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This subject examines the human rights system from an anthropological perspective, as a social system. It studies the practices of international conventions and conferences as well as local communities and non-governmental organisations. This subject focuses on tensions and translations between human rights and culture, including opposition to human rights in the name of protecting cultural differences. To resolve the apparent opposition between culture and rights, it is important to understand how human rights are mobilised in specific contexts. Issues will be explored through case studies including the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, current cases before the International Criminal Court, the World Social Forum and Global Justice Movement, and the unfolding impact of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The lecturer is an anthropologist and former lawyer who has worked on human rights issues in Australia, the United States and Europe.
Principal topics include:
- The human rights system in practice: major conventions, procedures and organisations
- Historical genealogies of ‘culture’ and ‘human rights’
- The meanings of universalism and relativism
- Contestation, resistance and critique of human rights
- Culture and indigenous rights
- Human rights and social movements
- The translation of human rights into local contexts: the process of vernacularisation
- Rethinking the human rights system as a set of social practices as well as a system of law.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the meanings of culture and the nature of human rights as a system of law and as one of practice
- Be able to critically examine, analyse, interpret and assess areas of apparent contradiction between culture and rights and develop creative ways of analysing these conflicts
- Have a sophisticated appreciation of the theoretical concepts and tools to articulate these issues in the practice of human rights law that will facilitate doing human rights law
- Have an advanced understanding of the social science language necessary to think about human rights as a social process as well as a system of law
- Have a detailed understanding of the concept of cultural pluralism and legal pluralism in an international human rights context
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas relating to human rights law, and to critically evaluate existing legal theories, principles and concepts with creativity and autonomy.
Last updated: 11 February 2021