Human Rights

B793 is taught by F. Istrabadi, C Ochoa, T. Waters

The idea of human rights has become one of the dominant organizing principles of the modern international system and in particular, the idea that human rights are a legal construct. Though its provisions are often ignored and its content contested, the claim that humans have certain rights which law protects has proved a powerful rhetorical and political device, which has been accepted and appropriated by actors around the world.

In this course, students will examine the foundations and practice of international human rights law. The first part of the course introduces basic concepts: sources, assumptions, justifications, aspirations and challenges for human rights. Then, through a small number of focused themes, students will explore the practical operation of those concepts as a legal-political system, agent of change, and instrument of power. In addition, the readings provide examples of the rhetorical, legal and institutional modes in which rights are discussed and implemented.

Current issues will be considered in historical and comparative perspective, with emphasis on the competing claims about the meaning and function of human rights in an international legal system, from both mainstream and outside perspectives. Two major themes will be explored throughout: challenges to the human rights orthodoxy, especially its notions of universalism and legitimacy; and the role of the inter-state system in defining and enforcing human rights.