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Law 311 - Responses to Massive Violations of Human Rights

(Half Unit in 2nd term)

This course provides an introduction to, and overview of, a vital and topical area of international human rights law, and the relationship between law and politics. It assesses the legal, practical, political and moral issues involved in using national courts to pursue accountability for massive human rights violations by states, transnational corporations and individuals. The development and efficacy of truth commissions as an alternative to criminal prosecutions and civil litigation, and as a means of facilitating a transition to democracy and the achievement of justice and reconciliation, is also examined. The course considers the legal, practical, political and moral issues to which using national courts and/or truth commissions give rise.

The course critically analyses the genesis and conduct of the attempt to render the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet, legally accountable for crimes of state and the key elements of the "Pinochet precedent". The implications of the "Pinochet precedent" for bringing massive human rights violators to justice in many parts of the world e.g., Africa, Latin America, Europe, the Middle East and the United States (including the efforts to interrogate and prosecute the former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger) is also examined. In investigating these topics, the course illuminates:

  • the development of international human rights law,
  • the interface between domestic and international law,
  • the relationship between law and politics,
  • the construction of global citizenship,
  • the efficacy of human rights,
  • the judicialisation of power,
  • democratic accountability,
  • "the rights revolution",
  • the role and accountability of non-governmental organisations (such as Amnesty International, Oxfam and Greenpeace) and allied pressure groups,
  • the role of the legal profession, notably, activist "cause lawyers", who seek to defend and extend progressive causes,
  • the role and impact of the media and the not-so-new information and communications technologies,
  • the reconfiguration of the state,
  • and (inevitably) globalisation.


One extended piece of coursework weighted at 100%.

Recommended Reading

Robertson, Geoffrey. Crimes against Humanity: The Struggle for Global Justice. London: Allen Lane, 2006 (3rd edition).

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