The 2012 winners of the Oliver W. Koonz Human Rights Prize, which recognizes the innovative work being done on human rights by students, were a paper that examine the human rights implications of a ban on head scarves in France and a mobile phone application that would make it easier for refugees and aid workers to post and obtain up-to-date information about food distribution points, the weather, dangerous events, family and friends, and health care.

Established with the support of Dr. Claudia Koonz, the Peabody Family chair, professor in the Department of History at Duke University, and a founding member of the Duke Human Rights Center, the competition awards $500 to the best paper and $500 to the best alternative project (photo or video-based, theater pieces or scripts, or web pages developed for a class or advocacy project in the field of human rights). The winner of many awards, Dr. Koonz is a passionate advocate of undergraduate education. She has taught and mentored hundreds of Duke students during her career at the university, where she teaches on human rights, genocide, 20th century European history and women’s history. The prize honors Oliver W. Koonz (1910-2009), the father of Dr. Koonz, and is open to currently enrolled Duke undergraduates.

Below are the responses of the judges, Prof. Koonz (History) and Prof. Ian Baucom (English).

Samantha Tropper, “Laïcité, the Republic, and the Veil” (Class of 2013)
What happens when laws violate fundamental human rights in a nation where “liberty, equality and fraternity” have been every citizen’s right for over two hundred years?  Samantha Tropper’s beautifully crafted essay explores the paradoxes created by French legislation that bars girls wearing Muslim headscarves from public schools. After conducting historical research on bans on Muslim headscarves and face veils, Ms. Tropper applies legal reason to demonstrate precisely how those laws violate not only French constitutions, but also the international conventions signed by France and the Universal Islamic Declaration of Human Rights.  “Laïcité, the Republic, and the Veil” highlights the paradox that in order to enjoy equal human rights, French people must renounce any identity that does not count as “French.”  Ms. Tropper’s essay is not only an outstanding piece of scholarship, but an exposé of injustice against Muslims.

Patrick A. Oathout, “uhuru mobile” (Class of 2014)
No human rights are more basic than access to food and shelter in a safe environment.  For millions of refugees and internally displaced persons, however, these rights have no meaning because of devastating scarcity.  Patrick A. Oathout’s mobile phone application uhuru gives refugees and aid workers an opportunity to cope with inadequate infrastructure in refugee camps as well as in resettlement areas.  This means of communicating up-to-date information about food distribution points, the weather, dangerous events, family and friends, and health care has the potential to give powerless individuals a measure of control over their lives.  Mr. Oathout’s creative use of crowd mapping software places advanced technology literally in the hands of people who have very little access to conventional sources of information – or basic human rights. Oathout completed this project for BorderWork(s), a Humanities Lab conducted under the auspices of the Franklin Humanities Institute.