Human rights have been defined as a concern of the international community since the post-Second World War period, when the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms and the prohibition of discrimination were included among the objectives of the newly established United Nations. They have significantly expanded their reach since: they now influence various branches of domestic law, including family law, employment law, corporate law, or criminal law. They also have influenced the shaping of international relations, in areas such as development cooperation, foreign debt, the global fight against terrorism, or the quest for sustainable development.
Governments remain the main actors in the development of human rights. Civil society (non-governmental organisations) and social movements, however, increasingly contribute to shaping their contours, and human rights are now evolving as a result of the constant dialogue between international human rights bodies and domestic courts, in a search that crosses geographical, cultural and legal boundaries. This course will explore how human rights evolve and how they can be enforced and progressively realized. It will examine the sources of human rights, including both civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights. It will address the specific regime of human rights law as part of general international law. It will relate the rights of individuals to the duties of States (to respect, protect and fulfil human rights). And it will assess the effectiveness of the mechanisms of protection of human rights, at both domestic and regional or international levels.
The course relies extensively on comparative material from different jurisdictions, to study a wide range of topics including, for instance, religious freedom in multicultural societies, human rights in employment relationships, economic and social rights in development, the human rights responsibilities of corporations, or human rights in the context of the fight against terrorism.