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Wilfrid Laurier University Communications, Public Affairs & Marketing
April 24, 2017
Canadian Excellence


Rhoda Howard-Hassmann, Faculty

Rhoda Howard-Hassmann is intrigued by gaps in human rights – places where a basic right has been ignored or not fully investigated. Her unique perspective and ability to draw attention to these issues is one of the key reasons she has earned the prestigious Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights, which was recently renewed to 2017.

“I often tell my students, ‘If you’ve got a little thought way at the back of your head and it’s bugging you, bring it forward and see what you can do with it,’” said Howard-Hassmann, a professor in the Department of Global Studies and the Balsillie School of International Affairs.

Originally educated as a sociologist, Howard-Hassmann is one of the first scholars to approach the study of human rights from a social science perspective, rather than looking at it through a philosophical or legal lens.

The importance of human rights was impressed upon Howard-Hassmann from a young age. Her father fled Nazi Germany in 1938, eventually arriving in Britain just before WWII. Her mother is a left-wing feminist from Scotland.

Her next large research project is on state-induced famine, which she believes can be  a form of genocide, depending on a government’s intent. She will be looking at human-rights violations in Zimbabwe and North Korea, as well as how government policies in Venezuela are affecting the food supply, and the impact of Israel’s policies in the occupied territories and the Palestinians’ right to food.

“There is a lot of work about international markets in food and how that affects people’s access to food. But there is very little about how government’s will intentionally deprive their citizens of food.”

She also plans to continue publishing and teaching about gaps in rights for gay people and women, as well as issues of poverty and property rights.

“My heart is in this.”