What is a human rights museum? It’s a place with exhibits, activities, and other resources for people interested in human rights. Depending on the specific museum, it could be focused on civil rights, LGBTQ+ rights, or more general rights. For those interested in the history and future of human rights, a museum can be a great place to visit, though many are met with controversy. Here are five museums you should consider visiting:
During the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the people of Chile suffered many violations of their human rights. To educate future generations and reflect back on its past, the Chilean government founded The Museum of Memory and Human Rights in 2010. Consisting of three floors, the Santiago museum includes video footage of the detention centers established under Pinochet, newspapers from the 1970’s and 80’s, and other interactive displays. The museum is also home to an archive and documentation center full of paper and digital book-and-photography collections. Since its inauguration, the museum has hosted exhibits about Chile’s indigenous groups, the Abu Gharib tortures, and a film festival focused on human rights in Chile and Argentina. The Museum of Memory and Human Rights is free.
One of the older human rights museums on this list, the Liberty Osaka human rights museum in Japan opened in 1985. Then, it consisted of an archive of documents about the lowest caste in the old feudal system, who are known as burakumin. Discrimination against the group still exists today. The museum has since expanded to include topics such as the hardships of ethnic minorities; discrimination against women and LGBTQ+ people; discrimination against the disabled; and stories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For those who don’t speak Japanese, there’s an English audio guide and booklet with translations.
After funding issues and delays, the Center for Civil and Human Rights opened in Atlanta, Georgia in 2014. It houses both permanent and temporary exhibitions centered on the American civil rights movement, as well as human rights worldwide. Their three permanent exhibits are a collection of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s personal belongings, such as letters; an interactive gallery exploring segregation; and an exhibit on the global human rights movement. The museum is considered very moving and was named by the New York Times in 2014 as one of the biggest reasons to go to Atlanta.
Located in a former Woolworth’s, where four students from a North Carolina college started the Greensboro sit-ins, this museum seeks to remember those activists and others who participated in the civil rights movement. Visitors learn about segregation and the sit-ins through video presentations, reenactments, and sets designed like the students’ dorm room (with their original furniture) and the Woolworth’s lunch counter. Artifacts featured in the museum include a Tuskegee Airman’s uniform, a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood, original signage from the Woolworth’s, and a pen used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The International Civil Rights Center and Museum was recently in the news in 2016 for refusing to close the museum for five hours so Donald Trump could visit.
This controversial museum is on the list because it was the first new national museum in Canada since 1967, and is a good representation of the complex issues often surrounding museums focused on human rights. Found in Winnipeg, the museum received huge amounts of funding, so when it opened, it cost over $350 million. It was already controversial before its opening and drew protestors from activist groups. Why? There were big concerns about human rights histories not being depicted truthfully or being excluded entirely. The issue of space and which human rights violations were given more or what was given a permanent place was a controversy from the beginning. The museum’s director of communications tried to clear up the purpose of the museum by saying it was a “museum of ideas,” and not simply a memorial. Others agreed with her thinking, saying that people should be more focused on how to prevent future violations of human rights, and not the past. This is a common debate surrounding human rights museums.