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UC Berkeley program on human rights, war crimes wins $1-million grant

The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley law school is recognized for aiding prosecutions in Rwanda, elsewhere.

A UC Berkeley law school program that researches war crimes and other human rights violations around the world and seeks to aid victims has been awarded a $1-million grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The Human Rights Center at the UC Berkeley School of Law was among nine organizations to each receive awards of $500,000 to $1 million under the Chicago-based foundation’s annual prizes for Creative and Effective Institutions, MacArthur and UC officials said.

The Human Rights Center has sent researchers to Africa, Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East to help develop technology to garner evidence of atrocities and to interview victims on better ways to aid their recovery and make it easier for them to testify in trials, officials said.

The center’s work and research has been used by the International Criminal Court and the tribunals seeking to prosecute war criminals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and by United Nations’ programs to aid refugees.

The 20-year-old center usually employs eight to 10 staff members and has an annual budget of about $1.8 million, almost all which must be raised by donations from foundations and individuals, according to Alexa Koenig, the center’s executive director.

The MacArthur grant will establish an endowment for the center and help fund its work on researching and preventing sexual violence, Koenig said. The new endowment will “provide a sense of stability and that makes this really important,” she said.

Eric Stover, the center’s faculty director and a noted figure in researching war crimes and human rights issues in Argentina, Rwanda, Iraq and elsewhere, said the center is working to ally Silicon Valley companies with international prosecutors on the use of digital videos, emails and other technologies that bolster evidence in trials of those accused of atrocities. Stover said that he was grateful for the MacArthur gift and that he hoped it “will attract others to recognize our work.”

The MacArthur foundation is better known for its annual so-called genius awards given annually in September to highly talented individuals in science, arts, social activism and other fields. Those people each are given $625,000 with no strings attached over five years.

Among the other winners this year of the Creative and Effective Institutions grants were Forest Trends, a Washington, D.C., group that aids to keep forests sustainable; Firelight Media, a New York organization that aids ethnically diverse documentary filmmakers; and ICivics, in Washington, D.C., which brings civics education to the Internet and classrooms.

UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Center was chosen because it “combines rigorous, leading-edge scientific research with on-the-ground work, yielding valuable contributions to our understanding of rights’ violations and our collective commitment to hold perpetrators accountable,” MacArthur Vice President Elspeth Revere, who leads the awards program, said in a statement.

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