Human rights lecturer talks global war crimes

by Elpin Keshishzadeh

Faculty director of the Human Rights Center at the University of California, Berkeley Eric Stover visited San Diego State on Tuesday to lecture on global human rights issues centralized around international war crimes.

Stover uses scientific methods and research to investigate human rights around the world. Before his position at Berkley, Stover served as the executive director of Physicians for Human Rights and the director of the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The lecture, titled “Human Rights, Medicine, Forensics and Public Health,” reviewed issues centralizing on forensic evidence of international war crimes.

The UC Berkeley Human Rights Center conducts three programs: sexual violence, forensics, and atrocity response programs.

In the forensics program, Stover and his team have been working in El Salvador with an organization working to build a database for hosting genetic information for those who lost children during the civil war. Some children may have been put up for illegal adoption in various locations.

“We went in and set up this local organization with a DNA database, and took swabs from putative families who had lost children, who they believed had been put into this illegal adoption,” Stover said. “So we collected those DNA reference samples and began a campaign in the U.S., Europe and Central America.”

The lecture introduced the historical context of human right, including cultural, socioeconomic, political and civil rights, which he said didn’t appear until after World War II.

Stover emphasized that an important aspect of comprehending human rights is understanding that the violations have a direct impact on health. He went on to explain that the promotion and protection of health is directly correlated with the protection of rights.

“(Stover) is a fascinating speaker and the issues of chemical weapons and human rights abuses related to the Middle East will be very timely,” public health professor Tom Novotny told SDSU NewsCenter.

In his lecture, Stover emphasized the severe issue surrounding these chemical weapons and land mines, most of which didn’t detonate and still pose a threat to citizens.

Stover also reviewed the incidents of the Guantanamo Bay detainees and the physicians who were involved in their interrogations in 2002. During his investigation, Stover and other researchers were surprised to discover the depth of involvement these physicians had in the torture process.

After the lecture, a small panel, including Survivors of Torture Executive Director Kathi Anderson, Medical and Scientific Affairs in the Office of International Health Associate Director Kenneth Bernard, and SDSU political science professor Dipak Gupta, formed for further discussion.

Global health doctorate student Julie Bergmann emphasized the importance of the preservation of human rights during war.

“For example, if you’re a prisoner of war in a genocide, what are your rights?” Bergmann said.