Howard-Hassmann was born Rhoda Howard in Scotland. Her mother (Mary Byrne) was Scottish, her father (Helmut Hassmann, later Michael Howard) was a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. She was brought to Canada at a young age and attended public schools in Quebec and southern Ontario. She married Peter J. McCabe, an economist, in 1978, and is the mother of one son, born in 1981. In 1999 she changed her legal name from Rhoda E. Howard to Rhoda E. Hassmann, but she publishes her academic work as Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann. She has lived in Hamilton, Ontario since 1976.
Howard-Hassmann attended four high schools: T.A. Blakelock (Oakville, Ontario); Bell High School (Ottawa, Ontario): Ripley District High School (Ripley, Ontario); and Stanford Collegiate and Vocational Institute (Niagara Falls, Ontario). She attended McGill University from 1965 to 1976, earning a BA in Political Science (1969), an MA in Sociology (1972), and a PhD in Sociology (1976). Her master's supervisor was Donald Von Eschen and her doctoral supervisor was Immanuel Wallerstein.
Howard-Hassmann taught in the Department of Sociology at the University of Calgary for one year (1975–76), after which she spent 27 years (1976-2003) as a professor in the Department of Sociology, McMaster University. She originated and directed McMaster's now- defunct undergraduate minor Theme School on International Justice and Human Rights (1993–99), one of the world's first undergraduate non-law programs in human rights.
Since 2003, Dr. Howard-Hassmann has held a Canada Research Chair in International Human Rights at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. There she held a joint appointment in the Department of Global Studies and the Balsillie School of International Affairs until 2014, when her appointment changed to the School of International Policy and Governance (part of the Balsillie School) and the Department of Political Science.
Howard-Hassmann has held several visiting research and teaching appointments. She conducted doctoral research in Ghana in 1974 and 1977 for her Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana. She was a visiting scholar at the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University, South Africa in August 1992, and she was visiting scholar at the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, University of Utrecht, from July through December 2000. She was Marsha Lilien Gladstein Distinguished Visiting Professor of Human Rights at the University of Connecticut (2001); James Farmer Visiting Professor of Human Rights at the University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, Virginia (2003); and Torgny Segerstedt Visiting Professor of Human Rights, University of Goteborg, Sweden (2005).
Howard-Hassmann has been a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada since 1993. In 2014 she was named Distinguished Scholar of Human Rights by the Human Rights Section of the International Studies Association. In 2013 she received the Sir John William Dawson Medal for Interdisciplinary Research from the Royal Society of Canada. In 2006 she was named the first Distinguished Scholar of Human Rights by the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association.
In 2010, as a Senior Editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Howard-Hassmann shared in the honour of receiving the Dartmouth Medal from the Reference and User Services Association. In 2007 her co-edited (with Claude E. Welch, Jr.) work Economic Rights in Canada and the United States was named a Notable Contribution to Human Rights by the United States Network of Human Rights, a coalition of 200 human rights non-governmental organizations. In 2004 Howard-Hassmann received the Outstanding Book in Human Rights Award from the Human Rights Section of the American Political Science Association for her book Compassionate Canadians: Civil Leaders Discuss Human Rights. In 1989 her book Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa received an Honourable Mention for the Joel Gregory Book Prize from the Canadian Association of African Studies.
Howard-Hassmann has also won the 1993 Teaching Award in the Arts and Sciences Faculty of McMaster University.
Howard-Hassmann is the author and editor of several books and articles on international human rights.
Her books include:*Please note that before 1999 she published as Rhoda E Howard
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2010). Can Globalization Promote Human Rights?. University Park, PA: Penn State University Press. ISBN 0271037393.
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann; Anthony P. Lombardo (2008). Reparations to Africa. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 0812241010.
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (2003). Compassionate Canadians: Civic Leaders Discuss Human Rights. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0802036643.
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (1995). Human Rights and the Search for Community. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 081332579X.
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (1986). Human Rights in Commonwealth Africa. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. ISBN 0847674339.
- Rhoda Howard-Hassmann (1978). Colonialism and Underdevelopment in Ghana. Boulder, CO: Holmes & Meier Pub. ISBN 0841903875.
She is also co-editor of The Age of Apology: Facing Up to the Past (2008); Economic Rights in Canada and the United States (2006); and The International Handbook of Human Rights (1987), as well as Slippery Citizenship (with Margaret Walton-Roberts) (in press).
Howard-Hassmann's interests over the years have included African studies, human rights in Canada, Canadian foreign and refugee policy, development and globalization studies, comparative genocide studies, women's studies, gay and lesbian studies, reparative justice and official apologies, human security, and theoretical and methodological issues in human rights.
Website, blog and poetry
Since 2005 Howard-Hassmann has maintained a website on political apologies, which contains descriptive documents on various apologies by governments, religious organizations, corporations and others, as well as links to the actual apologies themselves or to press reports about them.
Since 2012 she has also maintained a blog, Rights & Rightlessness: Rhoda Hassmann on Human Rights.
First as Rhoda Howard and as of 1999 as Rhoda Hassmann, she has also published the occasional poem, mostly in local journals in her home city in Hamilton, Ontario. Some of her poetry can be found in the website of the Tower Poetry Society.
From 1987 to 1992 Howard-Hassmann was co-editor and editor (in both English and French) of the Canadian Journal of African Studies, and she remains on its editorial board. As of 2014 she was a member of the editorial boards of Human Rights and the Global Economy, Human Rights and Human Welfare, Human Rights Quarterly, Human Rights Review, Journal of Human Rights , and the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights. She was also a Senior Editor of the Oxford University Press Encyclopedia of Human Rights (2009).
Consulting and volunteering
Howard-Hassmann has conducted human rights training sessions for the Canadian Human Rights Foundation and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in Sweden. She has also posted scenarios on cultural relativism and human rights on her Wilfrid Laurier University website for other scholars to use in teaching. In the early 1990s she wrote two reports on human rights for Canada's then–Department of External Affairs. She also acted as a consultant for the establishment of undergraduate programs in human rights at the University of Connecticut, Emory University, University of Dayton and the University of Nebraska. In 1990 she took part in an American delegation to the Institute of State and Law, Moscow. In 2007 she was a member of a delegation on human rights from the now defunct NGO, Rights and Democracy (Montreal) to the Communist Party School in Beijing.
Howard-Hassmann was a member of the Anti-Discrimination Committee of the City of Hamilton, 1991-1996. In 1999-2000 she taught citizenship classes for immigrants in Hamilton.
- "Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann". Government of Canada.
- "Dr. Rhoda Howard-Hassmann". Royal Society of Canada.
- "Current Research". Wilfrid Laurier University.
- "Political Apologies and Reparations". Wilfrid Laurier University.
- "Rights & Rightlessness: Rhoda Hassmann on Human Rights". Blogspot.