Human rights provide a fundamental framework for understanding concepts of justice, fairness and equality, and all countries as members of the United Nations have agreed to govern in respect of human rights. And yet, human rights are in crisis, with human rights abuses a daily occurrence in many forms, in all corners of the world. We may be familiar with some of the heinous crimes reported on the news of individuals’ rights denied through arbitrary arrest, unfair trials, enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment and killings, and specific groups that suffer pervasive human rights abuses (i.e. racial minorities, LGBTI+ persons, women, indigenous persons). We may be less informed of the day to day and systemic human rights abuses that deny individuals of their rights to social and economic freedoms, and the multiplying factors impacting human rights deprivations for those living in poverty. In practice, we more often consider human rights when they are threatened. How individuals, States, non-governmental groups, political organizations, transnational corporations, etc., think and respond to the need for human rights protection measures impacts our development, and the freedoms we seek or hold as individuals and groups.
In studying Human Rights and Global Affairs, we explore a crisis in understanding, as well as practice, of human rights. It starts from asking the question: do we have a clear enough picture of what human rights are and why they matter? In asking this question, we approach the first major problem to be addressed, how does the knowledge of human rights protect the freedoms we enjoy?
We will examine the international human rights framework and how in practice it has evolved, particularly on the intersections of ethics, politics and law. We will look at the responsibilities of both State and non-State actors in the application of human rights protections. In doing so, we will seek to understand challenges in human rights implementation, in relation to specific lived realities, by exploring particular contexts, problems and places. We will explore particular cases where states have failed to protect their citizens; other cases where human rights have flourished; and we will explore how civil society, transnational networks, and an emerging global community continues to fight hard battles for the protection of human rights across the globe.
Students by the end of the course will be well prepared to engage in debates around human rights, confident in their understanding of ‘what human rights are’, and thinking critically in response to the question ‘Do human rights matter?’. Through an understanding of what human rights we as human beings are entitled to, we gain better understanding of our own identities, and better understanding of the struggles in our own community, our wider country of residence, and those in other nations within our collective global society.
Department: Political Science
Semesters: Fall, Spring