The Rights of Disadvantaged and Vulnerable Groups (LAW-989-001)

Back to All Courses


1:00 p.m. - 2:50 pm EST, Monday thru Friday


  • Eric Rosenthal, Founder and Executive Director, Disability Rights International, Washington, D.C.
  • Macarena Sáez, Director, Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, American University Washington College of Law, Washington, D.C.

Course Description:

The first half of this course will focus on the development of LGBTI rights in international law. The first session will analyze what makes a group “vulnerable” or in a disadvantage position. The class will discuss the problems that arise from the use of the word “vulnerable” to refer to disadvantaged groups and how narratives change depending on whether the groups become powerful enough to come up with their own classifications or they are still so disempowered that the elites get to decide on their denominations. The next sessions will analyze the role of gender and sexuality in legal systems and the role of international law in empowering individuals who do not conform to heterosexuality and/or to the male/female binary. Reading materials will be posted in advance for each session.

The second half will examine the rights of another vulnerable group: children and adults with disabilities. The class will focus especially on the concerns of 8-10 million children detained in orphanages worldwide as well as an even larger number of adults with disabilities in psychiatric facilities, social care homes and other closed facilities. The course will examine the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD) and the way disability rights and human rights activists have used this new international human rights convention to address abuses against institutionalized children and adults. Topics to be included will be: (1) drafting of the CRPD and the new anti-discrimination framework; (2) segregation of people with disabilities worldwide and the right to full participation in society (3) protections against torture in healthcare settings (4) the right to legal capacity for people with mental disabilities (5) obligations of international donors and the need establish inclusive international development programs, and (6) trafficking, gender-based violence, and the reproductive rights of women with disabilities. In addition to examining new legal protections under the CRPD, the class will examine the use of international oversight bodies, media, public education, policy-advocacy and community organizing to promote rights enforcement.