Previous Bernstein Symposia

The 2023 Bernstein Symposium, titled "Digital Dictatorship: China's 21st Century Authoritarianism," was held from April 13-14. Read about the symposium discussion.

The shortened 2022 Bernstein Symposium, titled "Exile: Struggling for Human Rights from Afar," was held on March 31. Read about the panelists' discussion.

The 2021 Bernstein Symposium, titled "End Times for the Age of Human Rights?: Confronting the Consequences of Global Crises," was held virtually on April 9. Read about the panelists' discussion.

The 2020 Bernstein Symposium was cancelled due to COVID-19. The 2019 Bernstein Symposium, entitled "Borders, Refuge & Rights," was held on April 4-5. Chris Abani, the award-winning novelist, poet, screenwriter, and playwright, gave the keynote address. Other speakers included Sarah Stillman, the Project Director of the Global Migration Project and recent MacArthur Genius recipient, Sarah Song, professor of Political Science at UC Berkeley and author of Immigration and Democracy, and Sana Mustafa, founder of the Network for Refugee Voices. Among the presenters were lawyers from four different continents, who discussed their litigation strategies. 

Solidarity: Sustaining the Struggle for Human Rights in a Fractured World, was held on April 12-13, 2018. Vivek Maru, the CEO of Namati, gave the keynote address. In 2017, the symposium addressed the complex relationships between human rights and religion. 

Symposia Schedules

Exile: Struggling for Human Rights from Afar

Thursday, March 31

The 2022 Bernstein Symposium brought together three human rights advocates exiled from their homelands: Rayhan Asat, Alfred Brownell, and Mohammad “Musa” Mahmodi, all Tom & Andi Bernstein fellows at the Schell Center for International Human Rights. In residence at the Schell Center, they have continued to defend human rights in countries to which they can no longer safely return.

“Exile: Struggling for Human Rights from Afar” explored their experience as human rights defenders forced to leave their countries and now fighting for change from a distance.

Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium

April 9, 2021
Yale Law School

12:15-1:45 PM
Panel Featuring Bernstein and Robina Fellows of 2020-21

Join the Schell Center for a panel discussing the work of our current Bernstein and Robina Fellows. The panel will be moderated by Jim Silk. This event is limited to the Yale Law School community.

2:00-4:00 PM
End Times for the Age of Human Rights? Confronting the Consequences of Global Crises

The world is struggling simultaneously with three crises, each of a magnitude not seen since the end of World War II: pandemic, recession and climate change. These intertwined crises appear to be beyond the remedial capacities of our domestic and international institutions and particularly resistant to human-rights based solutions. Do these crises spell a turning point for human rights?

Human rights advocacy developed at a time when the proper measure of politics was located in the relationship of government to citizen. Power was to be constrained by rights. Today’s crises do not arise primarily out of failures in that relationship. Rights-respecting regimes are just as vulnerable to the crises as rights-violating regimes. Protection of the rights-bearing individual can no longer be the sole measure of governance, even for human rights advocates. We must look, as well, at states’ responsiveness to systemic threats. China’s draconian, but largely successful, response to the coronavirus made the tension between these two perspectives impossible to ignore.

Solutions to these intertwined crises have been complicated even further by the recent rise of nationalism. No nation can deal, on its own, with any of these crises. Solutions will require transnational mobilization around new forms of knowledge, production and exchange. Renewed U.S. leadership will have to include innovations in these areas, and that will require rethinking traditional forms of institutional commitment internally and externally. Concerns for justice and liberty will remain, but the meaning of these abstractions will change as the demands we make on our institutions, both national and transnational, shift. Right now, for example, debates are raging, at home, over the meaning of liberty and, globally, over the content of the just demands that poorer nations can make on the wealthy.

This year’s Bernstein Symposium will address the question of whether we are on the cusp of a paradigm shift. Is the age of human rights going to give way to new norms and institutions? What is the place of individual rights claims in the face of global, systemic crises? What norms will guide international institutions, if not human rights? Are our existing obligations, institutions and forms of advocacy now obstacles to the sorts of responses we need? If a new order is emerging, what role can or should the United States play? 

Alex de Waal, Research Professor, The Fletcher School, Tufts University and Executive Director, World Peace Foundation

Aziz Rana, Richard and Lois Cole Professor of Law, Cornell Law School

Borders, Refuge and Rights

Twenty-First Annual Bernstein Human Rights Symposium
Yale Law School, April 4–5, 2019
Room 127

The figures are overwhelming. An estimated 68.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by persecution, conflict, or violence. 1 in every 110 people is an asylum-seeker, internally displaced or a refugee. Current crises across the globe – Bangladesh, Syria, Sudan, Venezuela, Yemen – have revealed the crumbling foundations of the international refugee regime. Questions that have hounded the refugee system since its founding reverberate even more loudly today amidst populist and nationalist backlash to globalization. Is granting refuge an act of grace? A humanitarian duty? A moral obligation?


4:10–6:00 p.m.      Keynote Address
Chris Abani
, Novelist, Poet, and Board of Trustees Professor of English Northwestern University
Discussant: Sarah Stillman, Project Director, Global Migration Project, Columbia University 

Discussion of the international refugee system’s many failings often focus on refugees as objects of humanitarian relief rather than as rights bearers and political subjects. The keynote lecture will consider who speaks for refugees and how. It will be followed by a conversation about the potential for language to recenter discourse on refugees’ dignity, agency and humanity.

6:00 p.m. Reception and Introduction of New Bernstein and Robina Fellows (Dining Hall)

UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage (Yale Law Library Reference Room)
This interactive multi-media installation seeks to humanize the word “refugee.” Created during the summer of 2017, it is the work of Syrian-born, New Haven artist and architect Mohamad Hafez and Iraqi-born writer and speaker Ahmed Badr.      
On display in the main reading room of the Lillian Goldman Law Library through April 5.


10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.       Ideas

The contemporary global refugee crisis puts in stark relief longstanding and unresolved questions about the individual rights and state sovereignty. Is granting refuge an act of grace? A humanitarian duty? The fulfilment of a claim of rights? This session examines the limits to a state’s right to close its borders and whether refugees have a special claim on the right to enter.

Sarah Song, Professor of Law and Political Science, University of California, Berkeley
DiscussantPaul Linden-Retek, Robina Foundation Visiting Human Rights Fellow, Yale Law School
Moderator:  Paul Kahn, Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities, Yale Law School

12–12:30 p.m.      Images

Mohamad Hafez, artist and creator of UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage

1:30–3:00 p.m.          Institutions

A central tenet of international refugee law is a system that transcends state borders to protect refugees. Yet, in an historical moment marked by rising populism and nativism, states are embracing multilateralism to evade their legal obligations.  Major powers – the United States, Europe, Australia – are outsourcing policing of their borders to their poorer neighbors, such as Mexico, Niger, and Palau. This session explores the potential – good and bad – of transnational cooperation.

Bill Frelick, Director, Refugee Rights Program, Human Rights Watch
Sana Mustafa, Consultant and Co-Founder of The Network For Refugee Voices
Leah Zamore, Senior Policy Analyst, Center on International Cooperation
Moderator:  Ryan Thoreson, Cover-Lowenstein Fellow in International Human Rights Law, Yale Law School

3:15–5:00 p.m.          Innovations

Rights-based  litigation has been a relatively uncommon strategy to improve the lives of forcibly displaced people. Even so, lawyers across the globe are employing law through courts and other legal institutions in the struggle to recognize the dignity and rights of refugees. This session brings together lawyers from four continents to discuss strategies.

Hanaa Hakiki, Legal Advisor, European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights
Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, Executive Director, Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Sirine Shebaya, Interim Legal Director, Muslim Advocates
Katie Robertson, Director of Legal Advocacy, Human Rights Law Centre
Moderator:  Hope Metcalf  Executive Director and Lecturer in Law, Schell Center for International Human Rights

Solidarity: Sustaining the Struggle for Human Rights in a Fractured World

Yale Law School

April 12-13, 2018

Rather than focus on a particular subject, the 2018 Symposium celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the Bernstein International Human Rights Fellowship and featured a variety of discussions among some of the 83 Yale Law School graduates who have worked in 27 countries on the Bernstein and Robina Fellowships. The theme of the Symposium was how to sustain human rights work in the face of daunting challenges, and even outright hostility. With renewed questioning of human rights, from the left and right, the 2018 Bernstein Symposium offered a chance to rethink – and recommit to – essential principles of solidarity.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

4:10 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Welcome & Opening Remarks

James Silk, Binger Clinical Professor of International Human Rights, Yale Law School
Heather Gerken, Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law, Yale Law School
Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor of International Law at Yale Law School

4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Keynote Address: The Global Movement for Legal Empowerment

Vivek Maru ('01), CEO, Namati


Sari Bashi ('03), Israel/Palestine Director, Human Rights Watch
Allana Kembabazi ('15), Programs Manager - Right to Health, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights
Tienmu Ma ('14), Special Advisor for International Human Rights Law to the Ombudsperson of the Republic of Kosovo

Friday, April 13, 2018

10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
Panel 1: Humans, the Environment, and Rights

The exploitation of natural resources often occurs in tandem with human rights abuses. This panel will provide snapshots of pressing, current issues: communities displaced by the palm oil and rubber industries; climate change and oil drilling in the Arctic; and island nations confronting climate change and deep-sea resource extraction. Participants will discuss the place of human rights in their work and in reckoning with severe, and even existential, threats.

Moderator:  Marco Simons ('00), Americas Regional Program Director and General Counsel, EarthRights International


Michelle Jonker-Argueta ('11), Legal Counsel, Greenpeace
Etelle Higonnet ('05), Campaign and Legal Director, Waxman Strategies
Julie Hunter ('13), Attorney, Blue Ocean Law, and Clinical Fellow, International Justice and Human Rights Clinic, Allard Law School, University of British Columbia
Lani Inverarity (LLM '15), Global Communications Associate, Accountabiltiy Counsel

11:45 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.
Panel 2: The Ethics and Politics of Finding Facts and Making Truth

A core function of human rights practice is to document abuses. Often, given the fragility of human rights institutions, the most concrete outcome will be “fact-finding” (in the case of NGO reports) or “truth-seeking” (in the case of commissions and tribunals). This session will consider how those processes have evolved over the last few decades, what standards have emerged, and what questions remain.

Moderator: Elizabeth Brundige ('04), Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Assistant Dean for International Programs and Jack G. Clarke Executive Director of International and Comparative Legal Studies, Cornell Law School


Maria Burnett ('05), Director, East Africa and the Horn, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
Molly Land ('01), Professor of Law and Human Rights, University of Connecticut
Chelsea Purvis ('11), Policy and Advocacy Advisor, Mercy Corps
Matiangai Sirleaf ('08), Assistant Professor of Law, University of Pittsburgh

2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
Panel 3: Culture and Change

This session will consider the many interactions between human rights and cultural change through the work of four former Fellows. Their work traverses diverse locations and issues: systemic barriers to holding UN peacekeepers accountable for sexual violence; challenges to birthright citizenship in Texas; the role of newly married women (kelin) in Kyrgyzstan society; and discrimination against transgender children in the United States and the Philippines. How do advocates use rights to respond to or to influence cultural and institutional change? What roles do claims of “culture” play in forestalling – or advancing – efforts to advance the rights of disfavored groups?

Moderator: Tara Jane Melish ('00), Professor and Director, Buffalo Human Rights Center, University of Buffalo School of Law


Sharanya Kanikkannan ('11), Legal and Policy Adviser, Aids-Free World
Efrén Olivares ('08), Director, Racial and Economic Justice Program, Texas Civil Rights Project
Meghan McCormack ('14), Professor, American University of Central Asia
Ryan Thoreson ('14), Researcher, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program, Human Rights Watch

3:45 p.m. – 5:15 p.m.
Panel 4: Rising Threats, Emerging Strategies

In every region of the world, including the United States, states are using populist rhetoric to justify limits on an independent and robust civil society, often to the detriment of dissent and of protection of minorities and non-citizens. Meanwhile, some threats, such as the refugee crisis, transcend national boundaries by their very nature, and politicians invoke fear of refugees to support populist and nationalist agendas. This session will consider the extent to which, in this moment of heightened nationalism, international human rights carry significant moral and legal weight, or whether new – and perhaps not-yet-imagined – strategies are needed.

Moderator: Jason Pielemeier ('08), Policy Director, Global Network Initiative


Tendayi Achiume ('08), Associate Clinical Professor of Law, UCLA Law School, and UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance
Scarlet Kim ('13), Legal Officer, Privacy International
Nick Robinson ('08), Legal Advisor, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law
Leah Zamore ('14), Senior Policy Analyst, Center on International Cooperation – NYU

5:15 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.
Closing Thoughts

Jeff Prescott ('97), Executive Director, National Security Action and Senior Fellow, Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement

Religion and Human Rights
Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium

Yale Law School
March 23-24, 2017

One of the most interesting developments of the opening years of the millennium has been the resurgence of interest in the role of religious belief and practice in global affairs. Scholars have given up any easy assumption that religion would increasingly be displaced by secularism. Politicians have had to learn how to respond to new forms of religious activism. And globalists have had to reconsider how religious belief continues to shape the possibilities of change within borders and across regions. Some scholars have responded to these developments by reevaluating the role of religion in the origins of modern human rights law. Some practitioners have responded by trying to marshal the power of faith communities to a human rights agenda. Scholars and practitioners have often focused on ways to protect human rights from opposition by religious communities that perceive the human rights project as secular, Western or cosmopolitan. This year’s Bernstein Symposium will address, in three different panels, the complex relationships between human rights and religion.


12:00 PM      Conversations with Current Bernstein and Robina Human Rights Fellows

Bernstein Fellows:
Daniel Hessel '16, EarthRights International, Thailand
Asaf Lubin '16, Privacy International,  London

Robina Fellows:
Tosin Agbabiaka '16, USAID/Power Africa
Sergio Giuliano L.L.M. '16, European Court of Human Rights, France
Andrea Scoseria Katz '16, European Court of Human Rights, France

4:15-6:00      Keynote Address:  Why Human Rights Needs Religion

Larry Cox, Co-Director, Kairos: The Center on Religions, Rights and Social Justice and former Executive Director, Amnesty International USA

6:30 PM         Dinner for Fellows and Panelists 


10:00 - 12:00 New Perspectives on the Role of Religion in the History of Human Rights

The field of human rights as an identifiable set of institutions, practices and beliefs has been around long enough to support a field of historical inquiry. Some of the work of the new historians of human rights challenges old assumptions about the place of religion in human rights, including in their origins. This panel looks to new understandings of religious perspectives on the history of human rights and to the significance of debates about this history for the contemporary relationship between religion and human rights.

  • Sarah Azaransky, Assistant Professor of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary
  • Zareena Grewal, Associate Professor of American Studies and Religious Studies, Yale University
  • Lamin Sanneh, D. Willis James Professor of Missions & World Christianity, Professor of History, Professor of International and Area Studies
  • Suzanne Stone, University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Professor of Law, and Director of the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University
  • Samuel Moyn, Jeremiah Smith, Jr. Professor of Law and Professor of History, Harvard University  (moderator)

12:00 - 1:00  Lunch

1:00 - 2:30    Religion as a Human Right

Religion figures in diverse ways in human rights, including as a set of protected beliefs and practices: individuals have a human right to hold their religious beliefs and to freely practice their religion. In this panel, we examine how this right informs policies of governments and of international organizations. When governments pursue protection for religion, they are always in danger of being judged against a colonial legacy that included proselytizing. How do governments and international institutions negotiate this history as they implement policies that seek to protect religious practices around the world?

  • David N. Saperstein, former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom
  • Anna Su, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
  • Patrick Weil, Visiting Professor of Law, Oscar M. Ruebhausen Distinguished Senior Fellow, and Senior Research Scholar in Law, Yale Law School
  • Paul W. Kahn, Robert W. Winner Professor of Law and the Humanities (moderator)

2:45 – 4:15   Advocating for Gender Equality and Reproductive Rights in the Face of Religion-Based Resistance

Religion is notable both as a human right worthy of protection and, sometimes, as a claim against the demands of human rights. Human rights advocates often find themselves confronting an opposition asserting the authority of religious orthodoxy. In this last panel, we will examine, through the lens of advocacy for gender equality and reproductive rights, the ways in which religious communities encounter human rights.

  • Karima Bennoune, U.N. Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights and Professor of Law, U.C. Davis School of Law
  • Debora Diniz, Professor, Law Faculty, University of Brasília and founder of Anis: Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender
  • Louise Melling, Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty, ACLU.
  • Hope R. Metcalf, Executive Director, Schell Center for International Human Rights (moderator)

4:15-4:45      Closing Reflections: Competing Universalisms?

Richard Amesbury, Professor of Theological Ethics, University of Zurich

4:45-6:15      Reception and Introduction of the 2017-18 Bernstein and Robina Fellows

6:30 PM         Dinner for Fellows and Panelists 

Art and International Human Rights

Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium
and JUNCTURE: Explorations in Art and Human Rights

Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights
Yale Law School

April 7-8, 2016

This year’s symposium is part of JUNCTURE: Explorations in Art and Human Rights, a new initiative sponsored by the Schell Center. The symposium will feature conversations with the visiting artists who, as part of JUNCTURE, are collaborating with Yale law and graduate students on creative projects. The symposium will also include conversations with international artists, advocates, and curators whose work engages directly with timely human rights issues.


10:30am–12:00pm Yale University Art Gallery, Close-Looking Sessions

With emphasis on several well-known works from the Art Gallery’s permanent collection (e.g., photojournalistic images from the Vietnam War, works by South African artist William Kentridge), we will facilitate close-looking sessions that consider those images through the dual lenses of art and international human rights. Sessions will be co-led by Molleen Theodore, Assistant Curator of Programs at the Yale University Art Gallery.
Those interested should email to RSVP.

12:30pm Faculty Lounge, Lunch 

12:45–2:00pm, A View From Berlin: Artistic Responses to the “European Refugee Crisis”

Isabel Gahren and Cesy Leonard, Center for Political Beauty (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit), with David Kim ’17, Curator and Deputy Director, JUNCTURE

The Center for Political Beauty (Zentrum für Politische Schönheit), an artist collective based in Berlin, espouses an ideal of “aggressive humanism,” in which, according to the Center, art will “hurt, provoke, and rise in revolt.” Projects include the Federal Emergency Programme, in which the Center proposed to the German government a policy to take in Syrian refugees modeled on the Kindertransport, and the The Dead Are Coming, in which the Center exhumed the bodies of refugees from grave sites in Greece and Italy and then reburied the corpses in Germany. We will discuss specific works by the Center and the philosophies and politics that motivate its practice.

2:15–3:30pm, Telling Human Rights Stories Through Objects

Amalia Pica, JUNCTURE Visiting Artist, with David Kim

What is the relationship between empathy and human rights activism? How might we understand objects to “speak” or bear narratives? What is gained or lost by, say, telling stories of the war in Syria through an object, rather than through a portrait and personal narrative? What objects have come to be symbols of human rights (e.g., a machete, a life-jacket, a child’s shoe, or a poisonous mushroom), and what nuances might these icons obscure? What are the connections between visual portrayal, speech, and the dignification of individuals? How might telling histories of objects renew individuals’ attention to human rights issues?

3:30–4:00pm, Break

4:00–5:30pm, Keynote Address and Reading

Carolyn Forché, the author of four books of poetry, is known for coining the term “poetry of witness.” In the late 1970s, Forché received a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship to work as a human rights advocate in El Salvador. Her experiences there compelled the poems in her second book, The Country Between Us (1982). Critics called the poems “acts of commitment: to concepts and persons, to responsibility, to action” and “a poetry of dissent from a poet outraged.” Forché edited the volume Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness (1993), which collected the work of poets who had written in war, exile, and imprisonment and, in one critic’s words, showed “the human ability to record, to write, to speak in the face of those atrocities.” In 1997, Forché received the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award for using her poetry as a “means to attain understanding, reconciliation, and peace within communities and between communities.”

5:30–6:30pm, Reception


10:00–11:20am, A Conversation with Current Bernstein and Robina Foundation Human Rights Fellows

Bernstein Fellows: Allana Kembabazi ’15, Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, Uganda; Ryan Thoreson ’14, LGBT Rights Program, Human Rights Watch, New York
Robina Fellows: Joshua Andresen ’15, U.N. Affairs, Office of the Legal Advisor, U.S. Department of State, Washington, D.C.; Julia Brower ’14, Office of the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, Washington, D.C.; Lani Inverarity LLM’15, Accountability Counsel, San Francisco

11:20am–12:00pm, Photography in the Work of Yale Law School Human Rights Fellows

Megan McCormack ’14, Robina Fellow, Independent Research, Kyrgyz and Tajik Republics, and Sharanya Kanikkannan ’11, Bernstein Fellow, Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, Haiti

12:00–12:45pm, Lunch

12:45–2:00pm, Form, Drama, and Justice

Dipika Guha, JUNCTURE Visiting Artist, with Caroline Levine, Professor of English, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Contemporary American theater privileges naturalism, while human rights advocacy relies often on testimonial modes, whether visual or verbal. How do these forms operate? What conceptions of authenticity, sincerity, recognition, and public discourse underlie them? How might these forms or others realize new ethical possibilities? How might dramatic forms contribute to the creation of nomos and interpretive repertoires, as described by Robert Cover? What is the relationship between narrative and justice? What work—what effort—does theater require of its audiences, and how might such work relate to the development of shared ethical and political commitments? Professor Levine will also offer a short presentation of her work.

2:10–3:25pm, A View From Cairo: Freedom of Expression, Institution-Building, and Activism

Sara El Adl, Assistant Curator, Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, Egypt, with Aisha Saad ’18, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, American University in Cairo, 2013-15

What pressures currently bear on artists and art institutions in Egypt (e.g., increasing state censorship, funding restrictions, and forced closures)? How have these pressures changed since the 2011 uprising? How have art institutions developed sustainable practices under these conditions, and what role have artists played in creating alternative forms of organization? How, if at all, can artists be activists? That is, what agency can artists exert in human rights movements and politics? And how might art create new conceptions of public space and public discourse?

3:35–4:50pm, Black Sites, the Archive, and Artistic Intervention

Chitra Ganesh and Mariam Ghani, JUNCTURE Visiting Artists, with Alexis Agathocleous, Deputy Legal Director, Center for Constitutional Rights; Ramzi Kassem, Associate Professor of Law, City University of New York; and Hope Metcalf, Clinical Lecturer in Law and Executive Director, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights

Index of the Disappeared is both a physical archive of post-9/11 disappearances—detentions, deportations, renditions, redactions—and a platform for public dialogue around related issues. How has the archive been useful in advocacy? How might the project illuminate linkages between black sites abroad and mass incarceration in the United States? What insights result from conceptualizing this (or any project with strong activist goals) as artistic practice? How, if at all, has the cultural, institutional, and intellectual position of the “artist” uniquely enabled the development and deployment of this archive?

5:00–6:30pm, Town Hall Discussion: The Concept of Efficacy in Art

Presenter: Sharon Sliwinski, Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information and Media Studies, University of Western Ontario
Discussants: Isabel Gahren, Chitra Ganesh, Mariam Ghani, Dipika Guha, David Kim, Cesy Leonard, Caroline Levine, and Amalia Pica
Moderator: James Silk, Director, JUNCTURE; Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Schell Center for International Human Rights, Yale Law School

This culminating conversation will consider how art might serve human rights advocacy purposes. How can we conceptualize the “efficacy” of an artwork or artistic intervention? Efficacy in achieving what ends? Awareness, empathy, action? How would we measure efficacy at the level of the individual, group, or state? How might paradigms of efficacy differ across specific historical, political, and legal contexts? How do these paradigms relate to the formal and aesthetic goals of an artist or an artistic movement?

6:30–7:15pm, Reception

Detention on a Global Scale: Punishment and Beyond
Robert L. Bernstein International Human Rights Symposium
and Arthur Liman Public Interest Colloquium

Yale Law School
127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT

April 9-10, 2015


12:30-2:00   Current Bernstein & Robina Fellows present their work  

  • Megan Corrarino (Human Rights First)
  • Kyle Delbyck (Balkans Investigative Reporting Network, Bosnia)
  • Stephanie Kim (Human Rights Watch Refugee Program)
  • Tienmu Ma (Ombudsperson Institution of the Republic of Kosovo)
  • Clare Ryan (European Court of Human Rights)
  • James Shih (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia)
  • Jessica So (United Nations Development Program in Myanmar)
  • Leah Zamore (Office of the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees)

3:00-4:00 Conference Registration 

4:10-5:30 Democracy and Detention  

Political and social theorists have long posited a close relationship between how a state punishes and how it governs. One puzzle is the variation among contemporary democracies in the incidence of incarceration and the forms incarceration takes. By examining different penal regimes in the context of larger political economic dynamics, is it possible to posit preconditions for a more tolerant criminal justice system? What effects do detention practices have on a state’s governance, and who participates in government and how? 

  • Nicola Lacey, School Professor of Law, Gender and Social Policy, London School of Economics
  • Lukas Muntingh, Co-Founder, Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape
  • Vesla Weaver, Assistant Professor, Political Science and African American Studies, Yale University
  • James Whitman, Ford Foundation Professor of Comparative and Foreign Law, Yale Law School
  • Judith Resnik, Arthur Liman Professor of Law, Yale Law School (moderator)

5:45-7:00 Detaining Outsiders: Migrants, Borders, and Security  

Detention is an increasingly common fixture of national strategies to manage geographical borders. What dynamics contribute to the proliferation of immigration detention? What are justifications for and against detaining people who lack legal authorization to be present within a nation’s borders? To what extent should immigration detention be viewed as a form of “preventive detention,” and what are the effects of doing so? 

  • Mary Bosworth, Professor of Criminology and Fellow of St. Cross College, University of Oxford, and Professor of Criminology, Monash University, Australia
  • Michael Flynn, Director, Global Detention Project, Geneva, Switzerland
  • Zonke Majodina, Former Member, United Nations Human Rights Committee
  • Allegra McLeod, Associate Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center
  • Darryl Li, Associate Research Scholar and Robina Visiting Human Rights Fellow, Yale Law School (moderator)


9:00-10:00  Continental Breakfast 

10:00-11:45  Punishment Before Trial  

More than 3.3 million people worldwide are held in pretrial detention, sometimes for longer than the maximum sentences they would have received upon conviction. What drives pre-trial detention, and what are possible solutions? Should the emphasis for reform be on access to counsel? Or reliance on less formal (and less expensive) alternatives, such as paralegals or community education? On alternatives to incarceration, such as probation or diversion out of the criminal process? Or should decriminalization be central to the conversation? 

  • Uju Agomoh, Director, Prison Rehabilitation and Welfare Action, Nigeria
  • Maja Daruwala, Executive Director, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, New Delhi
  • Martin Schoenteich, Senior Legal Officer, Open Society Justice Institute
  • Melanie Vélez, Litigation Director, Southern Center for Human Rights
  • Fiona Doherty, Clinical Associate Professor of Law, Yale Law School (moderator)

12:00-1:30      The Language of Punishment  

       Robert Ferguson, George Edward Woodberry Professor in Law, Literature, and Criticism,
       Columbia Law School

1:45-3:30 Rights, Oversight, and Change  

What role do rights have in challenging the “penal populism” described by Nicola Lacey?  What are the promises and limits of rights in this context?  On one hand, there is a risk that “rights” will reach acute abuses but not systemic issues, such as the overuse of confinement.  On the other hand, how relevant is “rights talk” in systems that lack the resources to implement reforms?  How are rights used in practice by prisoners, lawyers, courts, and institutions?  What roles do international law and institutions play?  Where are they effective?  Where do they fall short?  Should advocates push for greater involvement in international mechanisms, or are such efforts unlikely to yield results?

  • Başak Çalı, Director, Center for Global Public Law, Koç University, Istanbul
  • David Fathi, Director, ACLU National Prison Project
  • Rick Raemisch, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Corrections
  • Miguel Sarre, Professor of Law, Instituto Tecnólogico Autónomo de México (ITAM)
  • Dirk Van Zyl Smit, Professor of Comparative and International Penal Law, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham School of Law, United Kingdom
  • Johanna Kalb, Visiting Associate Professor of Law, Director Liman Public Interest Program, Yale Law School (moderator)

3:45-5:30 The End(s) of Detention?    

Prisons are often viewed as objects of reform, but they also have a long history of being sites of experimentation for social reform. What are the likely sources of change in the ways incarceration occurs in the coming decade? Should prisons try to do more, not less? Should reform efforts work on measuring and incentivizing positive outcomes for prisoners? Or are we better off abandoning the idea of prisons as a site of transformation? Should the emphasis, instead, be on decreasing the numbers detained pending trial? Minimizing the sentences for those convicted? Finding alternatives to incarceration altogether? All of the above? None?

  • Marie Gottschalk, Professor of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
  • Glenn Martin, Founder, JustLeadershipUSA
  • Nils Ӧberg, Director-General, Swedish Prison and Probation Service
  • Bernie Warner, Secretary, Washington Department of Corrections
  • Hope Metcalf, Executive Director, Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights and Clinical Lecturer in Law, Yale Law School (moderator)

5:30 PM Joint Bernstein-Liman Reception   [Law School Dining Hall]