Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS)

Putting the “Human” in Humanitarian Response

Introducing the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies

September 3, 2019

Effective September 2019, the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative (HI2), gained a new status and a new name: the Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies (CHRHS).                                                                        

“For three years we built the Humanitarian Innovation Initiative,” says the center’s program manager, Seth Stulen, “and now we’re building on that foundation by integrating human rights based perspectives.”

“As a fully endowed center within the Watson Institute, CHRHS will have a sustainable source of funding, allowing us to broaden our collaborations with humanitarian and human rights agencies globally and develop longer term research and training initiatives,” according to Adam Levine, MD, MPH, director of the newly named center and founding director of HI2, established at the Watson Institute in 2016. “For instance, we hope to develop a new certificate program for undergraduate students at Brown in Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies while also hiring new faculty with expertise in human rights.”

The mission of CHRHS is to promote a more just, peaceful, and secure world by furthering a deeper understanding of global human rights and humanitarian challenges, and encouraging collaboration between local communities, academics, and practitioners to develop innovative solutions to these challenges.

Stulen says that CHRHS is planning a half-day symposium on November 1 to officially mark its launch. Symposium panelists and participants will discuss such topics as the erosion of human rights and humanitarian protections and the promise and perils of new technologies for human rights and humanitarianism. 

CHRHS will be very active in the months leading up to the November launch event. The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration (PRM) recently awarded the center a grant to support a project titled “Civilian-Military Interaction in Conflicts: Best Practice and Perceptions.” The project aims to “deepen the understanding of civilian-military coordination across different types of humanitarian crises and aid in the development of updated evidence-based guidance for humanitarian and military actors,” according to PRM’s website. 

Expanding on the center’s current work to establish an evidence base for civilian-military coordination (supported since 2018 by a two-year grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York), this project will explore community perceptions of humanitarian military response while striving for maximum impact through dissemination of the findings to donors, policymakers, and practitioners. In spring 2020, CHRHS will hold a one-day research symposium to present and contextualize its findings, followed by a two-day workshop – its fourth – on Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response, to be held in collaboration with the Naval War College. CHRHS faculty have also been involved in the recent National Institutes of Health-funded trial in the Democratic Republic of Congo investigating new treatments for the Ebola virus, as well as in research funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop new mobile health tools for managing epidemic diarrhea in children worldwide.

In addition to conducting research, CHRHS will once again partner with the Philippines Disaster Resilience Foundation, as it did in fall 2018. This September, Levine and Stulen will travel to Pampanga, Philippines, for a conference on local and global humanitarian coordination. (Last year the theme was Community Resilience for Natural Disasters.) 

CHRHS Visiting Fellow David Polatty, who directs the Naval War College’s Civilian-Military Humanitarian Response Program, will lead a human security seminar series with guest lecturers from a variety of disciplines. The seminar will be open to the public. And, Stulen says, next spring they’ll host the center’s third Humanitarian Hackathon, during which students will spend a weekend working on solutions to humanitarian crises through human rights-based approaches. Experts from the field will provide mentoring on site.

-- Sarah C. Baldwin