The Bernstein Symposium began in 1997 in honor of Robert Bernstein, the founding chair of Human Rights Watch, for his extraordinary contributions to the international human rights movement. The symposium is an integral part of the Robert L. Bernstein Fellowship in International Human Rights, which was established the same year. Each year, current and past fellows are invited back to Yale Law School to engage in human rights discussions and to connect with each other and with symposium participants. In honor of the late Robert Bernstein, who championed dissidents and human rights activists throughout his life, the 2020 Bernstein Symposium taking place March 26-27 will be titled "Protecting Dissent." The program is available below.


Twenty-First Annual Robert L. Bernstein Symposium
Protecting Dissent

March 26-27, 2020 * Yale Law School * New Haven, Connecticut

Social justice activists are under threat. Across the globe and across movements, defenders face a common range of assaults from public and private actors. Some states are returning to the authoritarian tools – censorship, criminalization, disappearances – that forged the human rights movement in the 1970s. At the same time, technology has opened up new means for governments and private actors to surveil, harass, and intimidate activists, and social media offers easy venues to manipulate and foment public outrage against dissidents who cross cultural or political fault lines. This symposium will bring together writers, artists, activists, and scholars to consider the many faces of suppression and, most importantly, the myriad acts of resistance that transcend borders and preserve human freedom.    


4:15-6              Welcome and opening discussion


10-11:45          Emergency States

This session will explore the contours and causes of what many observers describe as a global crackdown on dissent. What characterizes this most recent wave of repression? What dynamics appear to be at play in fostering suppression, and might we observe common trends across various countries? To what extent is this current state “new,” or are we simply experiencing a continuing of age-old state tactics of repression?

Maina Kiai, Director, Alliances and Partnerships Initiative, Human Rights Watch; Scholar-in-Residence at the Ted Sorenson Center at CUNY Law School; former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peace Assembly and Association

Regan Ralph, President, Global Fund for Human Rights

            Ben Wizner, Director, Speech, Technology & Surveillance, ACLU

            Laszlo Bruszt, Professor, Department of Political Science, Central European University and Istvan Deak Visiting Professor, Columbia University


11:45-1 Lunch

1-2:45              Protecting Dissent Across Borders

The international human rights movement of the late twentieth century was partly borne out of efforts to protect dissidents across borders. To what degree are methods pioneered by earlier activists and their international counterparts, such as by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, still relevant today, a moment characterized by heightened populism and hostility to cosmopolitanism?  What new frameworks, tools, and institutions are advocates building to shield activists, journalists and others who are under threat?

Alfred Brownell, Founder, Green Advocates, Liberia; Tom & Andi Bernstein Human Rights Fellow, Yale Law School

Viviana Krsticevic, Executive Director, Center for Justice and International Law / Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional

Biraj Patnaik - South Asia Director, Amnesty International

3-4:45              Creative Resistance / Engagement

Dissent takes many forms. This session will explore how social movements and human rights defenders resist suppression and take advantage of new and old technologies to make change.

Ketty Nivyabandi, poet and Founder, Women and Girls Movement for Peace and Security in Burundi; Media Associate, Nobel Women’s Initiative

Adam Shapiro, Head of Creativity and Visibility, Frontline Defenders

Carlo Gabuco, Visual Artist and Documentarian, Philippines