course

Human rights have become one of the most powerful political and legal instruments of our time. Individuals and groups increasingly articulate their claims in the language of human rights, typically as a way of stressing the need to preserve some basic goods or fundamental needs as a matter of justice. The evolution of the recognition and institutional protection of human rights, both domestically and internationally, can be seen as the institutional implementation of such demands. Yet the normative underpinnings of the concept of human rights remain disputed. This course aims at critically exploring the theoretical foundations of human rights through the lens of major contemporary theories of justice. Students should gain a deeper understanding of the nexus between normative theories of (social and political) justice and human rights law and policies. The readings will also expose the students to critical challenges posed by those who argue that human rights are culturally specific of the West and used to pursue neo-imperialistic goals; or that the era of globalisation, and the emergent global order, renders the category of human rights obsolete; or that human rights are very limited a tool to further ideals such as gender equality and global justice and to tackle conflicts of identity in multicultural societies. The course aims at unpacking these challenges as well as the way reasons of justice play out in public argumentation on human rights through exploring a number of contemporary disputes, including transnational migrations and democratic exclusions; freedom of religion and the banning of veils; surrogate motherhood and the limits of reproductive rights, gender equality and affirmative action; and the responsibilities toward the global poor.