What is a human right? Is it something that is universal and automatically conferred by the very fact that one is human? Or is it something that must be contextualized within a culture? And does it matter that our idea of rights has been largely developed by white men in Western countries? Can there be such a thing as a universal right?

Further, has our idea of what constitutes a right gone too far? Is there really a right to water? To play? To a vacation? Or are we simply enshrining things that are simply “nice to have”? If so, what does this mean for the future of “rights”?

Seminar Questions:

  1. What is the role of international law in international society?
  2. How has international law changed since 1945?
  3. What challenges has the war on terror posed for international law?
  4. Is international law effective?


Baylis, Smith and Owens, The Globalization of World Politics, Chapter 30.

C. Brown, Sovereignty, Rights and Justice, 2002, Chapter 7

Charter 2008

H. Shue, Basic Rights: subsistence, affluence, and U.S. foreign policy, 1996.

Other Readings:

Bauer, J.R and D. A. Bell eds. The East Asian Challenge for Human Rights, 1999. 

C. Brown, Understanding International Relations,  Chapters 10 and 11

R. Coomaraswamy, “To Bellow like a Cow: Women, Ethnicity, and hte Discourse of Human Rights”, in R. Cook, (ed.) Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, 1994.   

T. Dunne, & N. Wheeler eds, Human Rights in Global Politics, 1999.

D. Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations, 2006.

Review of International Studies (January 2007) Special section on women and human rights.

R. J. Vincent, Human Rights and International Relations, 1986.

Suggested Movie: Ghandi (1982) – Biography of Mohandas K. Gandhi, the lawyer who became the famed leader of the Indian revolts against the British rule through his philosophy of nonviolent protest.