The 10th annual Northwestern University Conference on Human Rights treated delegates this year to a domestic approach on human rights, spanning from Thursday to Sunday. In past years, NUCHR had focused heavily on issues for the global community.
For the 2013 conference, the group hoped to frame peacekeeping both internationally and locally for the city NUCHR took place in, according to Ayanna Legros, Weinberg senior and NUCHR co-director. “We felt if we were going to talk about anti-violence, we can’t not talk about the violence that goes on in Chicago every day,” Legros said.
On Friday, for the experiential learning component of the conference, delegates visited sevenCure Violence (formerly CeaseFire) sites downtown. Cure Violence is a Chicago-based organization dedicated to preventing violence is neighborhoods most susceptible to crime.
The three-day, student-organized conference focused in on the topic of “Human Rights and International Peacekeeping: From Military Intervention to Local Anti-Violence Efforts,” according to NUCHR’s official overview. Forty undergraduate delegates from universities around the country including UC Davis and Amherst College participated, as well as two Northwestern students.
The conference kicked off on Thursday night with keynote speaker Arthur Boutellis, senior policy analyst at the International Peace Institute. Boutellis told an audience of approximately 100 gathered in Harris Hall about the complications he faces in peacekeeping, such as gaining and keeping consent of the host government.
For the middle keynote, delegates and speakers traveled to Andies Restaurant in Andersonville. Kaitlin Hansen, Weinberg sophomore and co-chair of the community development committee, was taken aback when middle keynote speaker Tio Hardiman brought along a former gang member and current Cure Violence “peacekeeper” to share his story. Hansen’s committee was responsible for planning the middle keynote and had no idea Hardiman, director of Cure Violence Illinois, was bringing a guest. “That was actually my favorite part of the whole conference and the delegates absolutely loved it,” Hansen said. “His story was so compelling.”
Panels throughout the weekend addressed topics within peacebuilding and peacekeeping including defining rights, the role of the military and the empowerment of local leaders. According to Legros, the conference brought together “diverse” representatives from military, non-profit and governmental backgrounds.
Tom Oliver, founder and CEO of the World Peace Festival presented the closing keynote on Saturday evening in the McCormick Tribune Center and urged students to focus on their vision, “not the obstacles.”
“If you have a powerful, compelling vision, people will respond,” he said.
Oliver’s keynote “really hit home” for Yomna Waly, Weinberg junior and outreach committee co-chair. She said university students sometimes assume they can’t have a role in something as “grand” and “lofty” as peacekeeping.
“But he showed us we still have a direct influence even if we’re not at the UN. Take the conference itself – we’re just students, but we’re bringing together experts and leaders from different fields who have dealt with peacekeeping,” Waly said. “And so maybe in our own small way, we did make some type of change.”