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Humanitarian advocates for law to serve human rights

There were no empty seats in the Black Ballroom on Tuesday, Oct. 4 while expectant students and guests patiently awaited Eric Schwartz’s lecture, “Population, Refugees and Migration.”

Schwartz has an extensive resume, working with various humanitarian organizations such as leading Human Rights Watch – Asia. He has also held various high-ranking government positions. He worked on the United States National Security Council, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and was nominated by President Barack Obama as the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration. His work over his career has been extensive and has given him years of experience that he now shares with his students at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.

To begin, Schwartz expounded on his biography, speaking to the audience about his credentials and sharing details of his college experience, including all the organizations he was involved with during and after college.

Schwartz then offered his experience as a model for students to learn from. He advised the audience not to fear rejection, but to embrace its inevitability. He also emphasized the importance of applying for unpaid or low-paying work in a field of interest while in college.

The goal of his advice wasn’t to lead students into bankruptcy. Rather, he contended that if a student did good work for a company and was not paid for it, the company would be in that student’s debt. Later on, when that student seeks employment from the same company, the chances of being hired are more likely.

This isn’t always the case, but it has been a successful model for Schwartz. After working with Human Rights Watch, he was later put in charge of leading the NGO’s section on Asian affairs. He attributed his success to promoting his name and projecting a hardworking, positive image of himself within the organization.

In the second portion of his lecture, Schwartz addressed the titular subject of the talk: population, refugees and migration. Focusing on the key areas of human rights as they pertained to his own career and experience, Schwartz discussed refugee and humanitarian relief along with peacekeeping operations and stabilization.

Within these subjects, Schwartz consistently emphasized the importance of international law and intervention, and how their implementation can be used to successfully advance and protect human rights around the world. He used the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Force for East Timor as examples.

Near the lecture’s end, Schwartz addressed modern humanitarian issues, such as the increase in the number of refugees even as acceptance of human rights seems to spread and take root around the world.

Regarding this contradiction, Schwartz couldn’t offer a clear explanation, but instead listed what he felt needs to be done by the government overall to solve these problems. First, he argued, world leaders must address the root of the refugee problem and fully understand the issues surrounding it. Second, the United States must elect Hillary Clinton in the upcoming presidential election.

The audience members were generally interested but dismayed by the content of the lecture. Some felt the speech focused more on how one may enter the field of humanitarianism and on Schwartz’s personal life rather than on humanitarianism itself.

“I gained a lot of information about governmental policies regarding humanitarian issues, but not a lot of what we can do as a general public about humanitarians crises,” Andie Gallagher ’20 said.

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