Assistance: The researcher on this project will help with the processing of interviews (including editing and timestamping) and will conduct library and social media research (IG, Facebook, and GoFundMe etc.), and possibly survey research. 

Submission Requirements: Please submit a CV, cover letter, writing sample and transcript to by December 10th


Project Title: Mobilities: A Conference on Migration and Disability

Supervising Faculty​: J.C. Salyer, Anthropology and Director of Human Rights Program, Barnard College.

Summary of Project: A key but often overlooked intersection in the area of migration and asylum law is the axis of people with disabilities. This often results in the rights and needs of refugees and asylum seekers with disabilities being ignored or disregarded in policy and in law. While record keeping on the issue is woefully deficient, it is estimated that approximately 10 million people in forced migration situations have a disability. Having a disability can significantly impact the journey of asylum seekers and other forced migrants, including by being the basis of the persecution causing migrants to flee, limiting migration options, exacerbating difficult conditions of migration and detention, impeding the ability to make claims for asylum and other humanitarian protections, and hindering resettlement in the United States.

The ISHR research fellow would assist with the researching and organizing a multi-day conference on issues facing asylum seekers with disabilities, “Mobilities: A Conference on Migration and Disability.” The conference is being organized in cooperation with the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP and we have assembled a steering committee of scholars and activists who work on disability rights issues to guide and assist us in designing the conference. The conference will be virtual and will take place in late April 2022. The conference will bring together experts from the fields of migration and disability to identify and analyze the challenges with the goal of developing information and resources that would be useful to asylum seekers with disabilities and their legal advocates, and recommendations for policy makers to ensure that asylum, as well as other rights-based and humanitarian pathways are protected and expanded for migrants with disabilities.

Research Assistance: The research fellow will work with the conference steering committee, lawyers from IRAP, and Professor Salyer to identify the challenges and barriers migrants with disabilities face, to research topics related to those issues, identify experts in those fields, and organize panels, roundtables, and other events to address them. In addition, because the conference will be interdisciplinary, we are curating a bibliography of resources relating to asylum and disability studies for conference participants which will be available prior to the conference to facilitate interdisciplinary communication. An important part of the research fellow’s position will be to research the materials for this bibliography. Finally, we intend to produce various materials from the conference that will be of assistance to asylum seekers with disabilities and their advocates. If the fellow’s schedule permits, he or she could also assist in the production of those post-conference materials.

Submission Requirements: Please submit a CV, a cover letter expressing your interest and relevant experience, and a writing sample to J.C. Salyer at by December 14.


Project Title: Human Rights Education: Learning the Lessons

Supervising Faculty​: J. Paul Martin, Adjunct Professor, Africana Studies, Human Rights, Barnard College

Summary of Project: As human rights education (HRE) is adapting to the new circumstances highlighted by the Covid-19, post-Floyd race consciousness and the global environmental crises, all of which have also made many pre-existing problems of social justice more visible, it is important to learn from the past decades of human rights education, including the recognition that HRE is not a stand-alone project.  Despite defining the common shared principles found in international and domestic laws and institutions, the profiles of present-day human rights education, as practiced, exhibit many different underlying ideologies, cultures, economic analyses, political structures, social services, physical circumstances, pedagogical principles as well as the inputs and interests of the various delivery agents.  Given the now extensive writings and experience in HRE, this project seeks to identify the major factors that need to be taken into consideration in all future planning and evaluations. It urges human rights educators at all levels to recognize a more complicated and challenging agenda than simply applying principles to practice.  

Research Assistance: Developing bibliographies for book chapters. Conducting online and library research on the basis of the concepts outlined for each chapter. Providing brief summaries of selected works. Identifying, evaluating, and summarizing existing HRE teacher trainings. 

Submission Requirements: Please submit a CV and a cover letter expressing your interest and relevant experience to by December 14.


Project Title: Interculturality and Indigenous Peoples’ Legal and Social Protocols in Research and International Participation - PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PROJECT HAS BEEN POSTPONED UNTIL SEPTEMBER 2022.

Supervising Faculty: Elsa Stamatopoulou, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology, Department of Anthropology

Summary of Project: In their work within their communities and in their interface with other parts of society as well as with international organizations, Indigenous Peoples have been developing and shaping theories and practices stemming from their own philosophies, social and legal norms and self governance systems. Often referred to as indigenous protocols, or legal pluralism, these theories and practices have also found expression in international law and practice. The research of the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Program (IPRiP) will have two aspects. One is the collaboration with the International Indigenous Women’s Forum (FIMI)  for the development and implementation of an “Intercultural Research Certification Program” for Indigenous women. The second aspect is a literature review focusing on how Indigenous Peoples have interfaced with international interstate organizations using their own ways and protocols, how they assess the results of these intercultural political interventions and exchanges, and what the impact has been on their rights. This is research about the histories of the Indigenous movement in different parts of the world, including the USA.

Research Assistance:  Under the guidance of the Director of the IPRiP, the student is expected to bring together inputs of various professors from CU and elsewhere convened by IPRiP in order to support the project of FIMI. The student will also be in touch with FIMI staff developing modules for the Intercultural Research Certification Program”, attend an organizational workshop and various sessions of the training, expected to start in 2022. The student will also conduct an annotated review of literature on Indigenous human rights advocacy, identifying approaches and protocols followed by Indigenous Peoples. Spanish language skills are an asset. The student will benefit from a blending of human rights theoretical and advocacy work. The work is expected to start in November 2021 and last until the end of the 2022 Spring semester. A total of some 80-120 hours are expected for the project.

Submission requirements: Please submit a CV, a letter of interest, a sample of a research paper and any language skills you may have. This information should be sent to with the title "Application for the Human Rights Research Fellowship" by December 14th.