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Human Rights: The Agenda for the 21st Century

Regan Ralph, the founding executive director of the Fund for Global Human Rights, comes to CMC at a time when human rights around the world are under one of the most damaging and sustained assaults in recent memory. We are living through a period when dissidents in China are subjected to punitive sentencing; when torture has become common place, whether in American military prisons or at the hands of Islamic fundamentalists; when governments systematically exterminate their citizens, as in Darfur, Sudan; when sexual violence has been adopted as a standard military and political strategy; and when trafficking in women and children has mushroomed.
Ralph has devoted much of her career to finding ways to overcome these practices, first as Vice President for Health and Reproductive Rights at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington D.C., and then as the head of the Women’s Rights division of the prominent non-governmental organization, Human Rights Watch. Among her main concerns were to help assure that sexual violence during military conflicts would be prosecuted as a war crime, to secure recognition of gender-based persecution as grounds for asylum, and to promote women’s rights in countries including Russia, Egypt, Turkey, South Africa, Pakistan and Mexico.

Since 9/11 it has become increasingly apparent that some of the gravest threats come from weak and failed states that harbor terrorists and often engage in gross abuses of human rights. But the traditional methods of state-to-state diplomacy are often unable to engage these states. It is here that the Global Fund for Human Rights and similar organizations make one of their greatest contributions. The Global Fund takes as its mission to work directly with individuals and organizations willing to “challenge abuse wherever it occurs. The Fund finds and funds local human rights heroes who often work at great personal risk to strengthen and bring global attention to their struggles.”
Since 2002, the Fund has disbursed over $4 million to 140 human rights organizations in 13 countries. The projects have ranged from support for a campaign in India to protect the rights and dignity of rape victims and improve their prospects for justice, support for the provision of health care, education, and training to former child soldiers, and the passage of legislation to criminalize domestic violence and marital rape in Mexico.

Ms. Ralph is a graduate of Harvard University and Yale Law School, and studied international law at the London School of Economics and Arabic at the American University in Cairo. She chairs the board of the Center for Health and Gender Equity and serves on the advisory council of the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown University Law Center. Her lecture is sponsored by The Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights and the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies.