Human Rights & International Politics

University of Queensland

Course Description

  • Course Name

    Human Rights & International Politics

  • Host University

    University of Queensland

  • Location

    Brisbane, Australia

  • Area of Study

    Ethics, Human Rights, International Politics

  • Language Level

    Taught In English

  • Prerequisites

    Recommended Prerequisite

    4 credits of political science course(s)

  • Course Level Recommendations


    ISA offers course level recommendations in an effort to facilitate the determination of course levels by credential evaluators.We advice each institution to have their own credentials evaluator make the final decision regrading course levels.

    Hours & Credits

  • Host University Units

  • Recommended U.S. Semester Credits
  • Recommended U.S. Quarter Units
  • Overview

    Course Description
    The course examines the theory and practice of human rights in world politics. It covers the philosophical foundations of human rights, the development of human rights norms and the efforts, or lack thereof, of enforcing these norms. Attention will be focussed not only on major human rights violations such as genocide, torture, and political repression, but also on claims for non-poverty as a human right, and on the defence of the human rights of women, of refugees, and of indigenous peoples.
    Course Introduction
    It is increasingly apparent that many of the conflicts and tensions witnessed in international politics today are directly or indirectly connected to a growing sense that widespread and systematic violations of human rights cannot be allowed to proceed unchecked. Importantly, this concern about human rights matters is not only tied to a sense of moral outrage sparked by these violations, significant as this moral outrage is, but also to a perception that in many instances, the search for regional and international security and the stability of particular states appear to trump concerns about the domestic protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
    The problem with the increasing prominence of human rights issues in international relations, particularly since the end of the Cold War, is that this development has not brought with it a blueprint of how to manage violations within the overall framework of international practices. While the international community has been able to develop a set of principles and to codify a set of human rights norms and standards, it has often been unable to resolve the tension between upholding these rights and safeguarding what states hold to be their sovereign prerogative, notably when the matter is not deemed to threaten international security. This tension is further complicated by claims of cultural relativism from many non-Western states and by the difficulty of incorporating concern for human rights into a country?s foreign policy, while at the same time aiming for normal diplomatic, trade and security relations with violating states. Furthermore the entrenched role of the Security Council within the United Nations, combined, under the G.W. Bush Administration, with the reaction of the United States to the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, have placed a number of restrictions on human rights advocacy, as the debate has shifted to focus on the fight against terrorism. POLS2501 seeks to provide students with intellectual tools that can be used not only to make sense of the challenges associated with human rights matters, but also to deepen their consciousness about humanity and the imagination, needs and hopes associated with the concept.
    This course commences with an outline of the United Nations' impressive establishment of a global human rights regime, which includes surveying a few of the many declarations, treaties and conventions adopted over the past sixty years. It then examines arguments for a universality of human rights and contrasts them with the arguments of people who claim that rights are tied to specific societies and cultures. Subsequent lectures examine the role that human rights have played in international politics, including: the growing appeal, yet fragile traction, of the norm of humanitarian intervention; questions of torture, poverty and development; the rights of women; the rights of refugees; efforts to establish a Declaration on Indigenous Rights; and the recently established International Criminal Court. During the course, students will have the opportunity to study and debate pressing contemporary human rights issues and to consider the role that various countries play in the protection of human rights.
    The following instance illustrates the challenges that will drive our collective reflection throughout the course. The example takes us to Kabul where the Taliban held power between 1996 and 2001. During that time, Afghani women were totally disempowered and had virtually no rights. Since then, and more in theory than in practice, some minor improvement to their condition has been introduced. Today, a coalition of forces is fighting a war against a resurgent Taliban, but by mid-2010, the state of affairs is such that the coalition has come to admit that the solution cannot be military but must be political. This means negotiating with the Taliban or at least with those members of the Taliban who have severed their ties with international terrorist networks. What however, may be the price to pay for accommodating the Taliban and who may have to pay that price, given that for a great number of Afghanis, whatever changes have been introduced in the country since 2001 are ?Western? products and therefore foreign to Afghani traditions? Do you think that the human rights of Afghani women will be given much importance in that political equation?
    This course is run over 13 teaching weeks and taught both internally and externally, as part of the Universitas 21 Global Issues Program. Internal students will participate in nine one-and-a-half hour workshops starting in Teaching Week Three and ending in Week Twelve. Students who wish to study the course fully online should enrol in the external offering of the course. Lectures will be available for external students through Lectopia and PowerPoint files. Instead of campus-based classes, external students will participate in online learning activities, alongside students from other universities worldwide. These activities will include engaging in online collaborative policy writing workshops, facilitated by an online tutor. Please contact the School of Political Science and International Studies if you wish to switch your enrolment to the external mode.
    Students are expected to spend at least ten hours each week on this course. For internal students, this time can be divided roughly into three-and-a-half contact hours, which comprise a two-hour lecture and a one-and-a-half hour workshop during which they reflect on key questions and interact with peers and teaching staff. The remaining six-and-a-half hours should be spent critically reflecting upon the required readings before the lecture and workshop, reviewing previous class material and working on the written components of the course.
    Learning Objectives
    After successfully completing this course you should be able to:
    • Have a comprehensive appreciation of the genealogy of human rights and their growing relevance to the way nation-states conduct their domestic and foreign policy.
    • Use tools you will have honed to engage matters critically by situating human rights within contending discourses, cases and perspectives.
    • Understand some of the historical forces that have contributed to shaping and reshaping the imagination attached to human rights, and thereby deepen your sense of responsible citizenship within your own surroundings and beyond.
    • Demonstrate the ownership of critical intellectual tools and knowledge that will make you more competitive in your professional activities in a variety of fields and positions.
    • Acquire a deeper awareness of the complexity and plurality of reality and be able to confront your own beliefs and stereotypes.
    Class Contact
    2 hours Lectures, 1.5 hours Tutorials
    Assessment Summary
    Collaborative Workshop: 15%
    Essay: 25%
    Group Report: 35%
    Final Exam: 25%

Course Disclaimer

Courses and course hours of instruction are subject to change.

Eligibility for courses may be subject to a placement exam and/or pre-requisites.

Some courses may require additional fees.

Credits earned vary according to the policies of the students' home institutions. According to ISA policy and possible visa requirements, students must maintain full-time enrollment status, as determined by their home institutions, for the duration of the program.