History, Vision and Accomplishments
Rapoport Center Co-Directors Karen Engle (third from left) and Daniel Brinks (fifth from left), along with Christian Kelleher (first from left) and Fred Heath (second from left), are presented with a plaque by Gustavo Meoño (fourth from left), Coordinator of the Historic National Police Archive of Guatemala, commemorating the collaboration between the University of Texas at Austin and the Archive (December 2011)
Bernard Rapoport meets with UT law students in 2005 to discuss immigrant workers' rights.
The mission of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Center for Human Rights and Justice is to build a multidisciplinary community engaged in the study and practice of human rights that promotes the economic and political enfranchisement of marginalized individuals and groups both locally and globally. The Center was created in the summer of 2004, thanks to a generous gift by the Bernard and Audre Rapoport Foundation to the University of Texas School of Law. The University of Texas is one of the only public research and teaching entities in the southern and southwestern United States with a center dedicated to the advancement of human rights. It is among a minority of human rights centers in the country that is truly interdisciplinary. Lawyers and law students work side-by-side with scholars and practitioners across disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, government, public policy and the fine arts. The Center’s motto is “Partners for Change at the Intersection of Academics and Advocacy,” representing its mission and unique position as an academic center that not only works across disciplines, but also collaborates with the communities outside the academy to affect innovative, enduring change in the lives of marginalized individuals and groups.
The Rapoport Center has demonstrated a particularly strong commitment to researching and advocating for the collective rights of indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in Latin America. It collaborates closely with the Teresa Lozano Long Institute for Latin American Studies (LLILAS) and the Center for African and African American Studies at the University of Texas, both of which research indigenous peoples and the African Diaspora in Latin America. Moreover, a number of the Center’s affiliated faculty members from across campus specialize in issues related to indigenous peoples and Afro-descendants in Latin America. Many have worked with the Center to foster a dialogue about the political and legal strategies indigenous and Afro-descendant communities use in the Americas. To foster this dialogue, the Center sponsored a workshop in 2005, entitled Adjudicating Culture, Politicizing Law: Legal Strategies for Black and Indigenous Land Rights Struggles in the America. The Center also co-sponsored a LLILAS Conference entitled Contested Modernities: Indigenous and Afro-descendant Experiences in Latin America. Moreover, the Center has written reports on the collective land rights of Afro-descendants in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador.
In addition to the Center’s work on Afro-descendant land rights in Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, the Center’s major accomplishments since its inception include:
- organizing eight major annual international multidisciplinary conferences on topics ranging from immigration and asylum to the legacies of the civil war in El Salvador , co-sponsored by institutions within and outside of the University of Texas;
- establishing the nation's first Transnational Worker Rights Clinic and significant work with other law clinics at UT;
- substantially increasing the number of internships available to UT students to work in human rights at home and abroad;
- establishing a Human Rights Clinic;
- sponsoring a multi-disciplinary working group on health and human rights, which has hosted five annual conferences on World AIDS Day;
- promoting human rights research and advocacy at the University and in the Austin community through a variety of academic outreach programs, such as the Human Rights Happy Hour Speaker Series;
- securing the donation of major human rights archives to the University of Texas and organizing public programs around the content of those archives;
- creating a multi-disciplinary working group on the Texas/Mexico border wall, which analyzed and documented human rights violations resulting from U.S. government construction of the wall and submitted its findings in a public hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights;
- collaborating with LLILAS and the Bridging Disciplines Program to establish graduate and undergraduate concentrations in human rights;
- training local high school teachers on using dramatic techniques to teach current human rights issues, in collaboration with the UT Humanities Institute and the Performance as Public Practice Program.
- helping establish the Human Rights Documentation Initiative (HRDI) to preserve fragile records of human rights struggles;
- collaborating with LLILAS and UT Libraries to create a digital archive of the contents of the Historic Archive of the National Police of Guatemala;
- launching a multi-disciplinary working group on human rights and the arts, which supports the role of the arts in social justice advocacy through a variety of events and workshops;
- creating a Working Paper Series dedicated to interdisciplinary and critical dialogue about international human rights issues
In addition to the grant from the Rapoport Foundation, the Rapoport Center has received funding from the Cain Foundation, the Orlando Letelier and Ronnie Karpen Moffitt Endowed Presidential Scholarship in Law, the Inman Foundation, and numerous individual donors. Institutions across campus, including the School of Law, LLILAS, UT Libraries, Humanities Institute, the South Asia Institute, Middle Eastern Studies, the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law, Texas Performing Arts, the Department of Government, the Harry Ransom Center, the Center for Women's and Gender Studies, the Department of English, and the Center for Global Energy, International Arbitration, and Environmental Law have also collaborated with the Center and financially supported its activities.