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

CHRHS Seed Grant Projects

The Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Studies funds annual pilot research studies through our seed grant program. This program is designed to stimulate original, innovation-driven research addressing human rights and humanitarian topics.

Assessing current emergency care capacity and disaster preparedness of district hospitals in Rwanda using the WHO's Hospital Emergency Assessment Tool (HEAT)

The goal of this study is to assess the current emergency care capacity and disaster preparedness of district hospitals in Rwanda using the WHO’s Hospital Emergency Assessment Tool (HEAT) as well as the WHO’s hospital emergency response checklist. 

District hospitals in Rwanda are widespread and far more accessible for much of the population than tertiary care facilities, making them the first line of care for patients in need of emergency care. However, most district hospitals have limited emergency departments and only a handful have an emergency medicine physician on staff. This study will survey employees from the emergency departments of six district hospitals across Rwanda using the HEAT as well as questions from the WHO’s hospital emergency response checklist. The results from this assessment are expected to locate gaps in the current state of emergency care as well as broader disaster response in Rwanda and provide guidance for more effective responses in these areas.

Gender Identity, Health and Barriers to Access for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon’s Northern Regions

Across the last decade, upward of 1.5 million Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon in seek of refuge and protection from Syria’s ongoing conflict. With a total population of close to six million people (including the refugee community), Lebanon presently hosts the highest number of refugees per capita in the world. Lebanon’s population has grown substantially since this mass influx (by more than 40%), a drastic increase that has placed significant pressure on the country’s institutions and health facilities. The said facilities are already compromised due to the prolonged intersectional national crises exacerbated by the ongoing economic and financial crisis, the aftermath of COVID-19, and the ongoing socio-political implications of the Beirut Port explosion. As Lebanon resumes its status as a “country of transit” as opposed to a country of asylum for refugees, the dispossessed remain in legal limbo. More>

Risks to Bella Women and Girls in Refugee Camps in Mauritania 

Since the onset of the conflict in Mali, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been internally displaced or left for neighbouring countries. As of March 2023, 92000 Malian refugees benefited from the assistance of UNHCR in Mberra camp, in Mauritania’s Hodh El Charghi alone. And while Mauritania offers relative security to Malians fleeing the violence in their homes, its context and that of its camp – sometimes locally referred to as one of the best refugee camps in the world- perpetuates one of Mali’s and its neighbours’ most structural and oldest human rights concerns, that of slavery by descent and the many violations it carries. This research focuses on slavery in displacement and looks into the case of the Bellas, namely women and girls, specifically in Mberra camp. It seeks to examine displacement's impacts on communities, especially women and girls, who have historically suffered enslavement and what mechanisms, including aid systems, exacerbate or reduce the protection risks - of forced labour and sexual slavery amongst other risks these vulnerable communities are exposed to. 

Civil-Military What?! Making Sense Of Competing Civil-Military Concepts

From United Nations Civil-Military Coordination (UN-CMCoord), to NATO Civil-Military Cooperation (NATO-CIMIC), and United States Army Civil Affairs, a wide array of national, regional, and international institutions have created their own concepts to guide interactions, coordination, and relations between military and civilian actors in a variety of conflict and peacetime settings. The end result of these efforts is a myriad of similar yet slightly differing concepts being created, each specifically tailored to its parent entity, but often different enough to cause significant misunderstandings and misconceptions when compared to each other. This research project aims at helping practitioners, decision-makers, analysts, and scholars better understand and navigate the varying conceptual frameworks for civil-military relations in use by different organizations and in different contexts.

NGO Decision-Making During Complex Disasters: An Ecological Approach

Decision-making for disaster management is particularly challenging given the urgency, stakes, and range of actors involved. Earlier studies of decision-making are dominated by positivist approaches in which models reify decisions as discrete objects and assume that decisions are made by “rational” and socio-environmentally disengaged individuals (Boholm et al., 2013; Cajilig et al., 2020). Meanwhile, there has been increasing interest in participatory approaches to decision-making for disaster management as evinced by domestic and international policy frameworks such as the Grand Bargain of the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, the Sendai Framework, and the Philippine Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act of 2010. However, current notions of participation remain largely anthropocentric; these still do not consider the breadth of agents, humans and non-humans, that shape decision making processes. In this study, we build upon the work of those who underscore the relationality of decision-making. More>

Impact of War of Terror on Polio Vaccination Programs: Implications for COVID-19 Vaccination in Pakistan

This research project explores how the ongoing global war on terror has impacted the vaccination programs of serious communicable diseases, most particularly the poliovirus, in Pakistan over the period of two decades. It assess how the events of drone attacks, CIA use of door to door visits, and conspiracy theories have influenced the administration of polio vaccination campaigns in the core areas of Peshawar, Sindh and the Quetta block, mainly the Pashto-speaking populations of Pakistan. The project further investigates the implications of the long term developed conspiracy theories impacting the recent COVID-19 vaccinations in the country. 

Investigating "overkill" in Armed Conflicts and Situations of Insecurity

This project involves research on one such form of violence, refered to as “overkill.” Overkill is collective violence that goes above and beyond what is necessary to kill through the post-mortem public display of bodies as spectacle. Conflict actors typically look for the quickest way to dispatch victims, often going to great lengths to hide deaths for fear of repercussions. Why then do some military forces or armed groups employ these particularly gruesome, public means to kill victims? The proposed research project explores this question through basic quantitative analyses of conflict data and by generating a theory for when and where conflict actors are likely to use overkill.

Brazilian medical officials in street

The Margins of the State in the COVID-19 Pandemic: peripheric experiences of human (in)security in Brazil

This project aims to investigate how different peripheral communities in Brazil have experienced and responded to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic given the ineffective state response and the extent to which the pandemic has enhanced existing problems in the Brazilian structural matrix, such as the extreme inequality and the marginalization (both material and symbolic) of the peripheries that have been placed in the margins of the state.

Medical officials in Kathmandu Valley

Hospital emergency care assessment with focus on disaster and outbreak preparedness in tertiary hospitals in Kathmandu, Nepal

The goal of this pilot study is to systematically assess the current state of emergency care and outbreak response capacity in tertiary centers in the Kathmandu Valley. Assessing readiness of health facilities is the first step in disaster and outbreak preparedness, and lack of this data is a substantial barrier to future response. This assessment will pave the way for a larger country-wide study of emergency care capacity and inform policymakers and researchers of the gaps in facility-based emergency care and disaster preparedness. The results are expected to help guide effectiveness of disaster and outbreak readiness at facility levels.

Myanmar Garment Factory

Covid-19 and the Global Supply Chain: Voices from Myanmar’s Garment Factory Shop Floors

Myanmar provides an interesting case to understand the impact of the Coronavirus on global supply chains because it is one of the largest manufacturing hubs of garments in the region, and as one of the largest populations of migrant workers who travel to other cities in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. However, worker voices have been missing from the robust global dialogue around global supply chains, and this project aims to fill that gap by working with the Myanmar Garment Workers Federation to train ten workers to author op-ed pieces that will be published in open Democracy’s Beyond Trafficking and Slavery editorial platform.

Test tubes for research

Unmasking COVID-19: Pacific Islanders, Health Equity, and Survival in New Zealand and the United States

“Unmasking COVID-19” examines the uneven effects of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic on Pacific Islander communities in New Zealand and the United States. While it may seem that both countries have taken vastly different approaches to managing the pandemic leading to contrasting impacts on their populations, Pacific Islanders in both nations have been diagnosed with and suffered the impact of COVID-19 in numbers disproportionate to their representation within the overall population. 

Citizens holding missing person posters

Human Rights Backlash from Below: Criminal Violence, Justice Attitudes and the Rule of Law in Latin America

This project asks: When do citizens condone human rights abuses like police torture and lynching? It analyzes citizen preferences and decision-making processes with respect to criminal justice and human rights in contemporary Mexico. Data is currently being analyzed in Morelia, the capital city of one of Mexico’s most violence-affected states, Michoacán.

China flag

China and The Future of HA/DR Operations in Great Power Competition

Lead by the Protection of Civilians Working Group, this research project seeks to define the likely People’s Republic of China (PRC) approach to future humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations and initiate the development of an appropriate US response to the challenge that serves our interests. Although the US and much of the rest of the world is studying and assessing what impact China’s rise will have on their nation’s future, little thought has been given to how HA/DR operations might change if China does what is expected and asserts itself in this area.

Military member in pandemic response

Civil-Military Engagement During Public Health Emergencies: A Comparative Analysis of Local Responses to COVID-19

Lead by the Outbreaks Working Group, the aim of this research is to document and compare the various means and mechanisms by which militaries have responded to the COVID-19 crisis globally, with a view to identifying generalisable lessons learned to the extent possible. The research team will conduct a desk review of available literature to identify and typologize how domestic militaries have responded to COVID-19 around the world, followed by an analysis of the modalities of assistance to civilian response efforts, impacts, challenges/advantages in implementation, and opportunities/disadvantages of each response type.

Military personnel walk past Philippines citizens

Humanitarian Leadership in Urban Communities: An Exploratory Study on the Role of Community Leaders in Humanitarian Coordination during the COVID-19 Pandemic in the Philippines

Lead by the Urbanization Working Group, this qualitative study in the Philippines will document the narratives of community leaders in three of the National Capital Region's most densely populated cities. This study will explore the lived experiences of local leaders who have participated in bridging the implementation of quarantine policies from the national and local government to their communities. More specifically, this study will inquire on the extent of their 1) engagement with national-level humanitarian actors, 2) typologies of humanitarian activities they engaged in, 3) the contexts that motivated their decision-making for humanitarian activities, and 4) their perceived gaps in humanitarian efforts by civil-military actors during this pandemic.

Climate research team

Civil-Military Climate Change Issues: Setting the Agenda and Developing the Discourse

Lead by the Climate Change and Resilience Working Group this project has been designed as a response to the urgent need to better understand the problem, scope and impact of climate change with respect to military, civilian and humanitarian actors. Its objective is to develop a broad agenda-setting statement, including key terminology for civil-military climate change issues. This work will contribute towards the better understanding of the scope, language and context of climate change and the central issues that surround it as well identifying implications for humanitarian organizations, policy makers, militaries, government bodies and response strategists/modelers.

Military member walks in lake

Enhancing Sustainable Humanitarian Response Through the Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination Framework

Lead by the Climate Change and Resilience Working Group, this research investigates the environmental impact of humanitarian response and how humanitarian civil-military coordination framework can play a role. This project examines the existing literature on the environmental impacts of humanitarian response, identify policies and practices to mitigate adverse impacts, and investigate the role that UN Humanitarian Civil-Military Coordination (CMCoord) and militaries can have to support this effort.

Home reconstructed during flooding

When houses talk: The architecture of post-disaster housing reconstruction as discourse

This study aims to pilot methodological approaches for examining architectural practice in post-disaster housing reconstruction. The research will be guided by ethnographic studies of material culture, examining how meanings of “safety”, “resilience”, and “recovery” are constructured and used in everyday life. The study poses the question: What lessons about post-disaster housing reconstruction can be gleaned by viewing architecture in as a form of discourse? More >

Map of Abyei Area

The ‘Triple Nexus’ in Abyei Area, South Sudan: An Assessment of Challenges and Prospects of Linking Humanitarian, Development, and Peace Programs

One of the major challenges facing international emergency response today is the lack of coordination and synergy of the scare resources to deal with the enormous challenges faced by societies affected by conflict. In order to ensure efficiency and to maximize outputs, there is a need to set clear objectives for the different sectors of international development interventions, including humanitarian, development, and peace efforts. This research project will analyze the existing synergies and coordination mechanisms, assess persistent challenges and gaps, and examine possibilities for the pathway forward. The aim of this project will be to support the cultivation of a more effective humanitarian-development-peace nexus in the context of Abyei area. More >