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Theory, History, and Practice of Human Rights

Course number: U8172

This course is intended to introduce student to key debates in the field of human rights. It will require extensive reading as background to a focused discussion of key theoretical issues. Historically, we shall distinguish between two epochs in the development of human rights discourse: (a) the politically-centered articulation of human rights, an epoch that began with the French Revolution and the Rights of Man and closed with Eleanor Roosevelt's 1948 Declaration that provided the intellectual foundation for the 20th century welfare state, and (b) the ethically-centered call, 'Never Again', as the lesson of the Holocaust, which provides the foundation for a programmatic Responsibility to Protect (R2P). What has changed and what has remained the same as the focus of human rights has shifted from a call for resistance to one for rescue and intervention? We shall compare and contrast two specific contexts in which human rights discourse has become dominant: (a) survivor states: the United States (and South Africa) ; (b) victim states: Israel (and Rwanda). What was the lesson of Auschwitz (and Hiroshima)? And what is the lesson of the South African transition?