the Goshen College Bulletin | Alumni magazine since 1956

Photo of Jo BeckerWaging justice for children
through advocacy

by Jo Becker with Rachel Lapp

Jo Becker '85 is the Children's Rights Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, an organization that conducts systematic investigations of human rights abuses in about 70 countries around the world including the United States. The Children's Rights Division focuses specifically on abuses against children, including abusive child labor, the use of children as soldiers, conditions in institutions (including detention centers and orphanages), police abuse against street children and more.

"My job is to work for an end to these abuses by raising their visibility in the media and with the public," said Becker, "working on campaigns and trying to influence decision-makers ... to change policies and practices."

Becker was interviewed by Linda Wertheimer on National Public Radio's June 12, 2001, broadcast of "All Things Considered" about the organization's report that about 300,000 children under the age of 18 are actively participating in armed conflicts in over 40 countries around the globe (see the archives of "All Things Considered" at

"The work I'm doing is important to me because I believe I have a responsibility to respond to the injustices in the world. I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to work for positive change. [It] can be enormously rewarding," Becker continued. "The work can also be difficult and discouraging when despite your best efforts, some things don't change. But I'd rather work for the things I believe in [than] be passive."

After attending an international school in Canada and studying in China, Becker transferred to GC as a junior. This combination, she says, helped lead her to devote her career to working "for peace, justice and human rights."

Becker, a psychology major, noted that an influential part of her Goshen experience was working with the Peace Society (now Pax Club) and Goshen Student Women's Association. "We organized a lot of campus events and activities, including a petition drive against U.S. intervention in Central America, a convo on women's spirituality and a bus to go to an anti-nuclear rally in Chicago," she said.
Through an assignment for a women's studies class, she learned many of the "organizing skills that one needs as an activist." Instead of writing a final paper, Becker and a classmate coordinated a one-day conference on women and health.

During Becker's senior year, Professor of Bible and Religion Don Blosser encouraged her to investigate an internship with Fellowship Of Reconciliation in New York, an interfaith peace and justice organization since 1915 bringing together Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and others committed to nonviolence. Becker spent 12 years with the FOR - first as an intern working on youth and militarism issues, then as a staff member coordinating youth programs and a liaison to local chapters. After a sabbatical to earn a master's degree in political science at Syracuse University, Becker served for four years as FOR's youngest - and first female - director.

Among the significant projects Becker was involved in while at FOR include:

Organizing annual youth delegations to the former U.S.S.R. between 1986 and 1990 for a reconciliation program; several Goshen students took part in this "citizen diplomacy" initiative.
A speaking tour of Soviet veterans of the Afghanistan war who had come to believe that war was wrong; the tour involved several states, including a visit to GC.

Heading up a delegation of FOR members that traveled to Japan for the 50th anniversary of the atomic bombings. Seven thousand Americans signed an open letter of repentance, apologizing for the suffering caused by the bombing, which she presented to the mayor of Nagasaki and city officials in Hiroshima.

A main focus of her current work with Human Rights Watch has been an international campaign to end the use of child soldiers. Said Becker, "Human Rights Watch joined with a number of other organizations - including Amnesty International, the Quaker United Nations Office and Save the Children, among others - to get this issue into the media, organize conferences and research from campaigns in about 30 countries. I was particularly involved in trying to shift the position of the United States, which was initially opposed to the ban."

In July of last year, after a U.N. treaty was negotiated on recruitment and the combat use of child soldiers, Becker was invited to a ceremony to see President Clinton sign an agreement on behalf of the United States.