Human Rights in the 21st Century: Challenges in International Law and Advocacy

Fall - September 18–November 21, 2021
Modality, Day & Time:
Online - Saturday, 8:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m.

Hannah Ali, Lakshmi Gopal

Course Description

Are human rights still relevant in promoting social justice and freedom in the 21st Century? Human rights law and advocacy have been central to international politics since the end of World War II. However, recent rises in authoritarianism and anti-liberal regimes have raised new questions on whether the human rights framework is still capable of addressing injustices in the modern world. This course introduces students to the law and practice of human rights as well as the challenges of enforcing rights in an international environment that has grown increasingly hostile to principles of human dignity and personal freedom.

Students review the philosophical foundations of human rights and then examine human rights from two perspectives. First, the legal perspective introduces them to basic principles and rules of international law and the main international organizations and mechanisms designed for promoting and enforcing human rights. Second, they adopt the role of social scientist. We debate evidence on the effectiveness of human rights law and discuss challenges of enforcing rights in an international system in which states are not accountable to a higher authority.

Students apply their new knowledge to the problems facing human rights today. Topics may include cultural relativist critiques of human rights as a Western, neo-colonialist institution, challenges from new technologies in state surveillance and autonomous weapons, and existential threats to human populations through climate change and environmental damage. The course includes asynchronous work, which students are expected to complete between class sessions.

Registration Guidance & Call Number(s)

Please note, this course may have multiple classes being offered in a particular term. Students should only register for one class and with one call number.

To view detailed information on a particular offering, click on the call number to be directed to the Directory of Classes catalogue.

  • HUMN0104 | Call Number: 15776 (Saturdays)

Further guidance on the registration process can be found here.


Hanna Ali

Hanna Ali is an associate in the New York office of Paul Hastings LLP where her work focuses on life sciences and healthcare clients, specifically in the FDA regulatory space. Hanna is also very active in the firm’s pro bono practice, particularly on immigration matters for victims of human trafficking.

Before starting her current practice, Hanna was a legal fellow with a reproductive rights policy nonprofit also in New York. Hanna has a background in clinical and academic research, including providing support for a publication on the Arab Spring in Egypt (2015) for which she interviewed members of political parties to better understand how the electoral rules were established for the post-revolution parliamentary election.

Hanna holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School, where she also served as a Graduate Student Instructor for an upper-level sociology class at the University. She was the Executive Development Editor of the Michigan Law Review and active in pro bono matters in poverty alleviation, environmental crimes, and immigration.

Hanna holds a bachelor's degree in Psychology and Global Economics and Environment/Global Health from UNC Chapel Hill, graduating with distinction and highest honors.

Lakshmi Gopal

Lakshmi Gopal is Principal Attorney at Muciri Law PLLC, where her work focuses on serving individuals marginalized by technology—especially with respect to access to education and access to justice.

Before starting her practice, from 2018 to 2020, Lakshmi taught law as a lecturer and senior researcher at the Faculty of Law and Business at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Saxony-Anhalt, Germany. She taught US Constitutional Law and US Business Law and was the coach of the University’s World Trade Organization and Foreign Direct Investment Moot Court teams. While in Germany, she worked as an in-house lawyer for Babbel, a German language-learning technology company. She also interned in the Cabinet of Judge Tamara Perišin at the General Court of the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg.

Lakshmi holds a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School, where she was awarded the S. Anthony Benton Memorial Award for scholastic excellence in the fields of constitutional and international law. At law school, Lakshmi was Managing Editor Online with the Michigan Journal of International Law and Vice-President of the American Constitution Society. Lakshmi holds a master’s degree from Columbia’s Department of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She holds a bachelor's degree in Visual Arts from Columbia, graduating magna cum laude with departmental honors. She holds a bachelor’s degree with merit in Philosophy (Honors) from King’s College, London.

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Specific course details such as topics, activities, hours, and instructors are subject to change at the discretion of the University. Not all instructors listed for a course teach all sections of that course.