Roberta Cohen papers, 1965-2021
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- Cohen, Roberta, 1940-
- Roberta Cohen is one of America's earliest international human rights professionals. Over the course of her career, she has served as diplomat, policy maker, scholar, author, and activist who has worked with the United Nations and for the Jimmy Carter Administration on humanitarian and human rights issues. The Roberta Cohen papers document Cohen's involvement with many NGOs, think tanks, government and United Nations bodies working on issues of international human rights, displacement, war, and humanitarianism.
- 15 Linear Feet
- Collection ID:
- Scope and content:
The Roberta Cohen papers document Cohen's involvement with many NGOs, think tanks, and government and United Nations bodies working on issues of international human rights, displacement, war, and humanitarianism. The collection comprises Cohen's personal notes; correspondence; documents; clippings from newspapers and journals; interviews; memorabilia, and product from research and writing. The materials in this collection lend insights into major human rights crises and cases since the 1960s. They also showcase Cohen's large footprint, how her advocacy bolstered the Carter administration's human rights legacy, and how her expertise helped to reshape protocols for refugee policy internationally.
Cohen's papers have a wide scope. They contain files documenting Cohen's personal and professional history; her work at the first U.S.-based international human rights NGO; her work in the Carter Administration; U.S. security, development, and humanitarian policy; Cohen's work with human rights organizations and think tanks (especially Brookings); United Nations refugee policy; natural and war-created humanitarian disasters; and of course, Internally Displaced Persons. The collection contains extensive files on IDPs as well as substantial documentation of Cohen's research on North Korea. The Roberta Cohen Papers also contain files on human rights emergencies in Asia, Europe, and Africa.
- Biographical / historical:
Roberta Cohen was born February 5, 1940, in New York. She received her B.A. from Barnard College in 1960, and her M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in 1963. From 1971 to 1977, Cohen served as Executive Director of the International League for Human Rights, the first U.S.-based international human rights organization, and from 1966 to 1974, as UN Representative of the Paris-based Federation Internationale des Droits de l'Homme. She became Co-Chair of the NGO Human Rights Committee at the UN in the mid-1970s. During the Carter Administration (1977-1981), Cohen worked as Human Rights Officer for International Organizations and NGOs, Human Rights Officer for the Southern Cone of the Americas, Special Adviser on the Soviet Union, Senior Adviser to the U.S. Delegation to the UN, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights -- helping to enshrine Human Rights as a vital Foreign Policy consideration in that administration. After working for the Carter administration, Cohen lived in Ethiopia from 1982 to 1985, then Togo from 1986 to 1988, accompanying her husband, David A. Korn, a career Foreign Service Officer, who headed U.S. embassies in both countries. In Ethiopia, Cohen reopened the USIA program in support of freedom of information, and in Togo, helped establish the country's national human rights commission. In London from 1985-1986, she served as Honorary Secretary of Britain's Parliamentary Human Rights Group, which published her book-length monograph, People's Republic of China: The Human Rights Exception. In the late 1980s, Cohen began working on developing the concept of Internally Displaced Persons—she organized the first major conference on the subject in 1991 and advocated for the creation of the position, Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons. Francis M. Deng served in this position from 1992 to 2004, and Walter Kaelin from 2004 to 2010; Cohen worked as Senior Advisor to both. With Deng, Cohen undertook widespread advocacy for IDPs, including cofounding and co-directing the Brookings Project on Internal Displacement. Cohen and Deng wrote the first major work on IDPs, Masses in Flight: The Global Crisis of Internal Displacement, published in 1998. She also organized the process and participated in the crafting of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which the U.N. World Summit adopted in 2005. Cohen was thus instrumental in introducing the concept of Internally Displaced Persons—and the mandate to advocate on their behalf—into the highest offices of international governance. Together with Deng, in 2005, she co-won the Grawemeyer Award for Ideas Improving World Order.
Cohen joined the Brookings Institution in 1994 and became Co-Director of its Project on Internal Displacement and a Senior Fellow, specializing in humanitarian and human rights issues, and after retirement in 2007, a non-Resident Senior Fellow until July 2016.
- Acquisition information:
- The Roberta Cohen papers were received by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book Manuscript Library as a gift in 2020.
- Processing information:
Processed by Hannah Ontiveros and Patrick Stawski, May, 2021. Accessions described in this collection guide: 2021-0012
The collection has been arranged into the following series: The Biographical Data series, The Organizations series, The Carter Administration series, The Research and Writings series, and the Audiovisual materials series.
- Rules or conventions:
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Click on terms below to find related finding aids on this site. For other related materials in the Duke University Libraries, search for these terms in the Catalog.
- Human rights advocacy
Human Rights -- Africa
Human Rights -- Asia
Human Rights -- North Korea
Human Rights -- Europe
Internally displaced persons
Responsibility to protect (International law)
- Human Rights Archive (Duke University)
United States. Dept. of State. Bureau of Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs
International League for Human Rights
United Nations. High Commission on Refugees
Carter, Jimmy, 1924-
Derian, Patricia M.
Deng, Francis Mading, 1938-
- United States. Dept. of State
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[Identification of item], Roberta Cohen papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.