PG 333

Human Rights and International Law

Human rights have become the dominant currency for moral argument and humanitarian action in foreign policy. Trade agreements, military interventions, and international criminal justice are now invariably pursued with reference, sincere or otherwise, to the idea of human rights. And yet there is little agreement on what human rights are and whether their advocates have the authority to change global political relations significantly. This course examines some of the major controversies surrounding human rights law in foreign policy and international politics. The course begins with conceptual questions relating to the content of human rights, their evolution, and their alleged universality. It addresses these topics in historical context, focusing in particular on eighteenth-century debates and the institutional developments in the mid-twentieth century that gave birth to the contemporary human rights system. The second part of the course considers the implementation and enforcement of human rights, with special attention to the limits posed by state sovereignty and the role of non-state actors in the practice of law-making. Finally, the course looks at major problems in international criminal justice and laws of war, including a discussion of recent events relating to the treatment of prisoners and the prohibition against torture. Students complete the course with a richer understanding of the complexity of human rights as an imperfect but inescapable vehicle for law and morality in international politics.

Prerequisites: PG 103.