Human Rights in the 21st Century: Challenges in International Law and Advocacy
“[I gained] a better understanding of human rights and a basis of knowledge on how to determine and protect them, as well as how they affect people internationally.” – Sydney F. | Irvine, California
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.
In the first part of the course, 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.
In the second part of the course, students apply their new knowledge to the problems facing human rights today. Topics 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.
Each day participants are required to read college-level academic literature on the law and practice of human rights and engage with new ideas through group discussion and activities. The primary assignment for this course is participation in an international moot court activity, which challenges students to research and give oral arguments on a fictitious human rights case.
The course also introduces students to several different perspectives through a variety of guest lecturers.
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.
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.