Document Type

Graduate Syllabus


Spring 2017



Course Number

DIPL 6140

Course Description

What are human rights? What do they promise and how often is that promise achieved? This class will examine the law, politics, policy, and advocacy practices of human rights. Although much of our class will focus on human rights as law and through legal mechanisms and institutions, we will also analyze the political, policy, and philosophical implications of human rights. On the legal front, we will explore the role of international and domestic law in enacting and enforcing human rights claims, the institutions of international human rights law, and the relationships between different types or “generations” of rights. In the realms of both law and policy, we will be examining the stories told about human rights – what it does, what it can do, what’s wrong or right about it, how it helps some groups, to whom it applies and when. Throughout the course, we will pay special attention to the dilemmas of human rights: what happens when rights conflict? How can one most effectively mobilize a human rights agenda and what tools might you have at your disposal? Can human rights help us respond to poverty, inequality, waves of refugees, or mass atrocity? Are human rights about emancipation and liberation or about neo-colonialism and global inequity? Or all of the above?

We will be reading both legal cases and materials and scholarly commentary on the meaning and practice of human rights. By the end of the semester, students will have developed knowledge of the key concepts, doctrines and debates involved in the study of international human rights law. Students will also develop familiarity with legal reasoning and analysis. Moreover, the course will also help students to develop critical reading, research, and writing faculties that extend beyond the legal field. Students will learn how to think like a lawyer, like a critic, and like an advocate – and sometimes how to think like all three at the same time. As a movement, a set of institutions, and a body of law, human rights promises a great deal. We will take those promises seriously as we ask how, whether, and where they are disappointed or fulfilled.