GOVT-321 Human Rights
Spring for 2007-2008
In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. To many, this document signaled the beginning of a new era in which genocide, torture, and other crimes against humanity would cease. But in the past half-century the Declaration’s great promise has not been realized. Worldwide, the past decades have brought contentious debates about the nature of human rights, the justification of human rights, and the ways diverse cultures define and respect human rights. Ongoing practices such as human trafficking, torture, capital punishment and female genital mutilation drive wedges into the aspirations of the Declaration. And, our collective failure to prevent or even respond to genocide in Rwanda, Darfur and other places suggest that we may be no closer to the aspirations of the Declaration than in the aftermath of World War II. Now, at the beginning of the new millennium, the culture of human rights has become a culture in crisis.
The purpose of this course is to analyze this crisis from the perspectives of government, literature, philosophy, and international law. We will begin by examining the origins and development of human rights, the expression of rights claims in literature, and the legal status of rights under United States domestic law and international law. Then we will analyze elements of the human rights crisis, looking at specific issues of genocide, dire poverty, the oppression of women, the status and treatment of detainees in the Iraqi War and the “Global War on Terrorism,” and social reconstruction after widespread rights violations. We will analyze tensions between universal and culturally-specific definitions of rights, state sovereignty and humanitarian intervention, and skepticism about the efficacy of cross-cultural communication and the prospects for creating human solidarity. Finally, we will look forward at future directions in human rights discourse and practice.
Note: 25 students will be enrolled through the English department, and 50 through the Government department, for a class size of 75.
This course counts toward the International Relations distribution requirement.
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