A Vision for the Future

The Center for Civil and Human Rights aspires to become a leading site of research on human rights.  Reflecting Notre Dame’s mission, its research will be distinctive, manifesting the social teaching of the Catholic Church and bringing it into dialogue with the world of human rights activism, policy, and scholarship. The research will take place through four programs, each involving collaborative scholarly projects, workshops, conferences, and publications that will disseminate findings to a wide variety of audiences.


The first of these will be on global religious freedom.  The Pew Forum reports that 75% of the world’s population lives under regimes that strongly restrict religious freedom, making this human right one of the most widely curtailed in the world.  This research program will focus on how religious persecution can be combatted through law, policy, and the responses of religious communities. 

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The second program will focus on transitional justice, the question of how recovering societies address the human rights violations of war, genocide, and dictatorship.  An emphasis will be the striking but largely unexplored role of civil society actors, including NGOs, indigenous communities, and, in many places, the Catholic Church, in shaping transitional justice, often through introducing new dynamics such as reconciliation and forgiveness.

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The third program will address human trafficking.  The U.S. Government estimated in 2013 that some 27 million people around the world are victims of trafficking.  CCHR will explore the relationship between trafficking and human rights, with a focus on the role of the Church and other religious actors in combatting this colossal injustice. 

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The fourth program continues CCHR’s historical focus on regional human rights systems, ranging from specific rights and individual cases to the development and reform of these institutions. Research in this program both contributes to the work of human rights bodies and generates recommendations to strengthen them.

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This vision builds upon the CCHR’s history and accomplishments.  Founded in 1973 by Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, C.S.C., the CCHR enjoys an international reputation for educating human rights lawyers through its LL.M. Program in International Human Rights.  “Changing the world, one human rights lawyer at a time,” it has trained over 300 human rights lawyers from 80 countries, who have continued on to become government ministers, law school deans, prominent jurists, leaders in international organizations and founders of non-governmental organizations.  In 2013, the CCHR attained university-wide status and is now destined to become multidisciplinary and inclusive of faculty and students across the university.  On this new footing, the CCHR will continue to enhance its educational mission and integrate it with its research vision.