Published August 28, 2014
The study of human rights within the field of political science was still in its infancy when UB faculty member Claude Welch turned his research focus from the military and politics in Africa to human rights in the continent.
Now, more than 30 years later, Welch’s colleagues call him a “pioneer” and “one of the founders of the field.”
With accolades such as these rolling in from prominent scholars around the world, it’s no wonder that Welch, SUNY Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Political Science, has been selected to receive the 2014 Distinguished Scholar Award from the Human Rights Organized Section of the American Political Science Association (APSA).
Welch will receive the award, which recognizes an individual who has worked in the field of human rights and has made “an exceptional contribution to the field through research, teaching and mentorship,” this weekend during the APSA’s annual meeting in Washington, D.C.
The Distinguished Scholar Award is a lifetime achievement award, explains Richard P. Hiskes, professor of political science at Grand Valley State University and president of the human rights section of the APSA.
“This is an award given to only a handful of prominent scholars in the field of human rights, and is awarded on the basis of a body of work that few have achieved within the discipline of political science as a whole,” Hiskes says.
“Professor Welch is truly one of the founders of the field of human rights within the profession of political science. His books on human rights in Africa, Asia and Canada; his focus on economic rights in Canada and elsewhere; and his work on the role of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in human rights activism have been foundational scholarly contributions,” he says.
“As a scholar, teacher and servant to the field of human rights, Professor Welch has distinguished himself as a more than deserving recipient of this prestigious award.”
David P. Forsythe, Emeritus Charles J. Mach Distinguished Professor of Political Science at the University of Nebraska, agrees.
“For some 40 years, Claude Welch has made important contributions to our understanding of politics and society,” Forsythe notes. “He has been especially insightful about human rights nongovernmental organizations.
“If one looks at the corpus of his scholarship over time, one sees not only great productivity in terms of books, chapters and articles published, but also a determined effort to keep the academic spotlight on what happens to individuals in the context of political struggles. His focus on human rights, and in particular human rights in Africa, reflects his personal commitment to trying to make the world a better place,” Forsythe says.
In her letter to the APSA nominating Welch for the award — which was supported by Forsythe and political scientists Mahmood Monshipouri and Susan Dicklitch — Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann calls Welch “a pioneer in the study of human rights in Africa.”
“Throughout his career,” notes Howard-Hassmann, Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Welch “has identified important new issues and conducted original field research, often in politically sensitive areas and on politically sensitive topics that others might think impossible to research.”
A UB faculty member since 1964, Welch co-founded, with the late UB law school professor Virginia Leary, the UB Human Rights Center in the late 1980s. He was a member of the advisory committee for the Africa Division of Human Rights Watch from 1989-2009.
His most recent work involves the effectiveness of human rights nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). He already has published four books on this topic — “Human Rights in Asia” (1990), “Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Strategies and Roles of Non-Governmental Organizations” (1995), “NGOs and Human Rights: Promise and Performance” (2001) and “Economic and Social Rights in Canada and the United States” (2006) — and currently is working on a fifth.
That new book, “Protecting Human Rights Globally: Strategies and Roles of International NGOs,” focuses on the impact of such INGOs as Anti-Slavery, the World Council of Churches and the Coalition for an International Criminal Court on major human rights issue, notably modern-day forms of slavery, racism, discrimination based on descent and impunity from prosecution for major human rights abuses.
All told, Welch has published 14 books and nearly 40 book chapters and articles in academic journals.
He received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award given in 2006 by TIAA-CREF and the SUNY Research Foundation “to recognize individuals who embody the true spirit of the financial services company’s mission: serving those who serve others for the greater good.”
He received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1974 and is a three-time recipient of both the Milton Plesur Award for teaching excellence from the UB undergraduate Student Association and the Lisa Hertel Award for outstanding professor from the Undergraduate Student Association in the Department of Political Science.