Human Rights

The Human Rights Program at Berkeley was originally launched at the Townsend Center in 1994. Sponsored by the Sandler Family Foundation, it was composed of a 3-year series of courses, internships, seminars, and conferences. In 1997, the program became the independent Human Rights Center. In recent years the Townsend Center has renewed its commitment to Human Rights issues through its sponsorship of the Human Rights Course Thread. Now, in coordination with the undergraduate Human Rights Interdisciplinary Minor, this initiative presents the Human Rights Seminar, a yearly series of presentations by scholars, thinkers, activists and artists.

Past Events

Lecture | May 03, 2016
The [in]Justice System: a Human Rights Series on California Prisons

Ben Jealous is a Senior Fellow at American Progress where he focuses on tracking political trends that affect civil and human rights. He is the former president and CEO of the NAACP and currently works as a partner at Kapor Capital, an Oakland-based firm that leverages the technology sector to create progressive social change. Jealous also served as the president of the Rosenberg Foundation and was the founding director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights Program. Location: Maude Fife Room, 315 Wheeler at 3:30pm.

Panel Discussion | February 08, 2016
Reversing the School-to-Prison Pipeline

The equation is simple: prison and post-prison education = lower recidivism. How and why are these programs working and why isn't prison education a top priority? Panelists will discuss higher education programs in prison and after release, and their effects on people’s experiences and opportunities during reentry. Please RSVP here. Location: 8th floor, Barrows Hall at 4:30pm.

Lecture | October 21, 2015

This 2015-2016 lecture series, The [in]Justice System: How California Prisons are Leading and Lagging, will examine conditions, policies, and prospects for change within a national and international context.  The opening event The Life Cycle of the Problem features a panel with Keramet Reiter (professor at UC Irvine), Hernán Reyes (former medical coordinator for Health in Prisons for the International Committee of the Red Cross), Jonathan Simon (professor at Berkeley Law), and Azadeh Zohrabi (national campaigner at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights). Space is limited. RSVP to

Symposium | May 02, 2015

This symposium reflects on legacies of reconciliation, accountability, and impunity in South Africa and elsewhere in the world.

Conference | April 27, 2015 - April 28, 2015
The 70th Anniversary of the Nuremberg Trials

A two-day international conference on the Nuremberg Trials with multiple locations and programs.

Film Screening + Discussion | April 09, 2015
Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series with Justice Albie Sachs

Soft Vengeance is a film about Albie Sachs, a lawyer, writer, art lover and freedom fighter, set against the dramatic events leading to the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Shining a spotlight on his story provides a prism through which to view the challenges faced by those unable to tolerate a society founded on principles of slavery and disempowerment of South Africa’s majority black population. RSVP here.

Lecture | April 03, 2015
Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series with Justice Albie Sachs

Ten years ago South Africa’s Constitutional Court was asked to decide if the failure of the law to permit same-sex couples to marry was compatible with the country’s new democratic Constitution. The Court’s decision that the non-inclusion of same-sex couples was unconstitutional was handed down by Justice Sachs. In Justice Sachs' opinion, it is one thing for the Constitutional Court to acknowledge the important role that religion plays in public life and it is quite another for it to use religious doctrine as a source for interpreting the Constitution. Register here.

Symposium | March 13, 2015

South Africa recently marked the twentieth anniversary of its first democratic elections and the momentous passage of one of the great leaders who made this political transition possible, Nelson Mandela. This symposium features key voices from the generation of South Africans who have come of age in a post-apartheid world.

Film | March 12, 2015
Directed by Khalo Matabane

The film explores how diverse global leaders interpret Nelson Mandela’s message of freedom, forgiveness and reconciliation. Trying to avoid the danger of a single true story, the film combines Khalo Matabane’s personal reflections with the thoughts of the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Joachim Gauck or Arundhati Roy as well as artists, thinkers and activists from around the globe. A discussion with the director will follow the screening.

Performance | March 11, 2015

Two South African musical ambassadors and freedom fighters, singer-songwriter Vusi Mahlasela and trumpeter/vocalist Hugh Masekela, join forces for a celebration of 20 years of democracy in their homeland, performing music of the anti-apartheid movement with a stellar backing band. For the first time, Mahlasela's warm, powerful voice meets Masekela's clarion trumpet in songs that are "optimistic and soulful, delivered with an intensity that captures the attention and embraces the heart" (Los Angeles Times). Presented by Cal Performances.

Panel Discussion | November 18, 2014
Student Activism and Peer Advocacy

A panel discussion about contemporary, unconventional, and “uncivil” campus protest; freedom of expression and the often onerous disciplinary apparatus of the last five years at UC Berkeley.