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The Evolution of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Open, Lecture—Spring

History is replete with rabid pogroms, merciless religious wars, tragic show trials, and even genocide. For as long as people have congregated, they have defined themselves, in part, as against an other—and persecuted that other. But history has also yielded systems of constraints. So how can we hope to achieve a meaningful understanding of the human experience without examining both the wrongs and the rights? Should the human story be left to so-called realists, who claim that power wins out over ideals every time? Or is there a logic of mutual respect that offers better solutions? This lecture examines the history of human rights and humanitarian law. Approximately half the course will address the long and remarkably consistent history of the laws of war, focusing on the principles of military necessity, proportionality, and discrimination, as well as on the cultural, political, and technological context in which these laws evolved. The other half will focus on the rights that individuals and groups claim against their own states. Although there are no prerequisites, students would benefit from having taken The Contemporary Practice of International Law. Readings will draw from three key texts: Howard, Andreolopous & Shulman’s The Laws of War: Constraints on Warfare in the Western World; Buergenthal, Shelton & Stewart’s International Human Rights in a Nutshell; and Human Rights Advocacy Stories, edited by Hurwitz, Satterthwaite & Ford. These readings will be supplemented by articles and original sources such as conventions, cases, and statutes.