We conceptualize this site as an on-line text book that introduces students to the development of human rights policy and the key actors involved in the dynamic and ever-evolving international policy process. The site combines the personal reflections of human rights practitioners about the internal decision-making processes of NGOs with academic scholarship and government documents and reports on several substantive areas of international human rights policy. Each subject page offers instructors a list of valuable resources that they may wish to integrate into their teaching on the topic. These resources include treaties and human rights instruments, government and international organization reports, academic scholarship, case studies, advocacy groups and training tools, and multimedia sources including you-tube videos and films.
As instructors ourselves, we use the website in different ways to reflect the very different teaching environments in which we operate. We offer our experiences below to demonstrate some of the possibilities for using the website as a teaching tool. We’d also be interested in learning how you are using the website in your own teaching so feel free to use the contact form below to share your ideas.
Graduate Level Teaching
Susan Waltz is Professor of Public Policy at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan where she works with graduate students pursuing careers in the field of public policy as well as advanced graduate students pursing academic careers. There are two different ways that Susan uses the site.
Human Rights Policy: Susan has incorporated the website as a main text for her class on human rights policy. The site serves as a vehicle to help students see international human rights standards as public policy and to see the dynamism of that policy process – that policy is not static, that there are multiple and varied stakeholders and actors engaged in the policy-making process, and that standards are subject to interpretation. The narratives contained in the website demonstrate that knowledge builds and evolves over time.
International Relations Courses: In IR courses, the site can also be used to highlight the role of NGOs in the international policy and norm development. For example, the topics page on enforced disappearances illustrates the role that NGOs played in identifying and conceptualizing the problem of disappearances, installing it on the international agenda, and pressing for international standards. Resources listed on the pages related to the Making Policy Decisions section can be used to explore the variety of actors engaged in international policy making – states, IGOs, NGOs, epistemic communities and private actors – and the core differences between them and how they operate. And finally, the site can be used to explore the place of states and non-state actors in the international system. For example, the general section on Accountability notes the mid-twentieth century assumptions about a state-centric international political system and several of the related topics pages (especially the topic pages on government obligations and corporate accountability) illustrate the evolution of that understanding over the past fifty years.
Undergraduate Level Teaching
Carrie Booth Walling is Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at Albion College – a small, private liberal arts college. Carrie teaches undergraduate students and uses the website as a teaching tool for courses in Human Rights, Transitional Justice and International Organizations.
Human Rights: Carrie uses the website as a supplemental text for her human rights course. Students are assigned to explore substantive areas of the websites as they approach those topics on the syllabus. For example, when learning about the international human rights movement and how it operates, including the strategies and tactics of human rights NGOs, students are assigned to read the pages dedicated to Methods of Research and Advocacy and are encouraged to use the New Tactics in Human Rights training tool on Uncovering Forensic Evidence. When students are examining the question of torture, they are assigned to visit the torture page and read the narrative provided by Nigel Rodley about how Amnesty International came to be concerned with torture. The site also gives students direct access to human rights instruments like the Torture Convention and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Finally, in upper-level courses, students are assigned to conduct research on a human rights topic of their choosing, students are encouraged to use the site to identify resources for their research projects, as each topic page of the site contains an extensive bibliography of mixed sources useful for conducting further independent research.
Transitional Justice: A section of the website is dedicated to Accountability for Human Rights Abuses. Here students are introduced to the variety of actors that bear responsibilities for human rights protection and how their obligations differ. Students learn the core obligations of governments and how over time armed insurgent groups and corporations also became accountable for human rights abuses. There is a page dedicated to the norm of individual criminal accountability for human rights violations and another page that explains how the due diligence standard has been used to protect women’s rights in the private sphere.
International Organizations: Carrie’s international organization students use the site to learn about global governance in the area of human rights. They also visit the page on invoking standards of international humanitarian law to learn about the relationship (the similarities and differences) between international human rights law and international humanitarian law (IHL). Students read the reflection by Ken Roth, Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, about the decision to incorporate IHL into the organization’s human rights fact-finding work. Carrie also uses the ICRC fact-sheets and you-tube video – International Humanitarian Law: A Universal Code – found in the resources list to teach students the basic rules of war fighting – who can be killed and how, and who must be protected.
We invite you to access the complete conference proceedings, Human Rights: From Practice to Policy, which were an inspiration for this website. The complete proceedings include all the practitioner narratives contained on this website but also include the observations of scholars about those narratives as well as transcripts of interactive dialogues between practitioners and scholars on each of the substantive issues discussed.