Al-Quds Bard College, Al-Quds University, Palestine

Undergraduate Program

BA in Human Rights and International Law

A double degree awarded by Al-Quds University, Palestine and Bard College, NY, USA

Core Courses

(3 credits each, total 36 credits)

1.            Introduction to Human Rights

2.            Public International Law and International Organization

3.            Theories of Human Rights

4.            The Politics of Human Rights

5.            Freedom of Expression

6.            Human Rights in the Arab World and in Islam

7.            United Nations Human Rights System

8.            Three Generations of Human Rights

9.            The Palestine-Israel Conflict and Human Rights

10.            Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship and Human Rights

11.            Senior Seminar I

12.            Senior Seminar II

Elective Courses

(3 credits each, students choose 6 courses, total 18 credits)

1.            Regional Human Rights Systems

2.            National Human Rights Systems: Case Study

3.            Transitional Justice

4.            Women, Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights

5.            Human Rights Documentation and Reporting

6.            Constitutions and Human Rights

7.            Human Rights after 9/11

8.            Human Rights and the Media

9.            Human Rights in Armed Conflicts

10.            Human Rights Tribunals

11.            Labor Rights: National and International

12.            Special Topic

13.            Internship


Description of Core Courses

1. Introduction to Human Rights

What are humans and what count as rights? Where does the idea of rights come from? What is the “reality” of human rights in the world? This course offers an introduction to contemporary human rights discourses in their broader historical and theoretical contexts. The course examines the philosophical background of the contested categories making up the terms, “human” and “rights”. It explores the political, social, cultural, and aesthetic dimensions of the claims made by these terms. Students consider the foundations of rights claims, the legal and violent ways of advancing, defending and enforcing rights, and human rights instruments and institutions. The course explores debates over the universality of rights, humanitarian intervention and international crimes, terrorism and democracy and links between human rights and globalization. Using media sources, including screenings and the internet, inter alia, students will examine and solve specific cases in relation to these contemporary challenges to the classical human rights discourse.

2. International Law and Human Rights

Is there such a thing as “international law”? Can international rules and standards be enforced in an anarchical world? This course offers a comprehensive introduction to the law in inter-state, and supranational, relations. It acquaints students with the legal features of the “international community”: the subjects of international law, states, non-state actors and international organizations, the place of individuals in international law; the notion of state sovereignty; sources of international legal norms, treaties and custom; the implementation of international rules in domestic systems; violations of international law and their consequences; enforcement of international rules through the use of force and through judicial means, namely national and international courts and tribunals. The course touches upon contemporary issues of international law, such as the role of the UN in settling international disputes, the concept of collective security, legal restraints on violence in armed conflict, the growth of the international criminal legal system, and the international measures for the protection of the environment.

3. Theories of Human Rights

Behind the practical problems underlying the use of human rights as a tool are many unresolved theoretical and philosophical issues. How do we establish what human rights there are? How can we connect human rights practices to theories of state, society and to the concerns of justice? Who is responsible for the protection of human rights? These debates raise many philosophical questions, both about rights in general and about particular rights, and the study of theories of the various notions of rights is both inherent and inseparable to the modern uses of the term. Covering critical legal and political thinkers ranging from Dworkin, Raz, and Hart to Hegel, Engels and Heidegger and over to more radical contemporary strings of intellects such as Foucault, Derrida and Schmitt, the course introduces fundamental concepts of rights form purely theoretical perspective. This course consists and intensive reading through classic and contemporary texts that explore the central questions concerning the relationship between power and rights, justice and law, and morality and interest.

4. The Politics of Human Rights

Why human rights differ from one society, or culture, to another? Is there such a concept as global or universal human rights? How have human rights been used to intervene in the internal affairs of certain countries? This course explores human rights in international relations at the turn of the twenty-first century. By reviewing cases in which human rights are estimated according to power interests, the course surveys contemporary history commencing from the inter-war period after World War II, within and post the Cold War, and after the September 11, 2001, attacks. The course sheds light on the use of human rights in foreign policy, including the human rights approaches of the world’s superpowers towards dictatorial regimes. The course enables students to view the current events in the world from an informative and knowledgeable position, offering an understanding of human rights issues at both the global and country levels, including the manipulation of human rights by regimes as a pretext to the preservation of power.

5.      Freedom of Expression

What is “freedom of expression”? Is there a right to say anything? What powers does speech have, who has the power and right to speak and for what? The right to freedom of expression, or the freedom of expression as such, is one of the fundamental pillars of the civil liberties movement, and is located at the very root of the historical origins of most human rights systems. This right has been curtailed by various socio-political regimes across the globe for varying interests and other rights, ranging from national security to the right to privacy and home. The limits of the freedom of speech, as the various case studies and theoretical discussion will exemplify, are often distorted and are thereby left to the mercy of the meekest legal interpretation tools in the field of human rights, i.e. the principle of proportionality, reasonableness and other balancing mechanisms. The course investigates the nature, basis and limits of the right to freedom of speech, the legitimacy or otherwise of this right as associated with multiculturalism, freedom of the press and freedom of religion. The course will examine the ways in which rights, language and public space have been linked together in ideas about democracy by tackling the politico-philosophical debates surrounding this incendiary and contentious subject matter.

6.      Human Rights in the Arab World and in Islam

This course will introduce students to discourses on Islamic law and human rights, examining the areas of tension between the competing paradigms of universalism and relativism ranging between the religious and the secular. It critically examines the proposed Islamic human rights schemes, and engages with the arguments of their proponents and critics. The course would focus on the controversial issues of the Islamic law (e.g. women rights, family law including marriage and divorce as well as inheritance, capital, corporal punishments, freedom of region, minority rights) and analyses them from international human rights perspective. Attention will be given to reformist interpretations of Islamic law from the later part of the 20th century that aimed to establish common grounds between the two paradigms. The course explores major human rights abuses in the Arab word and how religion has been used to achieve political and personal interests for both regimes and opposition groups.  It comparatively observes the modern constitutions of Arab countries with the purpose of evaluating interpretation techniques used in the jurisprudence of national courts and the legislation of states.

7.      United Nations Human Rights System

What a role has the UN played in articulating human rights law and monitoring its implantation? In the last half a century, the international community has agreed on extensive human rights standards set forth in more than 1000 instruments, mostly done under the UN auspices, including treaties and declarations, covering civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights. While states carry the primary responsibility under international law for implementation, several international and regional organizations have in place an increasing number of monitoring institutions for scrutinizing national performances. The course introduces the UN system for the protection and promotion of human rights. The system includes “treaty-bodies”, the comities that monitors the core human rights treaties besides the extra-treaty mechanisms, particularly the UN Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures. It touched upon other means that UN has been involved in global human rights crises through the Security Council, peace-keeping operations, the Economic and Social Council and the UN specialized-agencies. Students would be requested to critically evaluate the affectivity of the system and analyze, through case studies and readings of reports produced by UN experts and missions, the underlying achievements and drawbacks of the system.

8.      Three Generations of Human Rights

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes no distinction between “civil and political rights” and “economic and social rights”. In fact, all human rights are envisaged as interdependent and interrelated, so that there is no hierarchical structure for rights. Is this, however, a conception of rights that is feasible in practice? The first two generations of rights have provoked different justifications and arguably differ in their normative elaboration and articulation of the obligation of states to respect such rights. For instance, are economic and social benefits “rights” or merely “goals” that state seek to achieve based on their abilities? Have third generations of rights, such as the right to an environment, or the right to self-determination, attained international recognition and, if so, what are the obstacles for their enforcement? This course engages, through case studies and comparative perspectives on the interpretation and implementation of various rights, with some of technical issues surrounding the enjoyment of rights, including negative and positive obligations of state agents, and the difficulties incumbent in the classification of rights subject to their normative scope and definition.

9.      Palestine-Israel Conflict and Human Rights

The human rights framework, both legally and politically, is one of the principal sources and tools for the modern-day framing of the Palestine-Israel conflict on both the international and regional levels. The course will commence by surveying the historical developments of the use of human rights terminology and substantive legal instruments in the conceptualization of the conflict. It will proceed to normatively assess both the benefits and detriments of framing the conflict in these terms, and the intersections that exist between the field of human rights law and other legal fields that can better ensure the effective enforcement of rights, e.g. humanitarian law and international criminal jurisdiction. The course will also consider the availability of human rights mechanisms for reparation and reconciliation of historical wrongs and their prospective application to the conflict, assessing their efficiency. The course would consider the issues of the conflict (including the right of return, right to self-determination, confiscation of land and settlements, right to water) from the human rights point of view.

10.      Immigration, Refugees, Citizenship and Human Rights

Political upheaval throughout the world has made problems of asylum, refugees and immigration far more visible and controversial issues, leading in turn to a constantly-evolving body of policies. Because refugee and immigration issues are founded upon the relationship between the individual and the state and the regulatory system in these fields is premised on the preservation of state sovereignty and socio-cultural integrity, there are many debates arising out of these presumed conflicts of interests. This course will examine the various international attempts to meet the problem of the forced movements of people due to persecution, armed conflict or great economic instability. The course will introduce the history of the international protection of refugees and examine the definition of refugee status in international and regional instruments. The discussions will consider the role of UN High Commissioner for Refugees and other UN agencies in protecting and assisting refugees, immigrants and noncitizens. The concept of open borders is also addressed and contextualized in the present day global demographical reality of immigration control policies as shaped by the human rights discourse.

Elective Courses

1. Regional Human Rights Systems

Regional human rights systems, including judicial bodies and framework of norms, have become a catalyst for the dynamic evolution of human rights issues. The jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Human Rights Court has taken course in shaping the face of the international legal framework for the protection of human rights. The course consists of a presentation of the intricate procedural avenues available through regional courts as well as their accessibility to individuals from different national jurisdictions. It proceeds to study the case law of these courts from a critical eye and examine the uniqueness of their interpretation techniques and legal rationales. By presenting the framework for the work of these judicial bodies, discussions look to capture the role and position of such institutions in the supranational arena and their affect on national judiciaries and governments’ practices.

2.            National Human Rights Systems: Case Study

This course will undertake a select number of national human rights systems as test cases for examining the nature and extent of available procedural and substantive remedies for victims of violations of human rights on the national level. National human rights litigation has been apprehended by some as a means for easing or even ending human sufferings in individual cases. This type of litigation empowers the abusive regime itself, contributing to its sustainability by affording it the opportunity to legitimize its actions through its own judicial institutions. These and other contentious areas of debate arising out of the mechanisms available in this arena of human rights protection, including the contemporary system of human rights institutions, are reproached and deconstructed.

3.            Transitional Justice

The course deals with legal, moral, social and political questions that arise in countries emerging from massive conflict or from periods of authoritarian or repressive rule. It examines the strategies available to new democratic governments in order to confront a legacy of human rights abuse. These strategies include prosecutions, truth commissions, reparation programs, institutional reforms and reconciliation programs. The course addresses the nature of the international law obligations that arise following the commission of gross violations of human rights and the constraints embryonic democracies face in attempting to comply with these obligations. It covers a historical period starting from the Nuremberg Trials until recent efforts to pursue accountability by the International Criminal Court and in a number of domestic jurisdictions.

4.            Women, Ethnic Minorities and Human Rights

This course addresses the challenges of achieving the international legal protection of the human rights of women and ethnic minorities. It analyzes core themes and issues of women’s rights, incorporating a comparative cultural, national, and historical study of women’s movements and activisms. It reviews the way in which international and regional human rights conventions have been applied to prevent, punish and remedy the violations of the rights of ethnic minorities in different judicial and governmental forums. And it examines how the norm of the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against women has been applied and how it interacts with the rights of ethnic minorities.

5.            Human Rights Documentation and Reporting

This course is skills oriented. It intends to equip students with tools required for professional documentation and reporting human rights violations for various purposes. After attending this course, students would be familiar with the basic elements needed for any proper human rights document. They would be able to design reports to be submitted to regional and UN systems, to national courts and international tribunals in addition to fact finding missions and other forums. Documentation requirements for special human rights reports, such as torture and violence against women cases, would be taught.

6.            Constitutions and Human Rights

The incorporation of human rights norms in national constitutions has always been the principal tool for the protection of human rights on the national level. Human rights in constitutions have heavily affected international law. Basic human rights notions and exist in most constitutions. Human rights are codified in a number of different manners in various constitutional frameworks. Various theories of constitutional interpretation have been offered over the years. The enforcement of rights through the constitutive mechanisms of a national, supranational or international body re-draws the relations between the judiciary and the other branches of government. The course examines these argumentations and explicates their meaning for the protection of human rights.

7.            Human Rights after 9/11

What is “terrorism”? Is torture ever justified to combat terrorism? Can suspected terrorists be held in preventive detention? What is the significance of calling the current struggle against global terrorism a “war”? Is security versus rights a “zero sum game”? What role do human rights play in combating terrorism? Is terrorism a human rights violation? How has the global fight against terrorism impacted the promotion of human rights and human rights defenders? These questions reflect the essence of the new paradigm of the “war on terror” in the reality of post-September 11 human rights discourses. When it comes to human rights, there is the world before September 11 and the world after it. This course will examine the tensions between political and legal efforts to combat terrorism and well-established human rights law and principles.

8.            Human Rights and the Media

What role that the media might have in reporting human rights stories? How the media can influence polices and shapes public opinions with regard to human rights cases? How the same human rights story can be covered in different ways by various news agencies? What role that politics, power, interests and ideologies can play in changing the way in which human rights-related events are covered? Why some news agencies extensively cover certain human rights issues in one region of the world while ignoring even more serious human rights events in other regions/areas? In this course, students would be requested to bring in and critically analyze human rights-related cases and look at the ways that these cases are covered by various media networks such as CNN and Aljazeera.

9.            Human Rights in Armed Conflict

The manner of applying human rights to situations of armed conflict has been a topic of heated debate in academia and in courts. Modern warfare continues to contribute to the distortion of traditional legal norms that are often seen as unsuitable to the present day realities. This course offers an introduction to the law of armed conflict, or international humanitarian law. It critically examines the role of law in guiding the conduct of hostilities and protecting civilians. It reviews situations of occupation and the impact of terrorism on the law of armed conflict. The ways in which international tribunals, regional and national courts have applied human rights law to compliment international humanitarian law in times of armed conflict, along with the traditional legal foundations of the convergence between human rights and the law of war, will be examined.

10.            Human Rights Tribunals

The course explores the variety of international courts and tribunals functioning at the inter-state level and addresses a range of theoretical and practical issues relating to their operation. It concentrates in particular on systematic concerns common to all existing tribunals and on doctrinal issues related to the work of specific tribunals. History of international tribunals will be visited and focus would be attached to the recent development of international criminal law, particularly the International Criminal Court.

11.            Labor Rights: National and International

Relations between employers and employees centrally shape people’s daily lives. Employment relations are simultaneously contractual and hierarchical. They thereby implicate significant legal and philosophical questions about consent, power, and participation. Workplaces in developed countries have become highly regulated institutions, which in turn govern the terms and conditions of workplace interactions among employees and employers. The development of these norms has also gained influence in developing countries as a mean for accelerating both social and economic growth. The course introduces the basics of international labor law, namely the core labor standards of the International Labor Organization, and considers the place of this group of rights in national human rights systems. It observes the widespread application of these standards and the particular uniqueness of their economic enforcement mechanisms.

12.            Special Topic

Students would be able to choose any human rights-related course that might be introduced in a given semester upon the availability of a visiting faculty.

13.            Internship


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