Course Descriptions

INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS (2 credits)Professor Susan Tiefenbrun

This course examines the global human rights movement that grew out of World War II and how international human rights laws, instruments and institutions respond to human rights violations.  International human rights include civil and political rights, economic rights, social and cultural rights, women’s rights and children’s rights.  These rights are reflected in legal norms, political contexts, moral ideas, international relations and foreign policy.  This course uses an interdisciplinary approach to examine the laws and policies of international human rights as applied to all individuals in general and to women in particular.  The course reviews applicable international human rights laws, instruments, U.N. treaty organs, regional and international tribunals, and the role of NGOs in the human rights movement.  The course analyzes state and international policies, practices, and attitudes in order to understand the causes and consequences of discrimination and abuse perpetrated on individuals.  Gender justice and the empowerment of women to facilitate full enjoyment of their human rights, accountability and enforcement is a central theme of the course.  Special attention is paid to the universal crime of sex slavery, human trafficking, and rape as a weapon of war in the development of massive human rights violations.  The Prevalent use of children as soldiers is also examined.  Students analyze the rules and standards of contemporary human rights as expressed in states’ constitutions, laws, practices, international treaties, customs, court decisions, investigative reports and recommendations of international institutions, and governmental and non-governmental actors in order to understand the ongoing development of international human rights laws.


Professor Ilene Durst

At the end of 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees identified 11.7 million persons living as refugees and 1.2 million asylum applications pending worldwide, that is 13 million persons forced to flee their home countries because of persecution perpetrated or condoned by their government.  As these numbers swell, and migration increases at a pace not seen since the early part of the 20th century, international and domestic law governing who is granted protection by countries other than their own becomes more significant.   Because the legal regime governing refugees originates in international agreements, we will exam the treaties and protocols protecting individual rights and the states’ right to dictate who enters and remains within their borders.  We will then compare various countries’ approaches to applying those international precepts, taking into account relevant historical, political, social and economic events.  We will attempt to answer whether the law respects Elie Wiesel’s humanitarian dictate that “[w]hen human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”


Professor Marybeth Herald

This class will focus on what we can learn about constitutional values and choices by comparing the United States with western European civil law countries such as France and Germany and other common law countries, such as Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. Using the United States constitution as a touchstone for comparing the other constitutional models, the course will examine elements of universality and difference and discuss the relative merits of the approaches.  No previous study of constitutional law is necessary.  Subjects covered include the concept of constitutionalism, limits on constitutional rights (including political limits), judicial appointment, and various constitutional rights, including freedom of speech, expression, religion, privacy, and equality. The class will also examine how judges handle issues differently, based on the political context and their contrasting worldviews.


Professor Maurice Dyson

This seminar will explore how the ideals of equality, freedom, and self-determination survive a time when predatory global finance, militarism, and racism are ascendant.  The seminar will create an opportunity to explore global struggles for economic and political self-determination; comparative conceptions of equality and justice; models of resistance, revolution and reform throughout history and in the contemporary modern context looking at the role of multinational corporations, governments, and post-colonial grass roots organizations advocating the rights of racial, gender and cultural identity minorities.  Seminar participants will explore what global progressive alliances are possible to resist global cartels of corruption and repression as well as the legal and non-legal mechanisms that both empower and imperil self-determination with case study examination of social demands for justice throughout western, Middle Eastern and other non-western societies.  Students will have an opportunity to craft a project that purports to effectively address a contemporary issue of social, political and economic inequality of interest to them by developing a focused, limited and achievable plan of action involving both legal and non-legal means and taking concrete steps to implement their action plans.