LAW 273 – International Human Rights Law

Quarter: Winter 2020
Instructor: E. Tendayi Achiume / Kate Mackintosh

Many of the most significant and troubling trends in international law and international relations today center on fundamental questions of human rights. The rise of international human rights mechanisms in the twentieth century created a new paradigm through which to consider long-standing international problems. Whether in terms of the protection of individual or group rights, conflicts over resources, privileges and power are now increasingly mediated through the lens of human rights. This course serves as an introduction to the law, theory and practice of international human rights, together with the instruments, organizations and arrangements that affect their implementation and enforcement. Beginning with a consideration of the philosophical origins of the concept of human rights, the course will examine the process by which sovereign nation-states have come to recognize an increasing number of human rights instruments and doctrine as part of positive international law, sometimes with binding effect on their domestic legal systems. The course will cover the development and implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the two International Covenants on Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and the various regional or subject-specific human rights instruments in the contemporary international system. We will critically consider the extent to which the standards set out in these texts reflect a genuine international consensus on the content of human rights that is conducive to enforcement. In this context, the course will also focus on the many disagreements about the definition and scope of particular rights and the problems encountered when individuals attempt to invoke human rights standards in international and domestic legal institutions.