Wayne State University Law School Professor Peter Hammer is taking his human rights work far beyond Detroit with a recent appointment to the Board of Directors of the Center for Khmer Studies in Cambodia.
Travel to Cambodia is nothing new for Hammer, director of Wayne Law’s Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights. He’s also chairman of the nonprofit, non-governmental organization Life and Hope Association, a program to educate and care for disadvantaged women and children in Siem Reap, Cambodia. He has spent a part of every summer there for several years. And he’s been doing grassroots work for justice and human rights in Cambodia since 1993. Hammer also is the founding member and past president of Legal Aid of Cambodia, a nonprofit group offering free legal services to Cambodia’s poor.
He will visit Cambodia in January to fulfill his new obligations with the Center for Khmer Studies.
“The center originally began with an emphasis on history and archeology,” Hammer said. “It has extended to areas of social science, law and policy. My election to the board signals an effort to deepen and extend these efforts.”
In 2007, Hammer was a visiting professor at the center, which is within the temple complex of Wat Damnak in Siem Reap, where the Life and Hope Association also has its headquarters.
“It was in working at the Center for Khmer Studies and conducting research on the role of Buddhist wats (monasteries) in Cambodian economic development that I first met and started work with the monks at Life and Hope,” Hammer said. “My role on both boards will help strengthen their connection. There are research and service opportunities Life and Hope can fashion for the center. There are connections to higher education that the center can help establish for the graduates of Life and Hope programs.”
All of this work fits in well with Wayne Law’s Program for International Legal Studies, its strong commitment of service to the community and to the civil rights work of the Keith Center, he said.
“At the Keith Center, we are committed to education as a civil right,” Hammer said. “The work of the Center for Khmer Studies is not only to study Cambodia but to help strengthen its capacity for higher education. Life and Hope is committed to creating educational opportunities for vulnerable children and at-risk young women. While one set of projects is in Southeast Asia and the other is in Southeast Michigan, I see more similarities in mission than differences. One is just a longer commute.”
His efforts in Detroit and Cambodia all work into the context of his research, which is focused on civil rights, human rights and economic development.
In 2009, Hammer led a Center for Khmer Studies project and edited its publication, “Living on the Margins: Minorities and Borderlines in Cambodia and Southeast Asia.” He recently had an article (written with Ian Baird), “Contracting Illness: Reassessing International Donor-Initiated Health Service Experiments in Cambodia’s Indigenous Periphery,” published in Southeast Asia Research.
In the coming spring he will present a paper at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting titled “Shadows of Ideological Empiricism: Reconsidering an Asian Development Bank Health Policy Experiment in Cambodia.” He also has been commissioned to contribute a chapter in a new book examining the role of minorities in Southeast Asia titled “The Chinese in Cambodia: Economic and Political Inclusion and Exclusion in the Post-Independence Era.”
At Wayne Law, Hammer teaches courses that include Race Law and Social Change in Southeast Michigan, International Organizations & Public Health and other health policy courses. He holds a doctorate in economics and a law degree, both from the University of Michigan. He started teaching at Wayne Law in 2003, when he helped redesign the law school’s growing health law curriculum.