The Promise Institute for Human Rights to be Launched at UCLA School of Law After $20 Million Gift


By Bill Kisliuk

LOS ANGELES, Calif. (UCLA)—The UCLA School of Law has received a $20 million gift to launch a new institute that will serve as a national hub for human rights education and advocacy. The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law will be generously supported by proceeds from the feature film The Promise, as well as other donations and university resources. The donation is the largest gift to launch a new institute in the history of UCLA Law.

Dr. Eric Esrailian, professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, and UCLA School of Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin. (Photo: Todd Cheney/UCLA School of Law)

The Promise which is set during the Armenian genocide that began in 1915, opens in theaters on April 21.

“In so many corners of the campus, our faculty and students are focused on identifying and addressing the conditions that create social unrest, displacement and injustice,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “The Promise Institute will become UCLA’s center for collaboration in this area and will greatly enhance our ability to serve a global leadership role.”

The institute will advance the law school’s already-extensive work in the field of human rights. Law school faculty and students will collaborate with scholars in other disciplines from across the UCLA campus, and the institute will train the next generation of human rights leaders and develop strategies to address crises around the globe.

Dr. Eric Esrailian, the lead producer of The Promise and a faculty member at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, spearheaded the effort to establish the institute.

“The Armenian genocide must never be forgotten, and this need was one reason why we made The Promise,” Esrailian said. “However, human rights tragedies—in Syria, the Congo and South Sudan and a global refugee crisis—continue to unfold today.

“The Promise Institute is so named because UCLA and the UCLA School of Law are making a commitment to keep the promise to the victims of human rights abuses—that we will create the tools and train people of integrity and talent to address these crises. Out of the darkness of the Armenian genocide and our film, we will bring light into the world to help people who need it today.”

The south entrance to the UCLA School of Law on the campus of the University of California in Westwood (Photo: Coolcaesar)

The institute will expand UCLA Law’s course offerings in human rights studies, enhance hands-on programs in human rights law and policy, publish research and policy assessments, bring experienced human rights scholars and practitioners to UCLA Law as faculty members and guest speakers, support students through fellowships and scholarships, and host symposia and related events.

UCLA Law students and faculty currently work with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Food and on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance; and with human rights organizations in countries including Bangladesh, Honduras, India and South Africa.

“This visionary gift is a giant step toward making UCLA Law the premier center for human rights in Southern California,” said UCLA Law Dean Jennifer Mnookin. “While the school already has a strong record of human rights scholarship and activity, the Promise Institute will greatly enhance our program and have an impact felt around the world. Dr. Esrailian and the makers of ‘The Promise’ have shown extraordinary leadership, and we are thrilled that their commitment permits us to launch an institute that promises to grow into a major academic crossroads for human rights.”

The gift announcement is being made on the same day that UCLA Law is hosting a conference on contemporary challenges to human rights, and just four days before the film opens on screens across the U.S. The Promise is set during the Armenian genocide, which began in 1915, when more than 1.5 million people perished in an atrocity driven by ethnic and religious intolerance. It is directed by Terry George (director and co-writer of “Hotel Rwanda”) and stars Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, Christian Bale, Shohreh Aghdashloo and an international cast.

Esrailian produced The Promise with Phoenix Pictures chairman and fellow UCLA alumnus Mike Medavoy and veteran film producer William Horberg.

Esrailian and Anthony Mandekic, president and CEO of Tracinda Corporation, are also the co-managers of Survival Pictures, which was founded by the late Los Angeles businessman and legendary philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian. Survival Pictures was established to tell this story of perseverance and human endurance, and it has begun a campaign to teach the public about the genocides and mass atrocities of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Support for the Promise Institute is part of the $4.2 billion Centennial Campaign for UCLA, which is scheduled to conclude in Dec. 2019 during UCLA’s 100th anniversary year.


This article first appeared in the UCLA Newsroom on April 17.

6 Comments on The Promise Institute for Human Rights to be Launched at UCLA School of Law After $20 Million Gift

  1. avatar Leo Manuelian // April 18, 2017 at 11:36 am // Reply

    How about preparing attorneys to present to the European Court of Human Rights (I think that is the correct forum), the Armenian Government’s case against Turkey for reparations? Can they do this?

    • I am guessing that the UCLA school of law will use the money to file many lawsuits against Turkey for its violations of human rights and that it will impose a boycott on Turkey until Turkey gives full reparations for the Armenian genocide. Hopefully, UCLA will not allow its lawyers to represent Turkey or travel there.

  2. Great initiative. Thank you all concerned. This is what is needed. Turn it back to the community and educate the masses of the injustices that were done against our people and that continue to be done against other peoples of the world.
    The film industry in the service of justice and human rights. This is what SR Socially Relevant Film Festival stands for and fully applauds.

    • Nora, I would like to see 1/2 of the $20 million donated to inner cities, such as the African American neighborhood of South Central Los Angeles and also in Chicago which has seen so many fatal shootings under the leadership of Mayor Rahm Emmanuel.
      Another part of the $20 million can go to aid Israel and Palestinians, and to rebuild the Christian and Kurdish neighborhoods of Syria.
      Some money could also be spent to return Armenian refugees to Syria and Iraq under the protection of United Nations and American troops.

  3. avatar Peter Nazarian // April 19, 2017 at 6:07 pm // Reply

    Disappointing is not the word. When have university programs such as conflict resolution centers, human rights institutes or even Armenian Studies programs resulted in facilitating restorative justice for the Armenians? And, incidentally, many of these programs do not even employ/place Armenians on their staffs or decision-making bodies. I call this snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The expected funds raised from the proceeds of the Promise could even have been put towards erecting an Armenian Genocide Museum in DC….something we still, shamefully, do not have.

  4. avatar Peter Nazarian // April 20, 2017 at 10:55 am // Reply

    Koko, I disagree. All $20 million should go to Holocaust research, employing Turkish scholars and creating LGBT safe spaces.

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