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How an Academic Turned Activist

Fresh out of grad school, Dr. Sam McFarland began teaching social psychology, launching a seminar on understanding human rights. He focused on the history and morality of human rights defense, highlighting the work of genocide scholar Rudolph Rummel. As a Fulbright Senior Scholar in the Soviet Union, Dr. McFarland was about to give a lecture in 1989 in the Soviet republic of Georgia when tanks killed pro-independence demonstrators in the capital city of Tbilisi.

As a witness to the events surrounding the massacre, Dr. McFarland began making phone calls until he made contact with a Washington Post journalist in Moscow, helping to bring the world’s attention to that tragedy. “That day made it clear to me that a watching world is the strongest protection against human rights violations,” Dr. McFarland said.

Soon after, he took action and became a committed supporter of Human Rights Watch, continuing to give regularly. A few years later, he decided he wanted to take even stronger action, so Dr. McFarland and his wife, Cheryl, made their first major gift to Human Rights Watch to help us push for the creation of the International Criminal Court. “I truly believe,” he said, “that the best gift we can give to our grandson is a peaceful world where all people enjoy human rights and have the opportunity to live full and rewarding lives.”

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