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Advocating for International Human Rights: Strategies and Theories of Change

Course Description

The human rights movement is one of the most successful social justice movements of our time, establishing universal principles that govern how states should treat citizens and non-citizens, and helping to challenge dictators and authoritarian rulers in many regions, including Southern Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. Over the last three decades, national human rights organizations have proliferated; today, a human rights community of some sort exists in virtually every country of the world. On the global level, simultaneously, the International Human Rights Movement (IHRM) has become a powerful force. The movement strengthens—and is strengthened by—a complex web of institutions, laws, and norms that constitute a functioning global system that builds on itself progressively, animated by strong NGOs.
In the 21st Century, the international human rights movement faces new challenges and new opportunities. Building on the standard-setting successes of the past few decades, human rights organizations are finding new ways to implement and enforce rights, moving beyond law and norm development to make rights real for more people and to demonstrate that the global human rights system can work. To do this, they are using new tools to better document, analyze and publicize human rights abuse and to better advocate for changes in policy and behavior. And they are focusing on new spaces for international engagement, from Brasilia to Beijing.
The focus of this class is the NGOs that drive the movement on the international level (e.g. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Witness, International Center for Transitional Justice, etc.); on the regional level (e.g. Forum-Asia, West African Human Rights Defenders Network, Center for Justice and International Law); and the national/domestic level (e.g. Centro de Estudios Legales y sociales, Kenyan Human Rights Commission; Legal Resources Center, etc.). Indeed, each class will highlight the experience of at least one major human rights NGO. Drawing of two decades of working closely with these organizations, the instructor will bring countless examples from the field into the classroom, including internal debates about strategy development, institutional representation, research methodologies, partnerships, networks, venues of engagement (e.g. regional systems, Human Rights Council), campaigning, fundraising and, perhaps most importantly, the fraught and complex debates about adaptation to changing global circumstances, starting with the pre-Cold War period and including some of the most up-to-date issues and questions going on in this field today.

Students will leave with a deep appreciation of what it means to work in or with Human Rights NGOs: challenges, strategies, dilemmas, theories of change, etc. and be uniquely prepared to both analyze this sector and/or work in it as a staff person, consultant, or NGOs leader. 




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