PADM 5855. International Human Rights

Current as of February 12, 2018

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Master Schedule of Sessions and Assignments

Course Approach

The course looks at the origins and operation of the international human rights system developed primarily through the United Nations. It looks at the history of the way in which human rights are defined, how their content is agreed by governments and how they are enforced through international bodies and the work of non-governmental organizations. After a general introduction to the concept of human rights, and a review of the history of their formulation, subsequent sessions will look at specific groups of human rights, including some now being defined, and how they are dealt with.


Learning Outcomes

Students will have the following outcomes from the course:

1. They will describe, in detail, taking context into account, how the international human rights system works

2. Students will demonstrate how, through NGOs and governments, they can influence the drafting of human rights treaties and their enforcement through supervisory committees.

3. They will analyze in internationallly-acceptable ways, the relationship between human rights and other development issues, policies and programs.

4. They will draft critical analyses of human rights institutions in terms of institutional structure and management that can be used by practitioners and interntional managers.

Requirements Each student will be expected to participate in a live session (in the classroom or on-line), answer weekly questions, participate in a simulation of enforcing a specific type of human rights and produce a study of a specific human rights institution. The topic should be decided early so that the participant can focus on that in the discussions of tools and functions. The final version of the paper will be due by e-mail by the end of the course.
Course Organization

The course will largely be based on scheduled in-person sessions (which can also be joined on-line) with the professor. Students are expected to participate in the weekly sessions -- in-person or on-line. A recording of each session will be posted the day after the session for those who could not attend. A lecture text will be put up on the site by the Monday prior to the session..

The first session of the course will be held on 24 January 2018 at 11:40 a.m. in a room to be assigned.


Participants are requested to purchase one text:

  • Franke Wilmer, Human Rights in International Politics: An Introduction, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2015

Participants may also want to purchase:

  • Richard K. Ghere, NGO Leadership and Human Rights, Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2013

Other required Internet and recommended readings will be referenced.

Simulation Participants will be part of a simulation for the first half of the course, working in teams, some representing a human rights body, others a country or countries presenting their compliance reports.. It will emphasize reviewing state reporting to a human rights treaty body. The simulation will involve creating a series of questions to be asked of governments, as well as the government answers to the questions and will conclude with a session simulating how human rights treaty bodies undertake the review. There will be weekly sessions to discuss areas of questions.
Responses to Session Questions For each of the weekly sessions, there are a series of questions to be addressed. Students are expected to provide short, one-sentence answers to each of the questions and send them to the graduate assistant for the course.
Final paper The final paper for the semester consists of a detailed analysis of a human rights body, including its origins, structure and issues relating to how to make it more effective..

In a graduate level course, the grade should be determined by whether the concepts and techniques being taught have been learned, found useful and used by the student. However, since the University requires grades, the course grade will be based on the following. Please note that a first draft of the final paper must be submitted on time for comments. Failure to do so reduces the grade.

Final paper
Participation in the simulation
Participation in the discussions and responses to session questions


Master Schedule of Sessions and Assignments

Week Section of course/Content of the session
24 January 2018 1. Opening Session: Human rights, their definition and enforcement- the case of women's rights. The opening session will be a case study of how human rights have been defined, agreed and set up for enforcement by looking at the case of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), drawing on the professor's personal work with the Commmittee on the Elimination of Discrimination of Women, the main enforcement review body.
  The political context of human rights. This section of the course will discuss how human rights became defined, how institutions were estabished to monitor them, the role of international secretariats and of non-governmental organizations in enforcement..
31 January 2018 2. What are human rights and where have they come from? This session will discuss the origins of human rights, starting from religious agreements, through medieval agreements like the Magna Carta, the Rights of Man of the French Revolution, the United States Constitution, through labor conventions after World War I, to the 1948 United Nations Declaration on Human Rights. It will also look at them in terms of realist and functionalist theories of international relations to place them in the larger context of international order.There will be no class on 29 January as the professor will be at the United Nations in New York.
5 February 2018

3. Negotiation of human rights and definition of enforcement mechanisms This session will look at the process of defining international human rights after the UN Declaration, particularly on the how the eight United Nations human rights conventions were agreed. It will look particularly at the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that were agreed in 1966. It will also look at difference between countries using a continental legal system and those using a common law system. It will look particularly at why the United States has only ratified three of the eight conventions.

12 February 2018

4. Enforcement mechanisms, pro and contra including the role of secretariats and NGOs This session will look at the range of enforcement mechanisms for human rights, includng broad intergovernmental bodies like the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, the human rights treaty bodies, the function of Special Rapporteurs, the role of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her office as well as specialized secretariats like the International Labour Office. It will pay attention to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Amnesty International and, Human Right Watch.

21 February 2018

Summary Session. This session will discuss the simulation.

  Specific human rights areas: In each area, we will discuss the specific rights involved, how they emerged and what they mean, as well as the bodies monitoring them and the role of international secretariats and NGO's. The section is organized around the specific rights that have already been agreed or are in process.
26 February 2018 5. Civil and Political Rights. This session will examine the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the working of the Human Rights Council and the Human Rights Commitee, as well as relevant Special Rapporteurs. It will look particularly at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
5 March 2018

6. Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This sesssion will look at the content of the Coventant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that is supposed to enforce it. One of the issues to discuss is whether things like employment, health and education are rights (as the Coventant states) or merely objectives (a position taken by the United States in refusing to ratify it). The role of ILO labor rights conventions will also be discussed. Topic of final paper due. Should be a Word document with last name, first name and subject in the title and include a brief description of why the human rights institution was chosen.

12 March 2018

7. Torture. This session will look at the United Nations Convention on Torture, and its companion committee. There will be a focus on how torture is defined, the role of NGOs in dealing with it. One issue to discuss was the position of the United States, when making its regular report to the Committee, on water-boarding and other methods used after 9/11.

19 March 2018 8. Women's Rights. This session will follow up the first session's discussion of CEDAW by focusing on the workings of the CEDAW committee through the analysis of State-Party reports and the committee's comments on them. It will look at how different countries, like Norway and Saudi Arabia, see how the rights set out in the Convention are to be implemented. It will look at how issues not formally addressed in the original convention, like violence against women, have been incorporated into the Convention through the work of the Commitee. It will also examine the input of the UN Secretariat in Geneva and several specialized NGOs in this.

26 March 2018

9. Rights of the Child. This session will examine the Convention, that has now been ratified by all but one State (the United States) and, in addition to the work of its monitoring committee, its connection with the work of UNICEF as an institution, as well as the ILO for the issue of child labor. . First outline of paper due.
9 April 2018 10. Persons with Disabilities. One of the most recent conventions deals with the rights of persons with disabilities. As the professor was involved in the negotiations of the convention, much of the discussion will focus on compromises made and the role of NGOs like Disability International and the World Blind Union in the process. Then, the session will look at the working of the monitoring committee.
16 April 2018 11. Migrant Workers and their Families.This convention is of importance due to the renewed problem of migration. The convention is in force, but almost none of the countries receiving migrants have ratified. The session will focus on the process of trying to engage non-ratifyng states. It will also look at the work of Special Rapporteurs on this issue.
23 April 2018 12. Aging Persons. Negotiations are underway to try to draft a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. The session will examine the negotiation process in the UN General Assembly and will also look at the role of NGOs like AARP in the process.. First draft of paper due. [Drafts will be reviewed in the order received but should not be late!]
30 April 2018

13. Climate change and environment. There has always been a connection between human rights and other political, economic and social issues, where giving people a right is one way of developing support for policies and programs to address a problem, at least partially by attaching responsibilities to the right. One of these is climate change and the session will look at what is happening to determine the rights and responsibilities of individuals and their governments in the context of the problem.

7 May 2018 14. Principles of International Human Rights: This session will be a wrap up, will involve selective presentation of several papers, and will discuss the main lessons that can be learned about creating, addressing and ensuring human rights..