Human Rights and the Global South





The disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the global impact of the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd have highlighted for all to see the dramatic inequities and entrenched human rights violations that continue to plague human societies. Extreme poverty, especially among communities of color, is sky rocketing, refugees and other forced migrants are blocked from seeking life-saving protection, domestic violence is soaring, evidence of structural racism and its enduring legacy is present on every continent.  Despite over half a century of international law making and domestic enactment of human rights treaties, and despite a vibrant civil society that has embraced human rights principles world-wide, class privilege, post-colonial power structures, gender and caste differences, xenophobia and skewed trading and taxation policies persist.  They militate against a level playing field when it comes to access to fundamental human rights such as the rights to non-discrimination, to life, to education and to health.

Thus, though human rights have become a global lingua franca, invoked by leaders and movements across the political, religious and cultural spectrum, their efficacy is at best partial and flawed in most countries, including throughout what is commonly referred to as the Global South. Remedies for violations such as deprivation of an adequate standard of living and the extreme poverty that accompanies it, slavery and colonization and their enduring 21st century legacy, and racialized and gendered forms of structural violence have proven elusive.  This seminar will focus on the Global South (a concept we will interrogate), including populations from the global South seeking protection elsewhere, to address key issues in contemporary human rights theory and practice, and historical analysis.  Members of the seminar will first study the philosophical and political traditions that led to codification of human rights and their historical context. The seminar will then cover the legal and conceptual frameworks of contemporary international human rights law and examine their relevance to some of the most egregious human rights violations of the current period. Case studies of pivotal controversies, including the failure to address extreme poverty, the question of reparations for slavery or colonization, solutions to forced (including climate-induced) migration and gender-based violence will be explored and discussed.

This seminar is intentionally conceptualized to optimize small and large-group discussions with the goal of both delivering a unique teaching and learning environment while also building class community.


Additional Information

Faculty: Caroline Elkins, Jacqueline Bhabha
Semester: Full Fall Term
Time: Thurs, 12:00 - 2:00 p.m. ET