Human Rights in Theory and Practice

Course Info

Course Number/Code: 11.164 (Spring 2005)
Course Title: Human Rights in Theory and Practice
Course Level: Undergraduate / Graduate
Offered By: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Department: Urban Studies and Planning
Course Instructor(s): Prof. Balakrishnan Rajagopal
Course Introduction:
Syllabus When you click the Amazon logo tothe left of any citation and purchase the book (or other media) from, MIT OpenCourseWare will receive up to 10% of this purchase and any other purchases you make during that visit. This will not increase the cost of your purchase. Links provided are to the US Amazon site, but you can also support OCW through Amazon sites in other regions. Learn more.Course Description

This course provides a rigorous and critical introduction to the foundation, structure and operation of the international human rights movement. Beginning with an introduction to the relevant aspects of public international law, the course proceeds to discuss topics such as the following: the historical origin and character of the modern idea of human rights; the debate between universality and cultural specificity of human rights; the debate between rights and duty-based approaches; the contentious relationship between human rights and economic development and between civil-political and economic-social and cultural rights; national application of international legal norms; human rights, sovereignty and self-determination; and the working of intergovernmental institutions, domestic courts, NGOs and social movements. The course will also focus on several current human rights issues including torture and the war on terror/national security, gender/race discrimination, and religion/ethnicity. The course will examine state accountability for atrocities, globalization and human rights including labor standards, science/technology and human rights including biotechnology, as well as The United States' 'unilateralism' towards human rights and international law. The course materials will draw from many disciplines including law, international relations, sociology and political science and will also rely upon the publications of leading international agencies (both governmental and non-governmental).

This course is open to all students at MIT, both graduate and undergraduate.

There are no prerequisites for this course, but students should know or be prepared to learn how to use Lexis-Nexis and have interest in international and public affairs. They should also be willing to engage with many legal materials.

While teaching students about theory, the emphasis of the course will be more towards policy dilemmas and the practical aspects of doing human rights work, the purpose of which is to enable students to understand the ways in which human rights scholars, activists, and international and governmental officials argue about human rights and their implementation.

Course Materials

Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 2nd ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2002. ISBN: 0801487765. Rajagopal, Balakrishnan. International Law from Below: Development, Social Movements and Third World Resistance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN: 0521016711.A selection of articles and excerpts from other texts.Electronic materials.

The course may also use photographs, videos or other forms of technology to put the readings in context, where appropriate. The class discussions will alternate between lectures and discussion.

Grading and Attendance

This three-unit course will require one final exam and one mid-term research assignment. For undergraduate students taking 11.164, 40% of the grade will be based on the final exam, which will ask you to pick and answer two out of three questions on human rights. The graduate students enrolling in this course (11.497) are required to write a final research paper, not exceeding 25 pages (double spaced), in lieu of the final exam, on a current human rights topic. These final papers are due on the last class session. The paper will carry 40% of the grade for graduate students. Students must select topics for the final papers in consultation with the instructor by Session 22. 30% of the grade will be based on the mid-term assignment. 30% of the grade will be based on regular and active class participation. All readings are compulsory unless otherwise noted and students will be queried on them. Failure to meet these requirements, including late submissions, will result in a fail grade.

Class attendance is compulsory. If you cannot attend due to any reason, please inform the instructor in advance. More than 3 unexplained absences from class will result in a fail grade.