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This subject will draw attention to how and why the relationship between human rights and many marginalised groups has been highly fraught and replete with tensions. The subject will explore and unpack two central claims on which human rights law is based: first, that human rights are universal; and secondly, that human rights are an optimistic, progressive and emancipatory pursuit. These claims will be interrogated by focusing on the treatment of difference in international human rights law, including differences of gender, culture, indigeneity, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion, exploring how the `Other’ has been addressed in human rights law. Students will examine how the universality of international human rights law might yet be realised and learn how to grapple with some of the challenges posed by those who argue against universality, claiming i) that human rights are culturally specific to the West, and therefore inappropriate in non-Western cultural contexts; ii) that human rights are a ruse for pursuing neo-imperial or neo-liberal agendas; and iii) that human rights are exclusive and available to some humans, not all humans.
Principal topics include:
- Challenges to the universal claims of Human Rights Law
- Assessing these challenges in the context of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- Human Rights and the `Other’
- Gender Difference and the Complexities of Equality
- Cultural Difference and Human Rights (The Veil)
- Indigenous Difference and Human Rights (The Aborigine)
- Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity and Human Rights (The Homosexual)
- The Terrorist versus Human Rights (The Muslim).
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a sophisticated understanding of how human rights law responds to a range of differences between and among people
- Understand postcolonial and third world perspectives on human rights
- Have the analytical skills to unpack situations that are cast as human rights concerns and probe into the real conflicts and issues that are at stake, including some of the background norms and political concerns that shape human rights issues, cases and controversies
- Be able to identify the cultural and gender stereotypes that may inform the perspective of the human rights advocate
- Be able to demonstrate creative and expert judgment and responsibility as a practitioner and advocate in the field of international human rights law.
Last updated: 11 February 2021