Human rights emerged after WW2 as the international community sought to protect and promote the dignity of all human beings. The rights of humanity are said to be universal, regardless of nationality, race, culture or other factors. These rights are not only civil and political; they also relate to economic, social and cultural concerns. Special regimes for the rights of women and for children have also developed.
Yet while many would generally agree with the aspirations of human rights, their particulars are enmeshed in controversy. There are concerns, especially among developing nations, that human rights have become a weapon for Western countries to unfairly criticize and sanction them, and to interfere in their domestic politics. There is an argument, especially among Asian governments, that human rights should differ because their culture and level of development differs.
On the other hand, despite the emergence of human rights, many violations continue. There are some who therefore call for more to be done for human rights to be implemented, rather than just declared, and for justice against human rights offenders.
As such, there are as continuing differences over some interpretations of human rights norms at the same time that there are calls for more effective implementation and punishment.
To what extent are fears of Western interference justified? To what degree can human rights be different from one society or region to another while still being “universal”? Why do human rights violations continue and what can be done to stop them? Can the international system change the norms and laws within a state, and enforce those new laws and norms?
The course will survey human rights to provide the student with an understanding of the development of international human rights law and policy, and the institutions and practices that have evolved to seek the compliance of states. It will focus on the United Nations and major human rights treaties. It will also consider unilateral actions by Western countries and the perspectives of developing nations, especially those in ASEAN.
The Human Rights course has three main aims, as follows:
1) To provide an overview of human rights, the violations and problems it seeks to address in protecting and promoting human dignity, outline international law and trace the development of human rights law in contrast and connection to law at the national level.
2) To examine established and emerging principles of human rights law, the challenge of cultural relativism and of differences in economic development, and to consider if there is an agreed core of human rights
3) To consider how human rights are interpreted and enforced in different courts and political settings, at the international, regional and national levels.
More generally, it may help students appreciate different perspectives on not simply what law is, but how rights are claimed and laws are dynamically reshaped. The course targets policy-makers as well as those who will work for or advise governments and multinationals. It will be of particular interest to law students with a background or interest in international law and institutions, and constitutional law.