History & Approach

Since its founding in 1999, the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School has been a leading research center that has focused on some of the most intractable challenges facing the world, including genocide, torture, violence against women, and human trafficking. The Center was founded by director Michael Ignatieff, currently President of Central European University, and Executive Director Samantha Power, who was later U.S. Ambassador to the UN.  

In celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2018, the Center looked back to examine the progress made to date, and the opportunities and challenges that lay ahead. Its new areas of focus include the impact of technological advancements on the future of human rights; the power and impact of nonviolent social movements in effecting change; and the renewal of rights and responsibilities in the United States. Its current Director, Mathias Risse, is a philosopher and ethicist focused on global justice. Its current Executive Director, Sushma Raman, is a practitioner with experience launching, leading and scaling human rights and social justice programs and collaborations. By training the next generation of leaders, developing new knowledge and ideas, and holding convenings for human rights scholars and practitioners around the world, the Carr Center seeks to build a more just, peaceful future. 


  • 1999 - Carr Center Founded
    The Carr Center is founded by Graham Allison and Samantha Power, founding Executive Director, with support from HKS alumnus Greg Carr.
  • 2002 - Samantha Power Book Published
    Executive Director Samantha Power publishes groundbreaking book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. It marks the culmination of the Carr Center’s extensive research project on U.S. policy responses to genocide in the 20th century. Power will later serve as the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations before returning in 2017 to the Kennedy School.
  • 2003 - Program Launch
    The Carr Center launches two new flagship programs—the American Exceptionalism program, led by founding Faculty Director Michael Ignatieff, and the National Security and Human Rights program, led by Executive Director Sarah Sewall.
  • 2004 - Program Launch
    The Program on Measurement and Human Rights is established. The program addresses some of the most basic yet difficult questions in the field of human rights: How do we assess progress in promoting human rights, and how can organizations assess their own impact more effectively?
  • 2008 - Rory Steward Appointed Director
    Rory Stewart is appointed director of the Carr Center, and the Ryan Professor of Human Rights at the Harvard Kennedy School. During his tenure, Stewart launched an initiative focused on Afghanistan and Pakistan.
  • 2009 - Celebrating 10-Year Anniversary
    The Center celebrates its 10th anniversary. In its first decade the Center made substantial contributions to policy, research and teaching on genocide, the Responsibility to Protect, counter-insurgency and interventions. The Center grew and flourished with contributions from over one hundred staff, fellows and interns. The Center emerged as one of the leading voices on international intervention, examining the ethical dimensions of foreign policy and its relationship to national security.
  • 2010 - Charlie Clements as Executive Director
    Charlie Clements, a respected human rights activist and physician, joins the Carr Center as Executive Director. In collaboration with the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, the Satellite Sentinel Project is launched—the first sustained public effort to systematically monitor and report on potential hotspots and threats to human security.
  • 2013 - Douglas Johnson and Kathryn Sikkink Join Center
    Douglas Johnson joins the Carr Center as Faculty Director, and international relations scholar Kathryn Sikkink joins as a tenured faculty member. Johnson had served as Executive Director of the Center for Victims of Torture for 24 years.
  • 2015 - Sushma Raman Appointed Executive Director
    Sushma Raman is appointed as the Carr Center Executive Director. Raman brings a rich and diverse background in philanthropy, human rights and social justice through her work in the U.S. and globally with the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. Additionally, she has served as a judge for the Robert F. Kennedy Center’s international human rights award.
  • 2018 - Mathias Risse Named Faculty Director
    Mathias Risse joins the Carr Center as Faculty Director. A scholar, philosopher, and ethicist, Risse has been teaching courses on human rights, ethics, economic justice, and the meaning of life for almost two decades at the Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard College, and the Extension school. Under Risse’s leadership, the Center celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the fall of 2018 and looking ahead to the next 70 years, he launches a new program on the impact of emerging technologies on the human rights framework.