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Alumni: Giving U of T more reasons to be proud


Ron Levi wins Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize

If there was ever a candidate who perfectly fits the description of a recipient of the Ludwik and Estelle Jus Memorial Human Rights Prize it would be Professor Ron Levi.

The human rights prize was established in 1995 in memory of two Polish educators who risked their lives during the Holocaust to rescue Jewish people. They believed deeply in the moral value of human beings, irrespective of race, nationality, class or religion. The award is presented to a faculty, staff or student member of the University of Toronto who has made a positive and lasting contribution to education and action against discrimination.

Prof. Levi holds the George Ignatieff Chair in Peace and Conflict Studies as an associate professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Department of Sociology. He is Director of the Master of Global Affairs program, and an award-winning teacher.  He says he was “thrilled” to win the prize, “partly because of the meaning it would have for pulling together social science research on human rights and responses to atrocities.”

But it is even more meaningful because “I have increasingly focused my own reading and thinking more directly on trials from the Holocaust era.” This resulted in Prof. Levi spending a recent week lecturing in the Global Justice course in the Master’s program at the Munk School, comparing the Eichmann trial with the Pinochet proceedings in the U.K.

The emphasis on the Holocaust era is in addition to his research and teaching about legal responses to “contemporary atrocities” such as those in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, or Syria.

To see both his research and teaching interests “reflected in the Jus prize made it all the more gratifying and meaningful to me,” he says.

He also created a new genocide reading group at the Munk School this year, for graduate students interested specifically in “questions around the causes, reporting on, trials, and definitions of genocide.”  Students have compared the media coverage of massive human rights violations and studied the International Criminal Court.

Having worked on crime prevention strategies previously, Prof. Levi is now pursuing a multi-year project on international human rights, focusing on the work of UN human rights officers. “I have been doing interviews with UN-based human rights professionals, whether in Geneva and in field offices world-wide,” and also tracking changes in the human rights regime over time, in terms of what issues get talked about.  This includes building a database of press releases about human rights violations over the last 20 years. These projects are part of a new Global Justice Lab he is launching at the Munk School.

The human rights prize is presented along with several other faculty, staff and student awards under the banner of Awards of Excellence. A complete list of this year’s recipients and their citations can be viewed on the Awards of Excellence website. This award program annually recognizes the outstanding members of the University of Toronto community who have made rich and meaningful contributions to the University, their communities and to the world.

Alumni Relations within the Division of University Advancement is the steward of the Awards of Excellence program on behalf of the University of Toronto Alumni Association, and co-ordinates the vital contributions of other University stakeholder groups toward this prestigious award program.

Prof. Levi and other 2014 Awards of Excellence recipients will be honoured at a ceremony at the Isabel Bader Theatre on April 1.