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University of Iowa News

April 11, 2006

UI Students Win Weston International Human Rights Essay Competition

The University of Iowa Center for Human Rights (UICHR) announced recently the winners of the first annual Burns H. Weston International Human Rights Essay Prize. The competition is intended to promote understanding and the continuing advancement of international human rights, as well as honor Weston, the former and founding director of the UICHR and an internationally renowned scholar in international human rights law.

The $1,000 prize in the graduate and professional student category went to second-year law student Matthew Stromquist of Iowa City for his essay "Towards an Optional Protocol to the ICESCR: Local Contexts, Global Norms, and a Trickle-Up Theory of Justiciability."

Stromquist's essay grew out of his experiences in March 2005 when he served as an NGO representative to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

"I was working with a group based in Delhi, India, called the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre," Stromquist said. "I witnessed the difficult and often contentious debate in pressing for an international enforcement mechanism to hold countries accountable for violations of economic, social and cultural rights."

Stromquist conducted some of the research for his essay in South Africa last summer, where he was working on a UICHR-funded internship with Lawyers for Human Rights at the University of Stellenbosch Library.

"I really got involved in learning more about the unique and transformative constitutional system in South Africa, and became intrigued with the idea of how certain lessons from South Africa could be applied in the international context," he said.

The $750 undergraduate prizewinner was Kevin Kenjar of Cedar Rapids, a senior religious studies and international studies major for his essay "The Rise of Orthodoxy and Heresy in Pakistan: The Institutionalized Persecution of the Ahmadiya Religious Minority." Kenjar wrote about the Ahmadiya in a course he took during his freshman year, Religion and Politics in the Middle East, taught by Reza Aslan.

"More recently, I have become interested in heresy and orthodoxy, most likely as a consequence of reading Antonio Gramsci," Kenjar said. "Studying Gramscian hegemony has led me to view religion, heresy in particular, in a new light."

Kenjar is continuing to explore these themes in his current thesis work on heresy in Bosnia.

Amy Weismann, deputy director of the UICHR, said 17 entries were received for the initial competition.

"The submissions were extraordinarily strong and made the selection process very difficult," Weismann said. "All involved in this process were impressed and inspired by the commitment to human rights scholarship within the student body demonstrated by these submissions."

Essay topics submitted to the competition included:

* the legal status of detainees at Guantanamo and the implications under international law,

* the political effects of Islamic institutions,

* human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children,

* same-sex marriage in the context of human rights,

* the right to vote for felons,

* human rights and the undocumented immigrant,

* Islam's contributions to the developments of the ideals of the First Amendment.

A faculty committee reviewed the essays as blind submissions. "The reviewers considered the quality of writing demonstrated and the substantive contribution to human rights scholarship, among other factors, in their selection process," Weismann said.

Weston is the Bessie Dutton Murray Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus at the UI College of Law, where he has been a member of the faculty since 1966. Weston has spent the bulk of his career teaching, writing and working on behalf of human rights. A substantially revised third edition of the textbook "Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Action," edited by Weston and Richard Pierre Claude, will be published this year. Weston founded the UIHCR as an outgrowth of activities surrounding "Global Focus: Human Rights'98," the world's largest academically based commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Global Focus: Human Rights '98" brought many Nobel laureates, dignitaries, scholars and other important international human rights figures to Iowa City.

An annual event, the Burns H. Weston International Human Rights Essay Prize will accept submissions again during the 2006-2007 academic year. The UI Center for Human Rights will announce eligibility guidelines and application deadlines in the fall. For more information, call or e-mail the UICHR, 319-335-3900 or

The UICHR is affiliated with UI International Programs, which consists of a number of offices, centers, academic programs, research projects and services. Organized under the associate provost and dean for international programs, these units serve to further internationalize the campus and community and promote global scholarship, research and teaching.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500.

CONTACTS: Media: Lois Gray, 319-335-2026,; Program: Amy Weismann or Liz Crooks, 319-335-3900; Writer: Julia LaBua