the flexibility (and foundation) of human rights and humanitarian policy

The Human Rights and Humanitarian Policy Concentration (HRHPC) provides a unique perspective into today’s moral normative framework affecting international politics and policies, to the extent that these are driven by a human rights value system.  Engaging issues of international security, development, and social justice, a rights-based perspective increasingly informs the work of international organizations and agencies, as well as politicians and policy analysts.  Thus, HRHPC focuses on conceptual, rights-based issues that shape public action.  It prepares students for careers within governments, international organizations, corporations, community organizations, as well as national and global NGOs.  The field is diverse, and this is reflected in the areas where graduates work: those specializing in human rights policy may address issues such as education, security, corporate social responsibility, economic development, and social justice; those who choose the humanitarian policy track may also find themselves engaged in advocacy, relief operations, or post-conflict recovery programs, often working in fragile states.

The concentration benefits from the proximity of some of the world’s most prominent human rights institutions, especially the United Nations (e.g., the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, with its strong investigative and normative capacities, as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) and the UN programs and agencies bringing human rights into the practice of relief and development, such as UNICEF, UNDP, and UNFPA.  Then, New York hosts several leading relief and advocacy NGOs, such as Human Rights Watch, MSF, the International Rescue Committee, Care International, AIUSA, Human Rights First, Open Society, the International Center for Transitional Justice, Witness, and the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). All these provide ample opportunities for research and for networking, and that, in turn, facilitates internships, junior consultancies, and ultimately job openings.  Moreover, many of the concentration’s practitioners and adjunct faculty are drawn from this pool of knowledge and experience.

The Humanitarian Policy Track is widely recognized as a leader in its field, with a focus on the policies and practices of the major humanitarian actors represented in New York. It is unique among academic humanitarian programs by emphasizing human rights as a normative framework. The current trend in the humanitarian community is moving away from a stand-alone approach (i.e. neutrality, independence, and impartiality) to a rights-based approach, linked closely to early recovery and peace-building strategies. These ties in with humanitarian action in the context of long-term recovery and restoration of rights.

The HRHP Concentration offers a rigorous program combining analytical and skills-based training, including classes on diverse topics such as International Human Rights Law; Human Rights Skills & Advocacy; Gender, Globalization and the Human Rights of Women; History & Reconciliation; Conflict Resolution; Peacekeeping/Peacemaking; Business and Human Rights; Labor Rights; Human Rights & Development; Understanding Complex Emergencies; Managing Complex Emergencies; Psycho-social Impact of Complex Emergencies; and Education in Emergencies.  There is an option to complete a dual degree program with the Mailman School of Public Health’s Forced Migration program.

The flexibility of the HRHP concentration encourages students to frame their intellectual and professional interests, delving into any number of these.  The faculty combines both scholarly and practitioner perspectives, often drawn from the ranks of the many organizations in the city.

HRHPC students also benefit from Columbia’s rich and diverse offering in human rights outside of SIPA, including among others the Institute for the Study of Human Rights (ISHR), the Law School, Mailman School of Public Health, School of Social Work, and the School of Journalism.  There are numerous events outside the classrooms, including the opportunity to meet with many global activists in intimate settings.  In addition the concentration provides opportunities for students to develop their own interests through student working groups, off-campus activities, and meetings with alumni.

Students participate in Capstones, which enable them to gain experience working in diverse projects and with diverse clients globally.  HRHPC students can also choose to take part in the EPD Workshops. Each year, a group of students is selected to participate in a humanitarian crisis simulation, conducted by the European Union’s Network on Humanitarian Action, and hosted by the University of Bochum, Germany. These exceptional opportunities provide both stimulating learning experience and often networking possibilities.  The concentration offers many other simulations and practicums, which provide additional opportunities to bridge the analytical with the experiential knowledge, which is so critical for the field and for becoming a successful practitioner.

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