two people smiling and standing in desert
The Koonz Human Rights Prize award honors Oliver W. Koonz, Prof. Claudia Koonz’s late father. The prize honors the best essay/paper or alternative project prepared by an undergraduate for the academic year. The Duke Human Rights Center@FHI awards one $500 prize to the winners in each category.

This year's deadline is April 1, 2024.

Submission Guidelines

An essay must be no longer than 25 double-spaced pages. Whether it is a critical essay, research paper, or personal essay, a submission must:

  • identify the particular human rights principle(s) involved
  • formulate your topic question
  • explain your approach
  • critically discuss relevant research
  • arrive at a conclusion

project can be a photographic essay, a play script or short story, a documentary video, a web page, a phone app, a visualization of data or other original approach to confronting a human rights question.

All submissions must include a paragraph introducing the paper or project, listing any co-authors and noting whether it was created in a course. A submission does not have to be developed in the context of a course, but if it was, please note the course title. Whether or not it is connected to a course, an essay or project must be completed during the time the student is enrolled at Duke. Please send submissions to by April 1, 2024. Awards will be announced in May 2024.

2024 Oliver W. Koonz Human Rights Prize Winners


2024 Best Essay: Alexandra Bernstein-Naples

Alexandra Bernstein-Naples’s essay, “Reserving the Right to Deflection: A Quantitative Analysis of States Logging Reservations to the Genocide Convention,” is a rigorous, sophisticated, and quantitative analysis about a supremely important issue: the ways that states have expressed reservations to the Genocide Convention, sparing them the possibility of prosecution in the International Court of Justice. In an era of continued state repression, and headline-grabbing genocide investigations by the ICJ, this topic could not be more timely. 

Read Alexandra Bernstein-Naples's Essay

2024 Best Essay: Madeleine McLean

Madeleine McLean provided a local study of race, journalism, and human rights in North Carolina in her essay, “Beyond the Headlines: How the North Carolina Black Press Advocated for Racial Equality in the Asylum Setting.” She studied the divergent interpretations that white and Black newspapers gave to a local mental health institution, showing that Black newspapers adopted a more critical perspective on the matter, tying their journalism to broader issues of human and civil rights. This focus on the press is crucial, too, given the many attacks on press freedom that we see around the world today. 

Read Madeline McLean's Essay