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Human Rights in Community: a Student Dialogue with Foundation Cristosal

Students and Noah Bullock at a table with students in a room strung with lights from the ceiling
Apr 7 2016

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The Handa Center and the Hass Center for Public Service today hosted a students’ workshop Human Rights in Community. The event was an opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students to talk with Noah Bullock, the Executive Director of Foundation Cristosal, an independent Episcopal NGO working in El Salvador with victims of the violence, with the aim of building capacities of local leadership to promote democratic processes both in the country and in the Northern Triangle.

In addition to 20 students with diverse backgrounds and from different departments across Stanford, faculty and staff with interest in the current situation in Central America participated in the event. Several of the participants had first hand experience in the Northern Triangle including: Rev. Joan Sanders (Associate Dean for Religious Life) who developed the course Spirituality and Non-Violent Social Transformation and Issues in Liberation Theology, for which she and colleagues accompanied Stanford students in immersion-learning travel to El Salvador; and Jamie Timothy Stark who worked with the Lutheran Church of El Salvador for two years. Bullock was accompanied by Foundation Cristosal’s supporters and board members, including The Rev. Canon George F. Woodward, Bishop of Central New York Gladstone “Skip” Adams and Dr. Diane Paulsell.

Bullock focused on three main issues. Fist, he explained Cristosal’s conceptual and philosophical approach, emphasizing the importance of human rights in processes of transforming power relationships within the communities and fostering an active citizenship in contexts of mass violence. Second, Bullock described the current situation in El Salvador, which is one of the most violent countries in the world. The presence of drug traffickers’ networks as well as powerful gangs and the militarization of the state’s response to violence have created a context of massive violent deaths, disappearance and displacement. In spite of the widespread human rights violations occurring in this country, the government is reluctant to create public policies in order to fulfill victims’ rights. As a result, people affected by processes of violence find themselves fleeing their homes and even the country, without any state support.

Finally, Bullock presented Cristosal’s main strategies to support victims and advance judicial precedents in favor of displaced persons. Such strategies include working with local social organizations with the aim of generating data to support public policies on forced displacement as well as pilot assistance models for the victims. All in all, Cristosal’s work focuses on accompanying victims in their processes of empowerment.

The final component of the workshop allowed participants to deepen on some of the aspects of the current Salvadorian context. Among other elements, participants discussed the role of drug trafficking and gangs in the violence, the challenges a Human Rights NGO has to face in contexts of violence, and the role of civil society in settings of mass human rights violations.

This workshop aims to begin a series of opportunities to create a longstanding relationship between human rights organizations working in the field and Stanford community. In this case, in particular, the participants agreed to reflect on some key questions to find different strategies to support Cristosal’s work. These questions include:

1. How, as students, to identify, incentivize and support a graduate or post doctoral scholar(s) to design a 1-credit cardinal course that includes service to Cristosal or its partners in the defense of human rights

2. How, as students, to identify, incentivize and support faculty with the expertise to create a 3-credit community engaged learning course that could include service to Cristosal or its partners in the defense of human rights

3. How to foster and support human rights research that would be instrumental to Cristosal or its partners in the defense of human rights

Students interested in getting involved in such events should contact Stanford's Director for Community Engaged Learning in Human Rights, Chiseche Mibenge, at