Home Global News APUS Grant Provides Human Rights Research in Geneva and Vienna

APUS Grant Provides Human Rights Research in Geneva and Vienna


By David E. Hubler and Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer
Special Contributor, In Homeland Security

APUS doctoral program Professor Dr. Elise Carlson-Rainer recently returned from a research trip to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna, Austria.

The trip was funded through an APUS Faculty grant which enabled her and an APUS doctoral research assistant to carry out a project titled, “The Rise of Nationalism: How International Organizations Counterbalance Extremist Domestic Trends.”

Dr. Carlson-Rainer investigated the two international bodies’ central mechanisms to enforce and require countries to adhere to international human rights agreements. Although there is a great deal of existing research on domestic strategies, the unique role of multinational organizations to address domestic issues is often under-valued. She analyzed how international bodies counterbalance extremist domestic political trends.

Geneva: Site of the 38th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

In Geneva, Dr. Carlson-Rainer observed the 38th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which ran from June 18 to July 6, 2018.

Human Rights Geneva

Fifty-three countries are members of the UNHRC, the main United Nations forum for intergovernmental cooperation and dialogue on human rights issues. However, two days before Dr. Carlson-Rainer left for Geneva, the United States withdrew its HRC membership. This diplomatic move by one of its original members shocked human rights activists and diplomatic missions and catapulted the Council once again into the international spotlight.


Vienna: Site of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

Located in Vienna, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights was a critical stop for this reserach project. The FRA is one of the EU’s few decentralized agencies and the leading organization in the EU with expertise on fundamental rights. Dr. Carlson-Rainer interviewed FRA experts working on themes of justice, racism and national identity, gender equality and religious discrimination. The APUS team also accessed the FRA’s numerous publications and resources.

Along with strengthening concepts and ideas in the doctoral program courses, the research in Geneva and Vienna addressed questions such as:

  • How are multilateral organizations uniquely placed to address the rise of nationalism across Western European democracies?
  • How does the U.N. Human Rights Council pressure nations to uphold their internationally binding commitments to religious tolerance and freedom?
  • How do the unique venues within the EU and U.N. with their civil society groups of conflicting platforms, come together for dialogue and influence policies?
  • What, if any, power can multilateral agreements and leaders exert to curb the rise of nationalism?

Dr. Carlson-Rainer investigated how the FRA and UNHRC work to pressure European nations to uphold the rule of law for all ethnic and religious minorities and their binding agreements on civil and political rights. She also analyzed how international bodies work to counterbalance extremist domestic political trends.

Human Rights Geneva

She found that the growth of nationalistic political parties is a trend not bound by any borders. Rather, it is a transnational issue. It therefore can be addressed, in some ways better than domestically, in multinational arenas divorced from any one particular political party or country.

While at the UNHRC session, Dr. Carlson-Rainer taught her research assistant numerous techniques that she employs in her field work. They also observed all presentations by country representatives at the UNHRC’s plenary session.

The presentations included multiple Special Rapporteur reports on acute human rights concerns around the world. Of particular focus were Eritrea, Syria, Djibouti and Myanmar.

Dr. Carlson-Rainer noted that a  “critical function of the UN Human Rights Council is to provide a unique space for NGO [Non-Governmental Organizations] representatives, civil society stakeholders and abused people to meet their abuser and have a global venue for justice.”

The APUS team also observed the Universal Periodic Review, which assesses countries’ overall human rights record. During this session, the UNHRC focused on France, the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The APUS team also observed informal side meetings by non-governmental bodies, resolution formation and NGO statements.

Developing Research Skills and Qualitative Analysis Skills

Dr. Carlson-Rainer and the research assistant collected official documents for content analysis on reports and previous work on xenophobic nationalism. Toward the end of the week, they conducted archival research in the UN library, examining some of the original documents laying the foundation for the League of Nations almost 100 years ago.

The team used qualitative analysis to synthesize data and create broad themes and identify trends from these two international institutions. Through this work, the research assistant honed his skills in qualitative methods, further developed his research skills and learned how to set up field work.

Dr. Carlson-Rainer’s research project dovetails with a required APUS doctoral course, DOCT712 Nationalism and Identity that she taught for the first time in July – August 2018. In this course, the doctoral students analyze current nationalist political global trends. They explore why some of the most liberal, democratic societies now exhibit political trends of xenophobia, intolerance and nationalism. They also examine topics such as diaspora groups, gender norms in national identities, religion and nationalism.

Research Trip Included Presenting a Paper at the University of Graz

While in Europe, Dr. Carlson-Rainer also presented a paper, “Nationalism in Uncertain Times,” at a conference at the University of Graz in Austria. She was able to present fresh field research from her research project at the U.N. and EU at this conference, as well as meet with other leading scholars in the field of nationalism.


More About Professor Dr. Carlson-Rainer

Dr. Carlson Rainer serves as Assistant Professor of International Relations in the School of Security and Global Studies at the American Public University. She is a former U.S. diplomat with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy Human Rights and Labor. Dr. Carlson-Rainer also worked with the U.S. Mission to the UN and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Washington in the field of human rights and foreign policy.



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