Many of the most significant and troubling trends in international law and international relations today center on fundamental questions of human rights. The rise of international human rights mechanisms in the twentieth century created a new paradigm through which to consider long-standing international problems. Whether in terms of the protection of individual or group rights, conflicts over resources, privileges and power are now increasingly mediated through the lens of human rights. This course serves as an introduction to the law, theory and practice of international human rights, together with the instruments, organizations and arrangements that affect their implementation and enforcement. Beginning with a consideration of the philosophical origins of the concept of human rights, the course will examine the process by which sovereign nation-states have come to recognize an increasing number of human rights instruments and doctrine as part of positive international law, sometimes with binding effect on their domestic legal systems. A significant focus of the course will be on the development and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the two International Covenants on Human Rights and the various regional or subject-specific human rights instruments in the contemporary international system. We will critically consider the extent to which the standards set out in these texts reflect a genuine international consensus on the content of human rights that is conducive to enforcement. In this context, the course will also focus on the many disagreements about the definition and scope of particular rights and the problems encountered when individuals attempt to invoke human rights standards in international and domestic legal institutions.
Topics that will be covered include: the universal or culturally particular nature of human rights; connections between civil, political, social, cultural and economic rights; major international and regional human rights instruments and institutions; the interpenetration of international and national human rights protection; institutional remedies in response to massive human rights violations; the roles and activities of nongovernmental organizations, multinationals and international financial institutions; and selected current issues in the field, ranging from the right to health to human rights and national security. The course will also survey the various mechanisms for the promotion, protection and implementation of international human rights, including those of international organizations (such as the United Nations), regional institutions (such as the European Union), and nongovernmental organizations (such as Human Rights Watch). Wherever possible, the discussion of international human rights law will relate to contemporary developments in human rights internationally as well as within the U.S., both domestically and in American foreign policy. The survey course in public international law, while not a prerequisite, is strongly recommended.