International Protection of Human Rights: Application and Challenges in the United States


Through the class we will review the standards and processes that international human rights law provides to address human rights violations. The focus will be on issues of current, fundamental relevance in the United States. While the US has ratified relatively few international human rights treaties, it is subject to a comprehensive set of human rights obligations through treaty and custom. On the basis of these obligations, international instances including a range of United Nations mechanisms and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have monitored critical human rights situations in the US.For each right or set of rights we look at, we will consider the standards of international human rights law generally, as reflected in the work of the United Nations and the Inter-American systems, with the occasional reference to the European and African systems. While the course does not aim to enter into US law in detail, there are instances in which we will contrast and compare the approach of human rights bodies with that taken under domestic law.The learning objectives focus on developing the capacity to apply international human rights law and process in practice, taking into account their strengths and limitations, and using the examples and perspectives from the US for analysis.Accordingly, we will give specific consideration to the different mechanisms—cases, urgent measures of protection, country-based reporting, thematic work—through which international monitoring bodies carry out their mandates generally and specifically with respect to the US.We will take into account that while there are many elements that are common across the systems, there are also differences and specificities. Looking at the systems that serve to protect human rights, universal, regional and national, we will consider the question of complementarity, that is, the extent to which they mutually support and reinforce each other.To reach its objective, international human rights law has to offer approaches and tools of protection that are effective; our focus will be less on theory and more on practice. While civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights are indivisible, for reasons of time and coverage we will focus primarily on the former.