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The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights has been heralded as a common ethical standard of humanity and helped spawn a global human rights movement. But what impacts have international human rights law, institutions and actors had in practice? Human rights violations are not always the product of a linear relationship between oppressor and victim, but are rooted in a complex structure of power relations in the political, economic and social spheres. This is particularly the case for socio-economic rights which, compared with civil and political rights, continue to be neglected in practice. How adaptable, and how successful, has the global human rights movement been in challenging underlying structures of exclusion and oppression, changing the behaviour of influential economic institutions, and addressing existential threats like climate change? How can positive change be achieved in practice, and what expectations can reasonably be placed upon human rights law, institutions and actors in this regard?
This subject applies an inter-disciplinary approach to the examination of these questions, linking theoretical debates to analyses of practical implementation challenges. Special attention is given to the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, given the high expectations and stakes attached to it and the significant engagement so far by the human rights movement, and to normative and human rights policy frameworks and strategies of engagement with business enterprises and international financial institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Dr Darrow is the Representative of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Washington DC. He led OHCHR’s research and advocacy in connection with the 2030 Development Agenda and is currently responsible for the Office’s partnerships and policy engagement with international financial institutions globally. He has worked in private legal practice, academia, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and in the Human Rights Branch of the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department, and has consulted for a range of international organisations including the World Bank and UNICEF. He has published extensively in the fields of international human rights law, anti-discrimination, development, and international organisations.
Principal topics will include:
- Evolution and critical appraisal of the international human rights legal regime;
- History, political context, competing ideological frames and human rights implications of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda;
- Human rights impacts and legal and policy implications of climate change;
- Human rights obligations of international financial institutions;
- Human rights impacts and responsibilities of corporations;
- Human rights impacts of mega-infrastructure investment agendas: G20 and China’s Belt and Road Initiative;
- Critical appraisal of human rights influencing strategies: Human rights mainstreaming, rights-based approaches, and accountability mechanisms.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a critical understanding of the origins, strengths and weaknesses of the UN human rights system;
- Have a critical understanding of contemporary theoretical and empirical debates and ideological controversies relating to human rights;
- Have a critical understanding of the origins, and relative strengths and weaknesses of different influencing strategies: mainstreaming, human rights-based approaches, and strengthening accountability;
- Be an engaged participant in a debate about the structural causes of human rights violations, and about how human rights law and decision-making principles can contribute to improved public policy-making;
- Be an engaged participant in a debate about human rights and sustainable development;
- Have an advanced understanding of how human rights are adversely impacted by climate change, and of the normative and functional relationships between the global climate change and human rights regimes;
- Have a critical understanding of the responsibilities of corporations and international financial institutions under international human rights law, and of policy frameworks to assess and manage human rights risks and remedy violations;
- Have a critical understanding of the political economy of mega-infrastructure investment, evidenced in the G20 mega-infrastructure investment initiative and the China government-backed Belt and Road Initiative, and of the human rights legal and policy implications at macro- and micro- (project) levels;
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to apply human rights due diligence and risk management frameworks in practice;
- Be able to demonstrate autonomy, expert judgement and strategic innovation in identifying and addressing root causes of human rights violations in practice.
On completion of the subject students should have developed the following skills:
- In-depth understanding of the United Nations human rights system and critical awareness of contemporary political, theoretical and empirical debates concerning human rights;
- Critical awareness of the relationship between economic decision-making, international development and human rights, and of the political economy and structural causes of human rights violations;
- Critical awareness of the origins and relative efficacy of human rights influencing, mobilisation and accountability strategies;
- Expert, specialised cognitive and technical skills for critical and independent thought and reflection in the area of human rights law, the law of international organisations, and development;
- Strengthened inter-disciplinary research skills necessary for a grounded understanding of the political economy of human rights violations and relative efficacy of human rights influencing or mobilisation strategies;
- Expert, specialised cognitive, creative and technical skills to solve problems, including through the application of human rights due diligence and risk management tools and policy frameworks; and
- The ability to expertly communicate specialised and complex information, ideas, concepts and theories relevant to human rights policy and practice.
Last updated: 24 January 2023