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LSJ 320 A: The Politics And Law Of International Human Rights

Meeting Time: 
MWF 8:30am - 9:20am
ARC 147
Joint Sections: 
POL S 368 A
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

University of Washington, Autumn 2016





Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                    Lecture:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                    Architecture 147
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00 and Fri. 10:30-11:30                MWF 8:30

TAs: Mathieu Dubeau, David Lucas, Jennifer Noveck, Shanna Scherbinske

Overview: This course examines the emergence and development, since World War II, of an international movement dedicated to the defense of human rights. We will study the goals of the movement and the global political context in which it operates. Special attention will be given to the legal institutions, national and international, which have influenced its evolution and character. Students taking the course will acquire an enhanced understanding of the role in human rights politics played by the United Nations, national governments, non-governmental organizations, customary international law, treaty law, regional courts, and international tribunals.  

Resources: This is a core course for both the Law, Societies and Justice Major, and the Human Rights Minor. The UW Center for Human Rights promotes human rights through teaching, scholarship, and community partnerships.

Service Learning: Students who sign up for this voluntary program work a few hours each week with a local human rights organization, thereby acquiring direct practical experience with the issues discussed in class. Choosing the service learning option is one way to satisfy the experiential learning requirement of the Human Rights Minor. You can access the service learning website at .

Readings: Students are required to keep up with a full, though not unreasonable, schedule of readings. Reading assignments are keyed to lecture sessions, in which informed classroom discussion will play an integral role. (In other words, I expect you to be able to answer questions about the readings when called on to do so in lecture.)

Texts: Our texts are four books, on sale at the University Book Store, and a course packet, to be sold at Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way, NE. All four texts will be placed on reserve at Odegaard Undergraduate Library.

  • Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009)
  • Michael Goldhaber, A People’s History of the European Court of Human Rights (also available as an e-book on the University’s library online catalogue) (2007)
  • David Bosco, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics (2014)
  • Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo (2006)
  • Course Packet (to be sold at Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way, NE)

Please note that some assigned readings, though only available online, are still required.

Recommended Texts: It may be convenient to purchase a printed collection of major international human rights documents. I recommend any of the following, which can be found and purchased online: 25+ Human Rights Documents (Columbia University, 2005); Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents (Oxford University Press, 2012); Selected International Human Rights Instruments, ed. Weissbrodt et al. (LexisNexis or Anderson, various editions).

Quiz Sections: Quiz sections are your opportunity to explore and debate class material in greater depth, and to resolve any misunderstandings. Students are expected to attend quiz sections regularly and to contribute informed comments to class discussion.

Exams: There will be two in-class exams (Fri. Oct. 28 and Tue. Dec. 13) to test your knowledge and understanding of the course material. Study guides will be circulated in advance.

Research Paper: This assignment asks you to research a human rights topic using resources from the Internet. Detailed instructions appear below. Along with a paper copy, you will be asked to make an electronic submission. Instructions for doing so will be provided later in the term. Due on Tuesday, November 22.


Midterm Exam                        25%                 Fri. Oct. 28
Research Paper                      25%                Due in quiz section, Tue. Nov. 22
Final Exam                              35%                 Tue. Dec. 13, 8:30-10:20 am
Participation                           15%

Academic Integrity: Cheating and plagiarism are offenses against academic integrity and are subject to disciplinary action by the University. Plagiarism is copying someone else’s work and presenting it as your own (by not attributing it to its true source). If you are uncertain what constitutes plagiarism, please ask me or your TA. The Political Science/JSIS/LSJ/CHID Writing Center also offers guidance on plagiarism:

Students with Disabilities Provisions: If you wish to request academic accommodations due to a disability, please contact the Disability Resources for Students Office (DRS), 011 Mary Gates Hall,, or 543-8924. If you have a letter from DRS indicating that you have a disability that requires special accommodations, please present the letter to me.

Extra Credit Opportunity: During the quarter, I will identify certain on-campus and off-campus events relating to human rights as “extra credit events.” Students who attend two such events and turn in to their TA a one-page summary and reflection at the next quiz section meeting will have their final grade raised by 0.1. Only those events designated by me count toward extra credit. Extra credit events are listed here.




Papers are due on Tuesday, November 22. They should be 7-10 pages in length, double-spaced, and double-sided. State your name and your TA’s name at the top of the first page. Give your paper a title, and number your pages. No plastic covers, cover-sheets or folders, please.

In this paper you are asked to examine a major contemporary human rights problem in a particular country. Your main goals are (1) to describe the problem, (2) identify the specific human rights being violated, and (3) suggest thoughtful recommendations for addressing the problem. In this way, your paper will combine description, legal analysis, and policy recommendations. Note that policy recommendations will often be connected to a discussion of the causes of the problem. The overall purpose of this exercise is to use a human rights perspective for understanding and seeking to remedy a severe social injustice.

In researching and compiling your paper, please follow the instructions below. You must cover the specified elements (ordered as you prefer), but try not to submit a paper that reads like a check-list. You are expected to fashion a coherent narrative, and to identify the most significant overall findings of your investigation. Those findings should be stated in the introduction of your essay, and reviewed in the conclusion.

1. Describe a human rights problem in a particular country. For information, consult one or more of the following sources.

In addition, you may want to consult the annual world reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also available online. Lexis-Nexis (UW restricted) will help you locate relevant news articles. You may consult other sources if you wish.

Scholarly articles and journalistic accounts may help you acquire a deeper understanding of your topic. To find such sources, I recommend using Google Scholar, Academic Search Complete, and/or the UW Libraries Search box.

NOTE: If you are a service learning student, you are encouraged but not required to write about one of the human rights problems addressed by your organization. You are also encouraged (but not required) to analyze the strategies used by your organization for promoting human rights. You must, however, complete all the other elements of the assignment listed here.

2. Identify the specific human rights that are being violated. Be alert to all the relevant human rights, and think about how violations of one human right can undermine others. Discuss how the relevant rights are defined (or ignored) in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

3. Read the national constitution, and discuss what protections it does or does not promise for the right in question. Use, , or a similar page.

4. Identify any relevant UN human rights treaties, and describe how the rights are defined in those treaties. In most cases you should confine your attention to the “Core International Human Rights Instruments” listed here: In rare cases, you may want consult this longer catalogue: Here is the portal to the UN page on international human rights law: .

5. State whether the country has ratified the relevant UN treaties. You will find this information here: . (This chart includes far more treaties than you should examine. Consult the major treaties that are relevant to your topic.) A country has ratified a treaty if there is a date appearing in the “Accession, Succession, Ratification” column.

6. Find out if the country has ratified the regional human rights treaty (if any) in its geographic area: the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, or the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Ratification lists can be found at:

Discuss how the relevant rights are defined in the relevant regional treaty.

7. Note: Here’s a convenient way to find out which human rights treaties, international and regional, the country has ratified: . (But this list is a few years out of date.)

8. Note: Some of you may choose to write about abuses committed by insurgent groups or rebel armies. Though such organizations do not ratify international treaties, they are still governed by human rights law. You should refer to the Universal Declaration and any treaties that seem relevant. Moreover, insurgent organizations, like states, are governed by the law of armed conflict. You may therefore want to consult Articles 6-8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. To read the treaty, please paste the link into your browser, click on “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court” (under “Documentation”) and then click on “Entire Statute.”

9. Discuss whether and in what way the government’s (or insurgency’s) conduct is in violation of domestic law, the nation’s treaty obligations, and customary international law. Is the relevant human rights law, at the national and international levels, adequate and appropriate, and if not, how should it be improved?

10. Discuss what you think government officials (or insurgent leaders), national citizens, and international actors should do in light of your findings.

You must document sources for all specific information provided in your essay. You may use either footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical references that refer to a bibliography on the back page. Use a standard format (e.g., Chicago or MLA) and be consistent. Your citation should include enough information to identify the source clearly; please also list the web-page address. Subsequent citations to the same report should be abbreviated. Examples:


  1. Amnesty International, “Dissent and Impunity in Belarus,” 21 June 2002,\BELARUS.
  2. Amnesty International, “Dissent and Impunity in Belarus.”
  3. International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), art. 3.
  4. CERD, art. 9.


Readings are due on the dates indicated. Starred readings are in the Course Packet.
Some of the online readings are not in the Course Packet. They are still required!



Wednesday, September 28: Introduction (no readings)

Historical Background, from the American Revolution to the Universal Declaration

Friday, September 30

*US Declaration of Independence (1776)
*US Constitution (1787)

What does the US Declaration of Independence say about human rights? How do human rights inform the Declaration’s theory of legitimate government and justified rebellion? Why didn’t the signers try to abolish slavery before seeking independence from Britain? Which human rights are protected in the original articles and amendments of the US Constitution? How does the form of government authorized by the Constitution seek to prevent the violation of human rights? Does it assert too few rights? How does the original Constitution (prior to 1865) stand in relation to slavery?

Monday, October 3

*Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights (2004), pp. 211-225.
United Nations Charter (1945), especially Preamble, Articles 1, 2, 7, 13, 23-25, 27, 55, 56, 62, 68.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)

How does the UN Charter provide support for human rights? Does it also undermine human rights? What historical process led to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is there an underlying principle that grounds the rights asserted in the Declaration? How do the rights asserted in the Declaration relate to each other? How does the Declaration differ from the US Bill of Rights? Does it assert too many rights? Too few

Wednesday, October 5

Reread the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We will continue discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Friday, October 7

*Linda Rabben, Sanctuary and Asylum (2016), pp. 1-2, 14-16, 197-217

What are the most serious abuses in the United States’ policy towards asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants? What should the United States’ policy be?

The Idea of Universal Human Rights

Monday, October 10

*Maurice Cranston, “Human Rights, Real and Supposed” (1967)
*Jeremy Waldron, “Liberal Rights: Two Sides of the Coin” (1993)
*David Kelley, A Life of One’s Own (1998) (excerpt)
*Stephen Holmes and Cass R. Sunstein, The Cost of Rights (1999) (excerpt)

Should human rights include economic, social and cultural rights?

Wednesday, October 12

*American Anthropological Association, “Statement on Human Rights” (1947)
*Michael Ignatieff, Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry (2001), pp. 58-77

Are human rights universal, or culturally specific? Should the definition of human rights vary across different societies?

Customary International Law

Friday, October 14

*Statute of the International Court of Justice (1945), Art. 38
*Mark Janis, Introduction to International Law, 3rd ed. (1999), pp. 41-59, 62-66, 80-83

What are the sources of international law? What is customary international law? What qualifies a norm for the status of customary international law, and who decides? Why do we need customary international law? What is the power, and what are the limits, of international human rights law?

Monday, October 17

*Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F. 2d 876, US Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, 1980
*Jeffrey Davis, “The First ATS Human Rights Case” (2008)
*Torture Victim Protection Act of 1991
*“Thugs Brought to Book,” The Economist (1997)
* Julia Preston, “Ex-Salvadoran Colonel is Ordered To Pay for Crimes Against Humanity” (2005)

How did a US federal judge come to make a pronouncement on international law? What is the significance of Judge Kaufman’s ruling for our understanding of international law? How does Kaufman argue that international law prohibits torture? What does this case illustrate about the way in which international law is formed? What was the impact of the Filartiga case for human rights activists?

Treaty Law and the UN Human Rights Treaties

Wednesday, October 19

SKIM: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969)
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966), Preamble and Articles 1 through 27 

How does treaty law differ from customary international law? What are the stages in which treaty law is formed? What is the legal significance of the ICCPR? How does the ICCPR differ from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What accounts for those differences? How does the ICCPR seek to strengthen respect for human rights?

Friday, October 21

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Articles 27 through 53 and First Optional Protocol
*material on state reports and concluding observations, from Henry J. Steiner and Philip Alston, Human Rights in Context, 2nd ed. (2000)

What are the powers of the Human Rights Committee? How can it contribute to the protection of human rights, and what factors limits its effectiveness? How can human rights advocates make use of the Committee to further their cause?

Monday, October 24

*Janis, An Introduction to International Law (excerpt)
*Kenneth Roth, “The Charade of US Ratification of International Human Rights Treaties” (2000)
*Jack Goldsmith, “Should International Human Rights Law Trump US Domestic Law?” (2000)
*U.S. Reservations, Understandings and Declarations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1992) (also in course packet)

What explains the reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs) attached by the United States to its ratification of the ICCPR? What is the effect of the RUDs on the behavior of US judges? Was the United States right to attach these RUDs? Why or why not? Are the RUDs legally valid? In light of its RUDs, is the US ratification of the ICCPR effectively meaningless?

A U.S. Case Study: Police Killings through the Lens of Human Rights

Wednesday, October 26

*Amnesty International, Deadly Force: Police Use of Lethal Force in the United States, Executive Summary, June 2015. (If interested, please read the full report online.)
*Del Quentin Wilber and Kevin Rector, “Justice Department Report: Baltimore Police Routinely Violated Civil Rights,” Baltimore Sun, August 9, 2016
*Jeff Coen and Stacy St. Clair, “Chicago Police Must Face 'Hard Truths' About Racist Past, Task Force Draft Report Says,” Chicago Tribune, April 13, 2016

What should be done to reduce police killings and end racial disparities in police killings in the United States? In which ways (if any) do U.S. police practices constitute violations of human rights?

**Friday, October 28: MIDTERM EXAM**

Women’s Rights

Monday, October 31

Kristof & WuDunn, Introduction (pp. xi-xxii) and pp. 3-45, 54-79

What are the causes and consequences of systematic violence against women?

Wednesday, November 2

Kristof & WuDunn, pp. 81-145

How is women’s vulnerability to violence linked to other rights deprivations, including those related to poverty? What are the smartest strategies for overcoming women’s oppression? Is a human rights approach helpful?

Friday, November 4

Kristof & WuDunn, pp. 149-60, 167-183, 205-54
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (1979) Preamble and Articles 1-16

Are women’s rights human rights? Why or why not? Does the nature of women’s oppression challenge us to rethink established conceptions of human rights?

European Convention on Human Rights

Monday, November 7

European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950)
Goldhaber, pp. 1-47, 55-75

What are the achievements and failures of European Convention on Human Rights? How has it altered the policies of national governments? What are the main factors contributing to its power? What has been the role of the European Court of Human Rights? What has been the interaction between the Court, individual victims, and human rights NGOs?

Wednesday, November 9:

Goldhaber, pp. 101-34, 171-85
*Aksoy v. Turkey, European Court of Human Rights, 1996 (excerpt)

How has the European Court of Human Rights contributed to the fight against torture and ill-treatment? What is the extent and what are the limits of its contributions? States use multiple strategies to deny responsibility for torture. How, in Aksoy, did the Court try to combat some of those strategies?

Friday, November 11: Veteran’s Day – no lecture  

We have fallen behind, so the following portion of the course calendar is revised.

Monday, November 14 & 16: falling behind.

Friday, November 18

Goldhaber, pp. 88-97
*West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, US Supreme Court, 1943 (excerpt)
*S.A.S. v. France, European Court of Human Rights, 2014 (excerpt)

What question faced the US Supreme Court in Barnette? What are the principled disagreements between Justice Jackson and Justice Frankfurter, and how do they defend their respective positions? What question faced the European Court of Human Rights in S.A.S. v. France, and how did the majority and minority opinions defend their respective positions? In each of these two cases, do you agree with the majority or the minority? Why do the two courts seem to arrive at contrasting judgments on questions of religious freedom? Can you detect any general differences in the approach of these two courts?

The Law of Armed Conflict

Monday, November 21

*Geoffrey Robertson, “War Law” (2006)
*Michael Walzer, Just and Unjust Wars (1977) (excerpt)
*Martens Clause (1899)
*International Court of Justice, Advisory Opinion on the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (1996), paragraph 78
*1907 Hague Convention Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, Articles 22-28
*1949 Geneva Conventions, Common Article 3
*1949 Geneva Contentions, Grave Breaches Provisions
*1977 Geneva Protocol I, Articles 48-51
Start reading Bosco

What connection, if any, is there between the ancient tradition of the law of war and the more recent tradition of human rights law? What are the core principles of the law of war? Why should states heed restraints on the conduct of war? Are there reasons for ignoring such restraints?

***Tuesday, Nov. 22: Web-based Research Exercise is due.***

Wednesday, November 23

*Henry L. Stimson, “The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb” (1947)
*Michael Walzer, “The Limits of Calculation: Hiroshima” (1977)

How should we judge the US decision to drop the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945

Thurs. Nov. 26 and Fri. 27: Thanksgiving Holiday: no class.

International Criminal Justice

Monday, November 28

Bosco, pp. 1-29, 34-56
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998), Articles 1, 5-17, 20, 25, 27, 28, 55, 66, 67, 75, 120. Read the treaty here:
*The ICC at a Glance (2015)

What are the historical origins of the International Criminal Court? What is its legal and political significance? What challenge does it pose to traditional power politics? How has it been shaped and limited by international power politics?

Wednesday, November 30

Bosco, pp. 68-71, 78-86, 94-101, 105-15

How has the United States’ relation to the ICC evolved over time? Has the ICC lived up to the hopes of its supporters or confirmed the fears of its critics?

Friday, December 2

Bosco, pp. 126-28, 142-48, 153-59, 177-89

What are the major achievements and failures of the ICC? What are the most significant challenges facing it in the future?

Human Rights Abuses in the “War on Terror”

Monday, December 5

Kurnaz, pp. 23-89

Who was Murat Kurnaz, and why did he become a U.S. detainee? What was his experience under detention? Did his captors behave in accordance with the law? How does the Torture Convention seek to prevent torture and ill-treatment?

Wednesday, December 7

Kurnaz, pp. 91-154
*Anthony Lewis, “Official American Sadism” (2008)
*Jonathan Alter, “Time to Think about Torture” (2001)
*Darius Rejali, “Torture’s Dark Allure” (2004)
OPTIONAL: Jamie Mayerfeld, “In Defense of the Absolute Prohibition of Torture” (2008)

What was Kurnaz’s experience in Guantánamo? How did the Bush administration come to practice torture in the War on Terror? In what manner did the government portray and justify its policy?

Friday, December 9

Kurnaz, pp. 155-255

Was the United States justified in capturing and detaining Kurnaz for five years? What do you think explains the United States’ conduct toward Kurnaz? Continued discussion of US Guantanamo policy, and course wrap-up.

FINAL EXAM:  Tuesday, December 13, 8:30-10:20 am.

Catalog Description: 
Studies the international human rights movement in its legal and political context. Focuses on institutions which influence, enable, and constrain the international promotion of human rights. Offered: jointly with POL S 368.
GE Requirements: 
Diversity (DIV)
Individuals and Societies (I&S)
Last updated: 
January 10, 2018 - 9:23pm