Human Rights

Key Concepts

human rights
international law
minority rights
humanitarian intervention

Syllabus Outline

Knowledge of the role and significance of human rights in international/global politics, of how, and the extent to which, human rights are protected by international law and international courts.

Knowledge of the growth of humanitarian intervention in recent international politics and of the case for and against forcible humanitarian intervention.

Knowledge of the way human rights have been interpreted and used by different cultural groups.

Scheme of Work

Human Rights — knowledge of the role and significance of human rights in global politics and the role of international courts in promoting human rights; awareness of infringements of human rights and notably the impact of the ‘war on terror’.

International Law — the system of rules that are regarded as binding on states and non-state actors in their interrelations. Idealists believe that international law and international institutions such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) could provide the basis for an orderly society of states, where international law could solve disputes before they escalate into military conflict. Realists refer to the lack of authority, legislature, police force and judiciary. However, for centuries, international law has developed to promote such a society of states with rules and procedures to regulate the everyday interaction of states. Almost all states abide by these rules almost all of the time.

Humanitarian Intervention — knowledge of the growth of humanitarian intervention since 1990; awareness of the relevant arguments concerning military intervention for the purpose of defending human rights.

Content Explanation and Advice

Human Rights

Nature of human rights (fundamental, universal and absolute rights; rooted in liberal individualism and idea of foundational equality); 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights; 1950 European Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; types or ‘generations’ of human rights (political and civil rights; economic and social rights and cultural or solidarity rights); tensions between and among rights (are economic rights human rights?; positive and negative rights; can human rights be collective?; the status of ‘special’ rights and women’s rights, etc).

International/global implications of human rights (demands of humanity on all humanity; obligation of government to comply with, and further realization of, human rights; setting standards for governments, e.g. in terms of aid and trade policies and possibly intervention); strengthening of human rights regime during post-Cold War era, etc.

Protecting human rights – tension between norm of sovereignty and norm of universal domestic standards; capacity of states, particularly major states (China, Russia, etc) to resist international pressure; role of international law (war crimes. crimes against humanity, genocide,; Hague and Geneva Conventions, etc); performance of international courts (International Court of Justice, International Criminal Court); human rights and the 'war on terror' (Guantanamo; use of torture; 'extraordinary rendition'; etc; balance between public safety and human rights; violation of human rights a ‘lesser evil'?, etc). impact of human rights NGOs (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, etc); effectiveness of the UN’s human rights regime, double-standards in protection of human rights, etc.

Universal rights challenged – western criticisms of human rights (realist, communitarian, feminist critiques); post-colonial criticisms of human rights (Islam and cultural critique of human rights; Asian values as alternative to human rights; human rights and 'clash of
civilizations', etc.

Humanitarian Intervention

Rise of humanitarian intervention – nature of humanitarian intervention; early examples of humanitarian intervention (Bangladesh; Cambodia, etc); growth of humanitarian intervention in the 1990s ('new world order'; role of the media and public opinion; growth in civil strife and ethnic conflict in post-Cold War world; successful and unsuccessful humanitarian interventions (Northern Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, Kosovo, Sierra Leone, etc); impact of 'non-interventions' (impact of Rwanda and Bosnia on global public opinion); humanitarian intervention and the 'war on terror' (Afghanistan and Iraq).

Basis for humanitarian intervention – novel version of 'just war' theory (protect others ('save strangers') rather than self-defence); human rights trump state sovereignty (liberal interventionism); circumstances in which intervention is justified (‘responsibility to protect’ principles, prevention of genocide, war crimes and ethnic cleansing; role of UN Security Council); regional stability; democracy promotion, etc.

Criticisms of humanitarian intervention – realist critique (states are, and should be, self-interested; humanitarianism a pretext for pursuit of national interests); no basis in international law; prudential concerns (making things worse not better; inconsistent application of humanitarian principles (double-standards), etc.