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Students investigating international crimes

Emma Frick stands in front of the MSU Libraries on a fall day

The research of James Madison College students working in the Human Rights Lab has led to two evidence submissions to the International Criminal Court for human rights violations in Myanmar and Venezuela.

Their success helped prompt JMC alum Robert W. Rathke (’81) to boost the lab’s efforts with a $5,000 matching gift, which has grown to nearly $14,000 in support from 80 additional donors.

Students, with the mentorship of the lab’s creator Professor Robert Brathwaite, use technology, such as Geographic Information System (GIS) and AIS ship transponder data, to help international legal organizations investigate crimes against humanity and other crimes of international concern.

Students use GIS and AIS transponder data to investigate international crimes against humanity.

Recently, the lab’s analysis of satellite imagery and other data has been used as evidence by the Swiss human rights organization TRIAL International in a case against a corporate entity suspected of engaging in illicit smuggling activities in Libya.

The Human Rights Lab is one of the only groups of its kind operating at the undergraduate level, offering students an early opportunity to explore academic interests and develop professional skills.

Emma Frick, an International Relations and Social Relations and Policy junior from Saline, once struggled with deciding what to do after graduation. “The lab has helped hone my research and analysis skills,” she says. “The skills I’ve gained, such as satellite imagery analysis, social media analysis and open-source data mining, will set me apart from others and open many doors in the areas like research and policy or report writing.”

Robert Rathke’s giving is motivated by the student-faculty relationships he experienced as a student at MSU. In addition, his father was a faculty member at Kettering University whose life exemplified transformational experiences for students through his teaching and mentorship. Robert says the Human Rights Lab is a perfect fit for the impact he wishes to have with his giving.

VISIT the MSU Alumni Office blog to read more about the students, their work, Professor Braithwaite’s vision for the future of the Human Rights Lab, and how donors like you can help.

LEARN MORE about making a gift to James Madison College by contacting Director of Development Rocky Beckett at or by calling (517) 884-1278.