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What is Promoting Human Rights?

Although the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was designed to be a common standard of human rights for all peoples in all nations, human rights violations exist in almost every part of the world; Amnesty International’s 2009 World Report states that individuals are tortured or abused in at least 80 countries, face unfair trials in at least 50 countries, and are restricted in their freedom of expression in at least 70 countries.

In part, these human rights violations occur because over half of the world’s population lives in countries that lack the rule of law, defined by the United Nations as “a principle of governance in which all persons, institutions and entities, public and private, including the State itself, are accountable to laws that are publicly promulgated, equally enforced and independently adjudicated, and which are consistent with international human rights norms and standards.” Countries that lack the rule of law often do not meet the most basic needs of their populations, failing to offer economic opportunity, provide basic justice, or ensure physical security. In such places, corruption often becomes endemic, reflecting and/or resulting in a slow erosion of human rights.

The challenge for this competition is to develop a proposal that will, in some way, combat the causes or consequences of corruption and thus directly or indirectly foster the rule of law. Alternately, a proposal might focus more generally on preserving or promoting the protection of individuals’ essential human rights.

Examples of some focus areas could include, but are not limited to: issues such as genocide or mass atrocities including physical and mental cruelty, corruption, gender inequality, slavery and trafficking, political oppression, civil rights abuses, or forcible relocations.

Category Specific Rules

The “Promoting Human Rights” category is open to all matriculated graduate and undergraduate students from the following campuses:

  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC San Francisco
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • College of William and Mary
  • Duke University
  • Makerere University (Uganda)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Michigan State University
  • Texas A&M University



    Multidisciplinary teams are strongly encouraged. For additional information about general contest rules, timing, and how to apply, please refer to the Contest Application Requirements. Additional details may be provided via updates to the Big Ideas site.


    The Promoting Human Rights category is sponsored by the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley in cooperation with USAID. Award administration and funding will be provided by the Blum Center.

    Past Winners

    Pachamama Project

    Highland Health Advocates

    Truth As Freedom

    More Winners

    Category Specific Resources

    United Nations and the Rule of Law

    American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative

    Berkeley Law Human Rights Center

    CITRIS Data and Democracy Initiative


    United States Agency for International Development (USAID)
    Since 1961, USAID has been the principal U.S. agency to extend assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty, and engaging in democratic reforms. The Blum Center links world-class faculty, inspiring new curriculum, and innovative technologies, services and business models to create real-world solutions for developing economies.

    Higher Education Solutions Network
    USAID has created a constellation of seven Development Labs that harness the intellectual power of great American and international academic institutions and that catalyze the development and application of new science, technology, and engineering approaches and tools to solve some of the world’s most challenging development problems.

    Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley
    The Blum Center links world-class faculty, inspiring new curriculum, and innovative technologies, services and business models to create real-world solutions for developing economies.

    In-Kind Sponsors

    The Human Rights Center, UC Berkeley
    The Human Rights Center promotes human rights and international justice worldwide and trains the next generation of human rights researchers and advocates.

    The Data and Democracy Initiative
    Founded in 2011, the Data and Democracy Initiative brings creativity and innovation from computer science, electrical engineering, and social media to bear on issues of democracy building and civic participation.