About HRHA

In the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, we foster students' curiosity about human rights and their passion for social justice by offering challenging courses with inspiring professors, by encouraging our students to engage in hands-on human rights work, and by engaging in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary human rights research . Our faculty and students hail from a range of disciplines, from journalism to economics, political science to public health, bringing with them the diverse perspectives and collaborative spirit needed to tackle the world's most pressing problems.

Through our undergraduate minor and graduate specialization, students will be challenged to understand the roots of today's most difficult human rights issues and given the critical thinking skills and inspiration to go out and solve them.


In keeping with the University of Nebraska's commitment to interdisciplinarity and internationalization in teaching, research, and service, the primary mission of the Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs is to examine issues related to human rights from an international and interdisciplinary perspective in the classroom and within our research projects, as well as to bring these discussions to the wider community.


In 1997 the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln created a new interdisciplinary area of excellence: Human Rights and Human Diversity. Dr. David Forsythe, University Professor and Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor of Political Science, served as the founding director. From 1997 to 2002, the program was supported by a Ford Foundation grant, during which time the program increased its presence at the university and earned a national reputation for being a center of human rights teaching and research.

Since its founding in 1997, the human rights program has benefited from the leadership of Robert Hitchcock (Anthropology), Brian Lepard (College of Law), Jay Johnson (Geography), Jeff Spinner-Halev (Political Science) and Ari Kohen (Political Science). The interdisciplinary nature of the program's leadership over the years reflects the broad and diverse University of Nebraska community involved in human rights teaching and research.

During its twenty-year history, Nebraska's human rights program has grown our dynamic, hands-on undergraduate minor to reach over 100 students, created a graduate student certificate, and produced cutting-edge research. Faculty in the human rights program have collaborated and continue to work together on research projects around topics such as transitional justice in post-conflict societies, human security, human rights and water security, and Holocaust and genocide studies.

The program was renamed in 2010 to honor the career of David Forsythe and in recognition of the generous financial contribution made by the Forsythe family to the University of Nebraska. Dr. Forsythe's goal, for UNL to be counted among the leading universities in the study of human rights and humanitarian affairs, informs the teaching and research goals of the program today, just as his scholarship and teaching on international human rights and humanitarian law led to its creation and development.

David Forsythe

David P. Forsythe is University Professor and Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, USA. Educated at Wake Forest (BA) and Princeton (MA, PHD) Universities, he joined the faculty at UNL in 1973.

Between 1993 and 1998, Dr. Forsythe Served as the Chair of the Department of Political Science. In 1997, he became the founding director of UNL's human rights program.


  • In the fall of 2003 the Mid-West Section of the International Studies Association presented him with the Quincy Wright Distinguished Scholar Award in honor of his lifetime professional achievements.
  • The Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Associated named him a Distinguished Scholar in 2007.
  • In 2013 he received a similar award from the Human Rights Section of the International Studies Association.
  • In 2012 he received the career achievement award from the Academic Senate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Publications on International Relations

  • The Humanitarians: The International Committee of the Red Cross, (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
  • Human Rights in International Relations, (Cambridge University Press, 4th ed. forthcoming)
  • The United Nations and Changing World Politics, (Westview Press, 8th ed. forthcoming; with 3 other authors)
  • American Foreign Policy in a Globalized World, (Routledge, 2006; edited with two others)
  • The Politics of Prisoner Abuse: US Policy toward Enemy Prisoners after 9/11 (Cambridge University Press, 2011)
  • The ICRC: A Neutral Humanitarian Actor, (Routledge, 2nd ed., 2016, with a co-author)

He was the General Editor of The Encyclopedia of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2009, 5 volumes), which won the Dartmouth Medal for the best reference publication in that year given by the American Library Association.