"Small Places, Close to Home"

For many people, “human rights” connotes the struggle for freedom and dignity in other countries, often in the context of major geopolitical or ideological contests. But that misses the essential wisdom and power of the human rights idea: that respect for the inherent dignity of every individual—and protection of their human rights—begins in “small places, close to home.”

Eleanor Roosevelt, a chief architect of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, put it this way:

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world. 

Eleanor Roosevelt UDHR


To explore the relevance of the human rights framework to rights struggles “close to home,” the Human Rights Institute is launching a series of conversations about systemic rights challenges in the United States.

Ending Gender-Based Violence in the United States: What Will It Take?

For many years, the U.S. Government viewed gender-based violence (GBV) largely as a global problem, with no coordinated, whole-of-government strategy to address the issue domestically. In a watershed moment for U.S. policy on GBV, in May 2023 the Biden Administration unveiled the U.S. National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence: Strategies for Action. HRI sat down with Professor Caroline Bettinger-López—former Senior Advisor on Gender and Equality at the U.S. Department of Justice and a key architect of the National Plan—to discuss the Plan and what it will take to end GBV in the United States. The talk was moderated by Catherine Cooper, HRI Dash-Muse Senior Teaching Fellow.

Combating the Rise of Anti-Asian Bias in America

In October 2023, HRI and the Center for Asian Law sat down with advocates to discuss how national security rhetoric has been used to justify new laws and programs that discriminate against Asian Americans, and the steps that can be taken to protect their human rights. The talk featured Bethany Li (L'08), Legal Director for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF), and Gisela Perez Kusakawa, Executive Director of the Asian American Scholars Fund (AASF), and was moderated by Professor Mark Jia.

Justice in Housing: A Conversation with HUD Deputy Secretary Adrianne Todman

In February 2023, Georgetown University welcomed Adrianne Todman, the twelfth deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), for a conversation to shed light on how HUD is turning the Biden administration's vision to end homelessness into a reality, including through partnerships with religious leaders and communities. Co-sponsored with the Human Rights Institute at Georgetown Law and the Racial Justice Institute, it was part of the Berkley Center’s program on Rethinking Religion and Human Rights.

Go-Go City: Protest and Displacement in Washington, DC

Every movement needs a soundtrack. For over 50 years, GoGo music has been the soundtrack for D.C. movements including racial justice, voting rights, and the fight against gentrification. Students met renowned local GoGo artist Yaddiya and learned about activism in our city. Justin "Yaddiya" Johnson is a musical artist, advocate, and founder of Long Live GoGo, an organization working for justice and equal representation for the 700,000 residents of Washington, D.C. Kelsye Adams is an activist, Executive Director of Long Live GoGo and Director of Programming at DC Vote.

The Path Forward for Reproductive Health Rights After Dobbs

The O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law and the Human Rights Institute hosted a conversation on the implications of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization for reproductive health rights in the United States and how the decision contradicts international human rights law. The speakers reflected on the legality of emerging state laws, lessons learned from legal challenges to abortion in Latin America and other international bodies, and the path forward for reproductive health and rights in the U.S.

Housing is a Human Right

For many years, advocates in the United States have sought to make housing a fundamental human right—as central to our Bill of Rights as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This vision was endorsed at the highest level of our government when U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge declared housing as a human right in March 2022. HRI Executive Director Elisa Massimino sat down with with Eric Tars, L'04 (Legal Director of the National Homelessness Law Center) and Richard Cho (Senior Advisor—Housing and Services at HUD) to discuss policies that federal, state, and local governments can support to realize the guarantees in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights at the domestic level.

Abortion Law and Women's Reproductive Rights in the U.S.

In December 2021, the Human Rights Institute (together with the Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program, the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, and If/When/How) hosted a conversation on access to abortion as a human right and on the linkages between restrictive abortion laws and the systemic oppression of women—especially Black and other women of color—in America.

Capital Punishment

For the inaugural talk, Diann Rust-Tierney, Georgetown's Drinan Chair in Human Rights and longtime Executive Director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, sat down with Marc Bookman, Executive Director of the Atlantic Center for Capital Representation and author of "A Descending Spiral: Exposing the Death Penalty in 12 Essays," for a conversation on capital punishment in the United States. Many thanks to Professor Cliff Sloan for framing and introducing such an engaging discussion.