Havel at Columbia

Special Event

Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research Event

Photo: Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research Event Featured Speaker, Wole Soyinka with special guest, President Václav Havel
Dec 06
Miller Theatre

Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, and most recently, Committee of Concerned Scientists have chosen Columbia University Libraries to archive their vast and rich collections of documents, which detail each organization's decades of human rights work. Several other important organizations, including Human Rights First (formerly Lawyers Committee for Human Rights) and Physicians for Human Rights have indicated a strong interest to deposit their archives at Columbia as well. With this remarkable body of material (spanning more than 3,700 linear feet), Columbia holds the most extensive compilation of human rights archives available anywhere. These documents are the core of our newly formed Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research.
Having these organizations' records available is extremely important, not only for research and scholarship, but for practitioners and advocates to be able to leverage the evidence and lessons of the past in their ongoing work. Columbia is committed to advancing the educational and scholarly use of these resources.

Wole Soyinka was born on 13 July 1934 at Abeokuta, near Ibadan in western Nigeria. After preparatory university studies in 1954 at Government College in Ibadan, he continued at the University of Leeds, where, later, in 1973, he completed his doctorate. During the six years spent in England, he was a dramaturgist at the Royal Court Theatre in London 1958-1959. In 1960, he was awarded a Rockefeller bursary and returned to Nigeria to study African drama. At the same time, he taught drama and literature at various universities in Ibadan, Lagos, and Ife, where, since 1975, he has been professor of comparative literature. In 1960, he founded the theatre group, "The 1960 Masks" and in 1964, the "Orisun Theatre Company", in which he has produced his own plays and taken part as an actor. During the civil war in Nigeria, Soyinka appealed in an article for cease-fire. For this he was arrested in 1967, accused of conspiring with the Biafra rebels, and was held as a political prisoner for 22 months until 1969. Soyinka¹s activism has often exposed him to great personal risk, most notably under the government of the Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha (1993-1998). During Abacha's dictatorship, Soyinka left the country on voluntary exile and has since been living abroad. When civilian rule returned in 1999, Soyinka accepted an emeritus post at Ife (now Obafemi Awolowo University) on the condition that the university bars all former military officers from the position of chancellor. Soyinka has published about 20 works: drama, novels and poetry, and in 1986 won the Nobel Prize in Literature -- the first African to be so honored.

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Mr. Soylinka's lecture was noteworthy because it was an accurate assessment of current human rights atrocities. In spite of its gloomy sentiments, he outlined a specific course of action for world leaders and global communities to follow.