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

Meeting Time: 
MWF 9:30am - 10:20am
KNE 210
Joint Sections: 
POL S 368 A
Jamie Mayerfeld

Syllabus Description:

**Lecture Outlines.**
**Study Guide for Midterm Exam.**


University of Washington, Autumn 2021


Instructor: Professor Jamie Mayerfeld                                               Lecture:
Office: Gowen 35                                                                               Kane 210
Office Hours: Tue. 1:30-3:00 and Fri. 10:30-11:30, by Zoom.         MWF 9:30

TAs: Rachel Castellano, Chris Colligan, Lauren Collins, Yulenni Venegas Lopez

Learning in Covid Times:  Together we can protect ourselves and each other from the risk of contracting covid-19. The University of Washington requires faculty, staff, and students to be vaccinated against covid-19. Masks covering mouth and nose must be worn indoors. I recommend that you wear close-fitting masks with effective filters, such as N95, KN95, or KF94 masks, which are now readily available and affordable. If you have symptoms, you must not come to class and you should get tested. For frequently asked questions about UW covid-19 policies, please visit this website. Thank you for doing your part to keep yourself and others safe.

Course 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 and domestic contexts in which it operates. In the first half of the course, we will explore the idea of human rights and study basic components of international human rights law, using the struggle against racial discrimination as a case study. In the second half of the course, we will study a number of contemporary human rights challenges: violations of women’s rights; mass persecution and penal colonies in Xinjiang, China; crimes of war; human rights violations in the “War on Terror”; and what the climate crisis means for human rights.

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.

Community Engagement (optional):  Students who sign up for this optional 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 community engagement option is one way to satisfy the experiential learning requirement of the Human Rights Minor.  You can access the Community Engagement & Leadership Education 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:  Most readings will be provided as Internet links or electronic PDFs.  You have the option of assembling these as a printed course packet.  In addition, two books are available for purchase.

    Minky Worden, ed., The Unfinished Revolution: Voices from the Global Fight for Women’s Rights (2012)
    Darren Byler, In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony (2021)

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.

Research Paper: This assignment asks you to research a human rights topic using resources from the Internet.  Detailed instructions appear below.  Papers are due by electronic submission on Monday, November 22.

Exams: There will be two exams (Fri. Oct. 29 and Wed. Dec. 15) to test your knowledge and understanding of course material.  Study guides will be circulated about one week in advance.

Office Hours: You are all encouraged to visit me during my office hours, Tuesdays between 1:30 and 3:00 and Fridays, between 10:30 and 11:30.  Office hours will be held by Zoom at this link:


Research Paper                       35%                 Due on Mon. Nov. 22
Midterm Exam                        25%                 Fri. Oct. 29
Final Exam                             25%                 Wed. Dec. 15, 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, can be seen here. Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the Religious Accommodations Request form.

Maintaining a Respectful Learning Environment: This course will lead into discussion of controversial social and political topics.  Discussion should be open to a wide range of perspectives, and everyone should feel comfortable about participating.  We will facilitate learning if we engage discussion with respect and empathy for one another.  Contradictory views are encouraged, and can contribute to learning as long as everyone remains open to new information and willing to learn from people with different perspectives and life experiences.  Please avoid inflammatory, derogatory and insulting words and personal attacks. Such conduct inhibits learning and prevents the free exchange of ideas.  No one, not even your instructor and TAs, is perfect.  We all make mistakes and have the potential to learn from our mistakes.  We generally advise against using social media to comment negatively on individuals in this class.  If you have concerns or complaints, please communicate them to us.


Papers are due on Monday, November 22, to be submitted electronically via VeriCite no later than 11:59 pm.  They should be 7-10 pages in length, double-spaced.  State your name and your TA’s name at the top of the first page.  Give your paper a title, and number your pages. 

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 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. 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.

The following instructions are intended to help you complete the necessary research for your paper. Once you have compiled the needed information, you still need to analyze and organize what you have learned in the form of a clear, cogent, and persuasive discussion meeting the objectives outlined above.

1. You first want to choose a topic and learn about it. For information, please consult one or more of the following sources.

a. Amnesty International This page organizes information by country. Navigate your way to in-depth reports, available as PDFs, that you can use as the basis of your research. (In other words, don’t rely on the brief online summaries.)

b. Human Rights Watch This page leads by various channels to HRW’s voluminous research.  Look for the in-depth reports, available as PDFs, that you can use for your research. (As before, don’t rely on brief online summaries.)

c. American Civil Liberties Union Limited to the U.S. Choose a topic under the Issues tab. Click on “Reports” in the search box. Browse the links to find relevant reports.

d. US State Department Country Reports Does not include the U.S.  Search by country on the right or below.

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.

2. You next want to 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. I advise starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In many or most cases, this document will help you begin to identify and conceptualize the human rights in question.  But not always, and in that case, you should note the ways in which the UDHR ignores the relevant rights.

You also want to see whether the rights are enshrined in the national constitution and international human rights law.  Read the national constitution, and discuss what protections it does or does not promise for the rights in question.  You will find most constitutions on Click on “Constitutions” to see countries listed alphabetically.  (There are other ways of finding national constitutions online.)

Identify 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 to consult this longer catalogue: Here is the portal to the UN page on international human rights law:

If you like, you can see whether the country you are studying has ratified the relevant UN treaties.  This website shows you which major global human rights each country has ratified:  In most cases, this will be enough information, but if you want to track down ratification information about other treaties, visit . A country has ratified a treaty if there is a date appearing in the “Accession, Succession, Ratification” column.

Optional:  If the country you are studying is located in Europe, Africa, or the Americas, you might also like to consult the relevant regional human rights treaty – the European Convention on Human Rights, the American Convention on Human Rights, or the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  How does the regional human rights treaty address (or fail to address) the issue in question?  If you want to learn whether the country has ratified the relevant regional human rights treaty, you can consult ratification lists for Africa, the Americas, and Europe. Again, this is optional.

Important:  Although we want you to identify the international human rights law provisions relevant to your topic, you should (in most cases) convey this information briefly and efficiently in your paper. This important information should (in most cases) take up relatively little text. 

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, human rights law may still be relevant to evaluating their conduct.  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. Finally, you want to develop policy recommendations for the problem. Depending on the nature of the problem, your recommendations may be addressed to governments (or insurgent groups), social groups, national citizens, international actors, and/or human rights organizations. To develop your recommendations, think through the nature and causes of the problem, the responsible parties, and the kinds of actions, reforms, and transformations needed to provide an effective and durable remedy. Try to be thoughtful, practical, critical, and constructive. Show that you have thought carefully about the problem, and have cogent advice to offer the relevant parties. This is your chance to bring your learning and wisdom to bear in a helpful manner.

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.  Subsequent citations to the same report should be abbreviated.  Examples:

  1. Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Like I’m Drowning”: Children and Families Sent to Harm by the US ‘Remain in Mexico’ Program, January 2021, p. 81.
  2. HRW, “Like I’m Drowning,” 42.
  3. International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), art. 3.
  4. CERD, art. 9.

Helpful information on citation practices are provided by the POLS/LSJ/JSIS Writing Center and the UW Library.



(under construction)


Wednesday, September 29: Introduction (no readings)

Friday, October 1: Introduction, continued.  We will meet by Zoom, at this link:  (Please do not share outside class.)

Take a look at the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  We will return to this document.

The Idea of Human Rights as Reflected in Local, National, and International Rights Charters

Monday, October 4

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Read the Preamble and first few articles.

Constitution of the State of Washington. Read Article I: Declaration of Rights.

US Declaration of Independence (1776).  Read the Preamble, that is, the opening paragraphs up to “He has refused….”

Frederick Douglass, “What to a Slave is the Fourth of July?” (1852) (excerpt)

US Constitution.  Read as closely as you like, but pay most attention to provisions relating to rights, including Article I, Sections 9 and 10; Article III, Sections 2 and 3; Article IV, Section 4; Article VI; Amendments 1 through 10 (the “Bill of Rights”), 13 through 15 (the “Civil War Amendments”), and 19 (granting women the right to vote).

Pay attention to the ways in which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, US Declaration of Independence, Washington Constitution, and US Constitution all claim to uphold individual rights. What ideas and commitments do these documents have in common? Why, for Frederick Douglass, are American celebrations of the Declaration of Independence a source of bitterness? Are his reflections still relevant today?

Wednesday, October 6

Micheline Ishay, The History of Human Rights (2004), pp. 211-225.

United Nations Charter (1945), 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 8

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 11

Maurice Cranston, “Human Rights, Real and Supposed” (1967)

Jamie Mayerfeld, "Socioeconomic Rights" (2016)

Should human rights include economic, social and cultural rights?

Wednesday, October 13

American Anthropological Association, “Statement on Human Rights” (1947)

Jamie Mayerfeld, "The Relativist Challenge" (2016)

Makau Mutua, “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights” (2001) (excerpt)

China's Charter 08

OPTIONAL: Susan Waltz, “Reclaiming and Rebuilding the History of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (2002)

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 15

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 18

Filartiga v. Peña-Irala, 630 F. 2d 876, US Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit, 1980

Judge Kaufman faced two questions in this case. The first was whether he should hear the case at all. The second was whether the alleged torture by the defendant was a violation of international law. How did Judge Kaufman answer these two questions? How is his opinion about torture an illustration of customary international law reasoning?


Treaty Law and the UN Human Rights Treaties

Wednesday, October 20

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)

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 is in compliance with the CERD? Why or why not? 

Friday, October 22

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) (1965), Preamble and Articles 8 through 25

OPTIONAL: Julie A. Mertus, “UN Treaty Bodies,” in Mertus, The United Nations and Human Rights (2005)

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 limit its effectiveness? How can human rights advocates make use of the Committee to further their cause?  (We may have to cover this material quickly, if we fall behind in the course. I am making the Mertus chapter optional for now.)

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

Monday, October 25

Keisha Blain, Violence in Minneapolis is rooted in the history of racist policing in America" (2020)

The Sentencing Project, Report Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System (2018)

OPTIONAL: Rodney Balko, "There’s overwhelming evidence that the criminal justice system is racist. Here’s the proof" (2020)

Do racial disparities in the U.S. criminal legal system constitute racial discrimination? Do they place the United States in violation of international human rights law? What should be done to address this problem?  How should this be understood as a human rights problem?    

Wednesday, October 27

Continued discussion of racial discrimination and other human rights violations in the U.S. criminal law system.

**Friday, October 29: MIDTERM EXAM**


Women's Rights

Monday, November 1

Minky Worden, ed., The Unfinished Revolution, chapters 11-13

How do we prevent war crimes against women? What have been the sources of women’s rights violations in Afghanistan?

Wednesday, November 3

Worden, chapters 21-23

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?

Friday, November 5

Worden, chapters 14, 18, 19

What should be done to better protect women from violence and abuse in the United States?  What are the legal, economic, and cultural vulnerabilities that expose women to a higher risk of violence, abuse, poverty, and ill health?

Mass Persecutions and Penal Colonies in Xinjiang, China

Monday, November 8 – Friday, November 12

We will read and discuss Darren Byler’s new book In the Camps: China’s High-Tech Penal Colony (2021).  More details forthcoming.

The Law of Armed Conflict and Crimes of War

Monday, November 15 – Wednesday, November 17

Readings and reading questions forthcoming

Human Rights Abuses in the U.S. “War on Terror”

Wednesday, November 19 – Wednesday, November 24

Readings and reading questions forthcoming

Monday, November 22.  ***Research papers are due.***

The Climate Crisis and Human Rights

Monday, November 29 – Friday, December 10

Readings and reading questions forthcoming

FINAL EXAM:  Wednesday, December 15, 8:30-10:20 am.

The University of Washington lies on the traditional land of the Coast Salish people, land which touches the shared waters of all tribes and bands within the Duwamish, Puyallup, Suquamish, Tulalip and Muckleshoot nations.


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: 
May 7, 2021 - 10:56pm