Doctors’ Group to Receive UConn’s Dodd Prize in Human Rights

A Syrian physician being trained how to document evidence of torture. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)
A Syrian physician being trained how to document evidence of torture. Physicians for Human Rights, which uses science and medicine to combat abuses and atrocities, will accept the award on Nov. 2. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)

Physicians for Human Rights, which has worked to prevent atrocities and document war crimes around the globe for more than 30 years, will be awarded the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights at UConn’s Thomas J. Dodd Research Center on Thursday, Nov. 2.

Physicians for Human Rights partners from the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization take part in a grave exhumation exercise in Bamyan province, Afghanistan. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)
Physicians for Human Rights partners from the Afghanistan Forensic Science Organization take part in a grave exhumation exercise in Bamyan province, Afghanistan. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)

Headquartered in New York, PHR occupies a distinct role in the global human rights movement, using forensic science, clinical medicine, and public health research to document torture, systematic abuse, and other crimes against humanity, as well as train and empower health professionals globally to investigate and prevent human rights violations.

“Physicians for Human Rights exemplifies the kind of work the Dodd Prize was created to honor,” said former U.S. Sen. Christopher J. Dodd, whose father, a prosecutor at Nuremburg and U.S. senator himself, the award is named for.

“PHR is a fearless defender of the most vulnerable victims of human rights, on the ground in the most terrible conflict zones, in the courtroom helping to hold perpetrators accountable, and in the public sphere advocating for policies that protect the dignity of all,” Dodd said. “My father would recognize in PHR the same spirit that animated the Nuremberg Tribunals, but also would be amazed at PHR’s innovation and courage in seeking justice and accountability for the perpetrators of atrocities.”

Founded by a group of Boston-area doctors in 1986, PHR has subsequently grown into a tireless defender of human rights worldwide, training thousands of human rights defenders around the globe, documenting war crimes from Bosnia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and helping bring perpetrators to justice. For its work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, PHR shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. PHR investigated the devastating effects of landmines, mobilized the health community, and participated in meetings that led to the international Mine Ban Treaty.

Physicians for Human Rights researcher Christine Mehta (far right) speaks with family members of people killed by Turkish security forces in the country’s southeast. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)
Physicians for Human Rights researcher Christine Mehta (far right) speaks with family members of people killed by Turkish security forces in the country’s southeast. (Physicians for Human Rights Photo)

Among its accomplishments, PHR provided forensic evidence from mass graves that helped lead to the 2016 conviction of former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic for charges of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity; led a 13-year campaign against the complicity of medical professionals in U.S. torture tactics that helped engineer a complete ban on psychologists permitted to work at the Guantánamo Bay detention facility; and documented nearly 1,200 attacks on medical workers and medical facilities in Syria since March 2011, all of which are classified as war crimes.

“On behalf of PHR’s partners, staff, and volunteers worldwide, we are honored and humbled to receive this incredible recognition,” said PHR’s executive director Donna McKay. “Like the late Sen. Dodd, we at PHR believe in the power of evidence and the promise of justice. At a time when the world faces unprecedented challenges – the conflict in Syria, the global refugee crisis, the stifling of freedom of expression, and the rising specter of demagoguery that threatens to roll back human rights protections – sound scientific and medical evidence is vital now more than ever. This prize will serve as a catalyst for our work, a spark that will energize us to expand the network of health professionals and human rights advocates globally that are fighting for a more just, more humane world.”

PHR is the eighth recipient of the Dodd Prize, which commemorates the work and example of Sen. Thomas J. Dodd, who served as executive trial counsel during the Nuremberg war crimes trials after World War II before embarking on a career in the U.S. House of Representatives (1953-1957) and the U.S. Senate (1959-1971). Past recipients of the prize include President Bill Clinton, former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Committee to Protect Journalists. The prize includes a $100,000 award and a bronze bust of Sen. Thomas J. Dodd.

“Over the past 30 years, PHR has established a reputation as a fearless advocate for human rights and a pioneer in discovering new ways to promote justice and accountability worldwide, whether in the chaos of a civil war or in a courtroom at The Hague,” said Glenn Mitoma, director of the Dodd Center. “We’re honored to have the opportunity to award this distinguished prize to an organization that’s been unflinching in standing up for those whose rights have been violated or are most at risk.”