Human Rights and the Global South





Jacqueline Bhabha (Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health)
Caroline M. Elkins (Department of History and Department of African and African American Studies)
Freshman Seminar 43C 4 credits (fall term) Enrollment:  Limited to 12

The disparate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for all to see the dramatic inequities and entrenched human rights violations that continue to plague human societies. Extreme poverty, especially among communities of color, is sky rocketing, refugees and other forced migrants are blocked from seeking life-saving protection, domestic violence is soaring.  Despite over half a century of international law making and domestic enactment of human rights treaties, and despite a vibrant civil society that has embraced human rights principles world-wide, class privilege, structural racism, gender and caste differences, xenophobia and skewed trading and taxation policies persist.  They militate against a level playing field when it comes to access to fundamental human rights such as the rights to non-discrimination, to life and to health.

Thus, though human rights have become a global lingua franca, invoked by leaders and movements across the political, religious and cultural spectrum, their efficacy is at best partial and flawed in most countries, including throughout the Global South. Remedies for violations such as deprivation of an adequate standard of living and the extreme poverty that accompanies it, slavery and colonization and their enduring 21st century legacy, and racialized and gendered forms of structural violence have proven elusive.  This seminar will focus on the Global South, including populations from the global South seeking protection elsewhere, to address key issues in contemporary human rights theory and practice.  Members of the seminar will first study the philosophical and political traditions that led to codification of human rights. The seminar will then cover the legal frameworks of contemporary international human rights law and examine how their relevance to some of the most egregious human rights violations of the current period. Case studies of pivotal controversies, including the failure to address extreme poverty, the question of reparations for slavery or colonization, solutions to forced (including climate-induced) migration and gender-based violence will be explored and discussed. 


See also: Fall 2020