International Human Rights Law

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In this seminar, we will attempt to understand the ever increasing, but constantly contested, role of international law (as well as other modes of regulation and other forms of normativity) in the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights the world over, a world that was recently referred to as “our global neighbourhood” by the Commission on Global Governance. The seminar will proceed in three broad movements.  

In the first segment, we will grapple with the histories and policies that are relevant to the international legal protection of human and peoples’ rights. We will seek to locate, engage, and understand the underlying economic, socio-cultural and political forces that shaped, and continue to shape, both international human rights law and the world in which it operates. In pursuit of these objectives, we will, inter alia, consider the following facts/circumstances and reflect upon the following questions: we live in a world that is at once deeply multicultural and patently unequal, a world that is divided inter alia by race, gender, culture, and class-given these particularities, can the “international” (which claims universality) accommodate the “local” (which is particular)? Indeed, why (and to what extent) is the “international” an important element in the protection of human and peoples’ rights? How (and to what extent) is “law” relevant to the international protection of human rights – why do we not just resort to politics? A broad-based set of literature will be examined including African, Asian, Islamic, European, and Inter-American perspectives.

In the second segment, we will examine the various global-level and regional-level international normative texts (e.g. treaties), processes, and institutions that have been established to advance the cause of the international protection of human and peoples’ rights. We will attempt to understand the nature of their design, their functions, and their effectiveness. Our focus will be on the various global texts, norms, and institutions that exist (such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Human Rights Committee established under it), as well as on the African, European, and Inter-American Systems for the protection of human and peoples’ rights.

In the third and last segment, we analyze the lessons for both international human rights theory and practice that are decipherable from our examination of the literature and seminar discussions. In this context, we will focus on the practice of international human rights activism by states, groups, and individuals. We will also focus on the question of the possibility of the enthronement of a cosmopolitan international human rights ethos, of a “multicultural universality”.