Document Type

Undergraduate Syllabus


Spring 2022



Course Number

DIPL 4106 AB

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, focusing on the dilemmas that ensue. In addition to examining human rights as law, we will also analyze the political, policy, and philosophical implications of human rights. 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 of rights. Throughout the course, we will pay special attention to three sets of questions:

• How can one most effectively mobilize a human rights agenda? What tools do you have at your disposal? Is litigation the best way to promote a particular human right? UN monitoring? Criminal prosecution? Naming and shaming? Protest? Are human rights an end in themselves or one part of a larger strategy?

• Are human rights “part of the problem” or part of the solution? Do they mobilize or demobilize activism? Are human rights about universal guarantees, particularistic values, widespread dignity, neocolonial domination, or all of the above?

• Our world is facing unimaginable challenges: radical racial injustice, vast poverty and inequality, global health crises, threats to democracy, climate change, mass population movements, conflict and insecurity. Can a human rights agenda help us face up to those challenges? How? What should the future of human rights be?

While we will discuss many places, we will often focus on South Africa and the United States. South Africa’s experience during and after apartheid provides a key example of a national struggle for democracy and equality and of the constitutionalization of human rights. We examine the United States because it’s important to think about the context in which we are studying these issues, because the U.S. is a key player in international law and international relations, and because struggles for racial justice in the U.S. have long used the language of human rights.

By the end of the semester, students should have developed knowledge of the key concepts, doctrines and debates involved in the study of international human rights law. Students will build familiarity with legal reasoning and analysis; become skilled at identifying, critiquing, and developing legal arguments; and develop critical reading 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 frustrated or fulfilled.