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LSJ 320 B: The Politics and Law of International Human Rights

Meeting Time: 
MWF 8:30am - 9:20am
KNE 220
Joint Sections: 
POL S 368 A
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:


(LSJ 320/Pol S 368)
University of Washington, Autumn 2019


**Final Exam Study Guide**

**Lecture Outlines**

**Midterm Study Guide**

**U.S. Declaration of Independence**

**Frederick Douglass, "What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?"**


Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                    Lecture:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                                   Kane 220
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00 and Fri. 9:30-10:30                MWF 8:30

TAs: Kyle Murphy, Shanna Scherbinske, Morgan Wack, Dennis Young

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.

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 three 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.

Course Packet (to be sold at Rams Copy Center, 4144 University Way, NE)
Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo (2006)
Minky Worden, ed., The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (2012)
David Scott FitzGerald, Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Democracies Repel Asylum Seekers (2019)

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).

Another recommended text, which will help you in this and other classes, is Mika and Daniele LaVaque-Manty, Writing in Political Science: A Brief Guide (2015).  The book provides smart advice for approaching college writing assignments of various kinds.

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. 25 and Tue. Dec. 10) to test your knowledge and understanding of the course material. Study guides will be circulated about one week in advance.

Research Paper: This assignment asks you to research a human rights topic using resources from the Internet. Detailed instructions appear below. Research papers are due on Mon. Nov. 18, by 9:30 am.  Please submit your paper electronically here.  Vericite has been enabled as a plagiarism-detection device.  In addition, please submit a paper copy at the start of lecture on Mon. Nov. 18 (unless your TA is Mathieu Dubeau, who is not requiring paper copies.)



Midterm Exam                        25%                 Fri. Oct. 25
Research Paper                        25%                 Due in lecture hall, Mon. Nov. 18
Final Exam                              35%                 Tue. Dec. 10, 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:

VeriCite. The University has a license agreement with VeriCite, an educational tool that helps prevent or identify plagiarism from Internet resources. I will require students to submit their research papers electronically to be checked by VeriCite. The VeriCite Report will indicate the amount of original text in your work and whether all material that you quoted, paraphrased, summarized, or used from another source is appropriately referenced.

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.

Religious Accommodations. Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW’s policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available here: Religious Accommodations Policy. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.



Papers are due in lecture on Monday, November 18. 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.  Please submit electronically via VeriCite as well.

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. Nexis Uni (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.

  1. 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.

  2. Read the national constitution, and discuss what protections it does or does not promise for the right in question. Use, or a similar page.
  3. 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: .
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

  1. 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.)                                                                                                                                                        
  2. 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, viewable here:
  3. 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?
  4. Discuss what you think government officials (or insurgent leaders), national citizens, and international actors should do in light of your findings.
  5. 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 25: Introduction (no readings)

Historical Background, from the American Revolution to the Universal Declaration

Friday, September 27

*US Declaration of Independence (1776)
*Frederick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852) (excerpt)

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? Why, for Frederick Douglass, are American celebrations of the Declaration of Independence a source of bitterness? Are his reflections still relevant today?

Monday, September 30

*US Constitution. (Give special attention to provisions relating to individual rights.)

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?

Wednesday, October 2

*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?

Friday, October 4

Reread the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

We will continue discussing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Idea of Universal Human Rights

Monday, October 7

*Maurice Cranston, “Human Rights, Real and Supposed” (1967)
*Jamie Mayerfeld, The Promise of Human Rights (2016) (excerpt).  (Mayerfeld endnotes for those who are curious.) 

Should human rights include economic, social and cultural rights?

Wednesday, October 9

*American Anthropological Association, “Statement on Human Rights” (1947)
*Jamie Mayerfeld, The Promise of Human Rights (2016) (excerpt). (Mayerfeld endnotes for those who are curious.) 
*Makau Mutua, “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights” (2001) (excerpt)
*China’s Charter 08

Are human rights universal, or culturally specific? Do they, or can they, become a vehicle for Western imperialism? Should the definition of human rights vary across different societies?

Customary International Law

Friday, October 11

*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 14

*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 16

SKIM: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (1969)
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (1965), Preamble and Articles 1 through 7
*Gay J. McDougall, “Toward a Meaningful International Regime: The Domestic Relevance of International Efforts to Eliminate All Forms of Racial Discrimination” (1997) (excerpts)
OPTIONAL: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (1966), Preamble and Articles 1 through 27
*U.S. Reservations, Understandings and Declarations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1992) (also in course packet)
*U.S. Reservations, Understandings, and Declarations to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1994) (also in course packet)

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 CERD? How does the CERD go beyond the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Is it more demanding than the U.S. Constitution, and if so how? Do you think the United States in compliance with the CERD? Why or why not? What is the significance of the United States’ reservations, understandings, and declarations (RUDs) attached by the United States to its ratification of the ICCPR and CERD?

Friday, October 18

*Julie A. Mertus, The United Nations and Human Rights (2005), pp. 80-114
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (1965), Preamble and Articles 8 through 25

How do the monitoring committees of the UN human rights treaties seek to promote nation-state compliance? What are the powers of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? 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?

Human Rights Violations in the U.S. Criminal Justice System

Monday, October 21

* Report of The Sentencing Project to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System, March 2018

Do racial disparities in the U.S. criminal justice system constitute racial discrimination? Do they place the United States in violation of international human rights law? 

Wednesday, October 23

*Del Quentin Wilber and Kevin Rector, “Justice Department Report: Baltimore Police Routinely Violated Civil Rights,” Baltimore Sun, August 9, 2016
*Wesley Lowery, “Study Finds Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Black Men at Disproportionate Rates,” Washington Post, April 7, 2016
OPTIONAL: Neil Bedi and Connie Humburg, “Why Cops Shoot,” Tampa Bay Times, April 4, 2017. Click on Read the story and explore the links.

What should be done to reduce police killings and end racial disparities in police killings in the United States? How, if at all, should this be understood as a human rights problem?   

**Friday, October 26: MIDTERM EXAM**


The Law of Armed Conflict and International Criminal Law

Monday, October 28

Start reading Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life
*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

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?

Wednesday, October 30

*Geoffrey Robertson, “An End to Impunity?” (2006)
*Nuremberg Charter (1945), Articles 1, 6-14
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948)

What is the significance of the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals in the development of international law? Were the tribunals established in compliance with international law, and does that matter? What is genocide? Why should genocide be defined as a separate crime under international law?

Friday, November 1

Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998), Articles 1, 5-17, 20, 25, 27, 28, 55, 66, 67, 75, 120.
*The ICC at a Glance (2015)

How does the International Criminal Court carry forward the project of international criminal law?  How does it build on the Nuremberg Tribunal?

Human Rights Abuses in the “War on Terror”

Monday, November 4

Continue reading Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life
*UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Articles 1-16
*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)

How does the Torture Convention seek to prevent torture and ill-treatment? 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? How could the Bush administration order torture despite its absolute prohibition in international and domestic law?

Wednesday, November 6

Murat Kurnaz, Five Years of My Life, pp. 23-89

Who was Murat Kurnaz, and why did he become a U.S. detainee? What was his experience under detention?

Friday, November 8

Kurnaz, pp. 91-154

What was Kurnaz’s experience in Guantánamo?

Monday, November 11: Veteran’s Day – no lecture.

Wednesday, November 13

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?

Human Rights and Climate Change

Friday, November 15

I will begin lecturing on climate change. No reading assigned.

Monday, November 18. ***Web-based Research Exercise is due in lecture hall.***

I will continue lecturing on climate change. No reading assigned.

Wednesday, November 20.

*Philip Alston, “Climate change and poverty: Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights,” June 2019.

Why is the climate crisis a human rights issue? What should states, international organizations, corporations, and individuals do to address the issue? What kinds of social and economic changes are required? How, according to Alston, has the human rights community failed to address the climate crisis, and what should it do differently?

Women’s Rights

Friday, November 22

Minky Worden, ed., The Unfinished Revolution, pp. 1-29, 93-106

Are women’s rights human rights? What would it mean to honor women’s human rights? What are the causes and consequences of women’s oppression? How do violence, culture, law, and economics interact to put women at a disadvantage?

Monday, November 25

Worden, pp. 129-55, 179-219

What are the causes of violence against women? What measures should be taken to address the problem, both in public policy and at the level of culture?

Wednesday, November 27

Worden, pp. 159-66, 231-57, 287-95, 325-32

What are the causes of female poverty and ill health? Is this properly seen as a human rights issue? What should be done about the problem? What cultural transformations are necessary to honor women’s human rights? Are these most effectively pursued through the law or outside the law? What should be the central strategies of the women’s rights movement?

Thurs. Nov. 28 and Fri. 29: Thanksgiving Holiday: no class.

Refugees and the Right to Asylum

Monday, December 2

David Scott FitzGerald, Refuge Beyond Reach, pp. 1-57

What rights do refugees hold under international law? Are these rights sufficient from a moral viewpoint? How did the plight of European Jews in the Nazi era inform contemporary refugee law? How have rich democracies sought to circumvent their legal obligations to refugees?

Wednesday, December 4

FitzGerald, pp. 123-91

How have the United States and Europe sought to repel asylum seekers? How have legal institutions restrained, or failed to restrain, the refugee and asylum policies of rich states?

Friday, December 6

Fitzgerald, pp. 192-218, 253-65

What are the most promising strategies for advancing refugee rights?


FINAL EXAM:  Tuesday, December 10, 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)
Include in front page slideshow: 
Last updated: 
August 2, 2019 - 9:16pm