Posted on February 11, 2019 · Posted in Featured News Story, Roosevelt House, Roosevelt House General News

New Program Builds on Eleanor Roosevelt’s Legacy by Fostering Human Rights Advocacy

(New York, NY – February 11, 2019) – Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab last week welcomed 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Denis Mukwege as the inaugural Human Rights Fellow-in-Residence at the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. Dr. Mukwege is a renowned gynecologist and activist from east Congo who has become one of the world’s leading advocates working to end sexual violence in armed conflict.

Left to Right: Jessica Neuwirth, Dr. Denis Mukwege, Eve Ensler, and Jennifer Raab.

As Medical Director of Panzi Hospital, Dr. Mukwege and his colleagues have treated more than 40,000 rape victims. Despite threats on his life and an attempted assassination, he has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the grave, lasting consequences for women and girls from the decades-long war in the Congo. In 2018, Dr. Mukwege and Nadia Murad, a Yazidi survivor of rape and captivity by ISIS, were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts to end the use of rape as a weapon of war.

“It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Mukwege to the former home of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt is one of history’s most passionate champions for human rights, and Dr. Mukwege has devoted his life to that same great cause,” said President Raab at a Roosevelt House ceremony. “As one of the world’s most powerful voices denouncing sexual violence, Dr. Mukwege’s courage and compassion make him an exceptional teacher and role model for Hunter’s human rights students. We are so honored that he has joined us as the College’s first Human Rights Fellow-in-Residence.”

The Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House – where Eleanor Roosevelt lived for 25 years with her husband– was created both as a tribute to the Roosevelts’ memory and a means to build on Eleanor’s lifelong dedication to advancing human rights. The new Human Rights Fellow-in-Residence initiative was launched in part to mark the 70thAnniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor helped to write and shepherd to adoption. Fellows will have the opportunity to stay at Roosevelt House, where they can take advantage of its proximity to the United Nations and, with the help of the Human Rights Program, convene advocates and world leaders to address critical human rights challenges. Fellows will also engage with Hunter students and faculty and help educate the wider public through lectures and educational programs.

During his stay at Roosevelt House, Dr. Mukwege hosted meetings with diplomats and human rights advocates at Roosevelt House, including his Nobel Peace Prize co-laureate Nadia Murad, legendary feminist and journalist Gloria Steinem, and a number of UN Ambassadors. On February 6, Roosevelt House hosted Dr. Mukwege in conversation with Eve Ensler, the renowned playwright and activist with whom he co-founded City of Joy, a community center and school for survivors of sexual violence. Ensler praised Dr. Mukwege for dedicating his life to ending rape, noting that more than 1,200 women have benefitted from a sexual education and empowerment class that he personally teaches at City of Joy.

“Twenty years ago, it was very hard to talk about sexual violence, but rape is not a problem for women; it is a problem for humanity,” said Dr. Mukwege. “Fighting for the lives of women is fighting for the lives of their entire community. I am so happy that we have gathered today to discuss this issue, with a whole room full of people who have come together to think, to learn, and to act.”

The Human Rights Fellow-in-Residence initiative was conceived and implemented by Jessica Neuwirth, who joined the faculty as the Rita E. Hauser Director of the Human Rights Program at Roosevelt House and a Hunter College Distinguished Lecturer in 2018. As a veteran activist, legal scholar, and human rights advocate, Neuwirth understands that effective human rights scholarship requires exposure to both the theoretical and practical underpinnings of current human rights debates. The initiative will introduce Hunter students to some of the world’s most prominent human rights advocates and provide firsthand exposure as global leaders discuss strategies to address pressing human rights issues.

“Roosevelt House has an incredible historical legacy, but it also has a forward-looking mission to advance the human rights causes that were so important to the Roosevelts,” said Ms. Neuwirth. “By connecting students with leading human rights advocates, this new initiative provides an extraordinary window into the practical challenges of real-world human rights advocacy, ensuring that our graduates will be prepared to tackle human rights issues effectively, whether as advocates, scholars, researchers or informed citizens.”