Law School speaker addresses class on human rights issues

Sam Kean

Compared to an ambassadorship and his role in reducing arms in the former Soviet Union, Max Kampelman’s talks like the one he gave Friday morning in the Law School might seem anticlimactic.

But Kampelman still took the opportunity to address a joint global studies and Law School class in Walter F. Mondale Hall, ensuring his influence on what he has called his favorite work – the fight for human rights – will continue.

His schedule has slowed since serving under presidents from both major parties, Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, but this grandfather still had plenty to say about the European Union and his confidence in current National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

A former University professor with a political science doctorate from the late 1940s, Kampelman said he believes “democracy and human rights are interchangeable.” But with a grin, Kampelman admitted to the International Human Rights Law class that at the start of each semester, he relished playing devil’s advocate with new students by arguing against democratic governments and testing their resolve.

“People who believe in democracy better learn about why they believe in democracy,” he explained. Though students sometimes protested the content of his lectures – some even referring to his ideas as fascist – he didn’t mind because the sessions strengthened their convictions.

For most of the hour Friday, Kampelman outlined why he believes democracies promote human rights better than other forms of governments.

Besides championing individual freedoms, democracies also reduce international war, Kampelman said.

This argument – that since democracies obey the majority’s wishes and the majority of people don’t want strife, democracies therefore would not wage war with each other – originated in a colleague’s upcoming book that he helped evaluate.

Kampelman said this reasoning meshed with his ideas that promoting democracies are the best way to ensure human rights.

He too emphasized what democracies need to succeed – viable options for its decision-making citizens – and said governments lacking this quality lack true democratic principles.

From a political science perspective, Kampelman could address “things only diplomats know – the internal negotiations” crucial to gaining objectives in international human rights conferences and convincing the Soviets to reduce arms, said political science and global studies professor Kathryn Sikkink.

Indeed, like a diplomat who must interact with people on several levels, Kampelman addressed the class, answered individual questions and discussed human rights afterward.

Global studies assistant professor Barbara Frey jointly teaches the class, which she said welcomed Kampelman because of his experience in a Cold War world that has largely disappeared.

He represents “an ideological perspective that has somewhat shifted,” Frey said.

But Kampelman, who has received the two highest citizen’s medals from the U.S. government, the most recent in 1999, has not let the end of the Cold War diminish his will to preserve human rights far and wide, into regions where his audience for Friday’s lecture might never find themselves.

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]