The Carr Center for Human Rights Policy serves as the hub of the Harvard Kennedy School’s research, teaching, and training in the human rights domain. The center embraces a dual mission: to educate students and the next generation of leaders from around the world in human rights policy and practice; and to convene and provide policy-relevant knowledge to international organizations, governments, policymakers, and businesses.
In March 2018, hundreds of thousands of young people walked out of school and marched on their local statehouses and on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to advocate for stricter controls on gun sales and ownership. The March for Our Lives was initially organized by students at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a school shooting had killed 17 students. Collectively, the marches were the largest-ever protest against gun violence, and one of the largest protests of any kind in American history.
The growing consensus over the need for some “common-sense” gun laws to regulate the sale and ownership of firearms stands in sharp contrast to the incendiary rhetoric of the National Rifle Association, which has sounded the alarm in recent years that Democrats are coming to “take away” guns or institute a national registry of firearm ownership. Indeed, the reasonableness on both sides of the debate implies that there is a middle-ground that can be achieved to limit gun violence in the United States, while still allowing for responsible ownership of firearms for hunting, sport shooting, and personal protection.
Starting with the Nixon administration in the early 1970s, and gaining steam throughout the next decade, the prevailing view on criminal justice was that “tough on crime laws make crime rates go down.” That sentiment was predicated on the notion that criminals were not being sufficiently punished for their offenses, and that sentences must be increased—including mandatory minimums and “three strikes laws”—both to remove criminals from communities, and to deter others from committing crimes. The incarceration rate more than tripled between 1980 and its peak in 2008, from 310 to 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 adults—some 2.3 million people in all. Today, the United States leads the world in incarceration, with a rate more than 4 times that of comparable democracies in Western Europe.
Reform of the criminal justice system must take into account each stage of the process, respecting the due process rights of individuals throughout their interaction with the system while at the same time bringing criminals to justice and improving overall public safety.
Full TextThe United States is a nation of immigrants. For centuries, waves of migrants and refugees have arrived in America seeking economic opportunity or religious freedom. While many have found what they desired, and assimilated into American culture, many others have encountered persecution, resentment, and xenophobia. As the third rail of American politics, immigration has long been a source of controversy, with policy split between two competing visions of what the country could be: on the one hand, a rights-oriented, humanitarian vision that imagines open doors to opportunity and shelter; on the other hand, an exclusionary and Ameri-centric vision that imagines protected, walled-off borders. Recently, our politics and media have been flooded with images of the latter: children piled into cages at detention camps, migrant caravans “invading” the southern border, endless fights in the courts over walls and travel bans. These images did not originate with the Trump administration—previous presidents have also pursued anti-immigration policies on asylum and deportations—though the current administration has greatly exacerbated them.
Building on the well-established legal foundation for a rights-based vision of immigration, comprehensive reform in due process and humanitarian protections are necessary for those arriving at our borders.
See the other issues of our Reimagining Rights and Responsibilities series here.
“The Carr Center is building a bridge between ideas on human rights and the practice on the ground. Right now we are at a critical juncture. The pace of technological change and the rise of authoritarian governments are both examples of serious challenges to the flourishing of individual rights. It’s crucial that Harvard and the Kennedy School continue to be a major influence in keeping human rights ideals alive. The Carr Center is a focal point for this important task.”
- Mathias Risse