JD Courses

The faculty members of the Center for International Human Rights (CIHR) offer a wide range of lecture courses, seminars, and clinical courses in international human rights law and international criminal law. The Center is led by its Director, Professor David Scheffer, a former US Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues in the Clinton Administration who teaches several lecture courses and a seminar. Other leading faculty members in this field are Bridget Arimond, who teaches clinical courses, and Stephen Sawyer and Juliet Sorensen, who teach several seminars.

A sampling of courses are listed below. For more information on the program courses, view the Current Course Listings.

Clinic Practice: International Human Rights Advocacy (3-4 credits)

Students will have the opportunity to work on cases or projects applying the norms of international human rights law, international criminal law, and/or international humanitarian law. Past projects are illustrative and have included: (1) At the request of an NGO that works on HIV/AIDS and access to health care issues in Rwanda, students prepared a memorandum on the ways in which the detention of hospital patients unable to pay their bills violates Rwandan domestic law and international human rights law. Two clinic students and the professor traveled to Rwanda in connection with this project. (2) At the request of an NGO that works on gender-based violence issues (including honor killings) in Iraq, students researched potential avenues of relief through the international refugee system and various international human rights mechanisms, and prepared both a memoranda setting out the various options and a "how to" guide explaining how an NGO can utilize the most promising of these options. (3) Students assisted in trial preparations in a federal court case against Shell Oil alleging corporate complicity in an array of human rights atrocities in Nigeria. (4) Initial work was begun exploring the potential use of international mechanisms to challenge felony disenfranchisement laws.

Other projects from earlier years have included, among others, (1) preparation of memoranda for the Office of the Prosecutor of various international criminal tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC); (2) litigation of an Alien Tort Claims Act/Torture Victim Protection Act case against a multinational corporation arising out of the bombing of a civilian village in Colombia; and (3) preparation of amicus briefs in Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victim Protection Act cases.

Recommended prerequisite or co-requisite: Students applying for this placement are strongly encouraged to have some prior or concurrent exposure to international law concepts through one of the following: completion of or concurrent enrollment in a substantive course in international law (international law, international human rights law, international criminal law, etc.); prior CIHR clinic enrollment or work experience; participation in the Jessup Moot Court program or an international law journal; or comparable prior or concurrent international law experience. Although this course is listed as meeting on Fridays at noon, an alternative time for weekly class meetings may be established at the convenience of the instructor and class members. However, Friday at noon will be the fallback time if a mutually agreeable alternative cannot be found.

Clinic Practice: Human Rights Advocacy at Home and Abroad (3-4 credits)

In this clinical course, students will work on projects that will expose them to diverse forms of human rights advocacy before domestic courts, international tribunals, foreign courts, and the United Nations. The clinic is litigation-oriented, although clinic students will also be exposed to legislative advocacy and may have the opportunity to engage in fact-finding and research regarding human rights violations abroad.

A current sampling of projects includes: (1) representation of Mexican nationals on death row in Texas who are facing imminent execution in violation of the Avena Judgment of the International Court of Justice, a case that mandated judicial hearings in the cases of 52 Mexican nationals on death row whose consular rights have been violated; (2) collaboration with lawyers in Malawi and other African countries to reduce prison overcrowding and protect the rights of pre-trial detainees (in the past, a number of clinic students have traveled to Malawi to work directly with prisoners there); (3) representation of Mohamed al Qahtani, a prisoner at Guantanamo who was tortured by U.S. interrogators, in federal habeas proceedings; (4) working with lawyers around the world to promote the implementation of international norms regarding the application of the death penalty; and (5) drafting a report on U.S. compliance with human rights norms for submission to the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Corporate Compliance and Social Mandates (2-3 credits)

This seminar examines human rights issues related to global operations of multinational corporations. Students study relevant international legal standards, including applicable corporate law principles, the international legal personality of corporations, the scope of corporate responsibilities/duties to respect, protect, and promote human rights in the corporate "spheres of influence;" complicity, agency, and joint venture liability; civil and criminal remedies litigation before domestic courts; extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction; soft rules and corporate self-regulation with reference to the U.N. Global Compact and corporate codes of conduct; the legal objectives of companies and the conflict between shareholder and stakeholder interests; and non-market management strategies integrating human rights issues with contract law, monitoring, risk assessments, and stakeholder-sensitive corporate governance structures. The seminar also focuses on human rights litigation against multinational corporations, such as the Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron, and Unocal cases under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act, as well as legal developments in selected European jurisdictions. Maximum number of 15 students. 25-page paper requirement, and there is a two-draft requirement for three credits.

International Human Rights Law (3 credits) 

This is an introductory survey course about the many areas of practice and study in international human rights law. The course examines the sources, history, and theoretical underpinnings of human rights law and then covers the modern protection of civil, political, economic, and social rights. The significance of cultural relativism and the critical role of international and regional human rights organizations and courts are studied, as well as corporate compliance with human rights standards and the responsibility to protect principle.

Nation Building: International Human Rights in Transitional Societies (2-3 credits) 

This seminar course will explore the nation building elements that must be in place in a state emerging from a period of state oppression or armed conflict in order for that state to become a society where human rights are respected. In the course we will examine the concepts of international human rights, democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, self-determination, civil society, gender justice and minority rights, and the role these factors play, individually and in combination, in creating and maintaining an emergent society that respects international human rights. We will consider the role of a number of devices designed to aid broken societies transition to rights respecting ones, including truth and reconciliation commissions, judicial intervention, and collective action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Throughout the course we will relate the international legal principles to real life situations in places such as Iraq; Afghanistan; Palestine; Libya; Kosovo; Sudan (and elsewhere in Africa); Columbia; Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the world.

A New World Order: the Role of the United Nations in Advancing the Rule of Law and Human Rights (2-3 credits) 

The primary subject of the course will be the law of the United Nations, with a particular focus on the legal pronouncements, actions and judgments in the international human rights realm of the UN's various Councils, commissions, committees and other bodies. The course is designed for students who wish to develop an in depth understanding of the legal processes at the UN bearing on international human rights and the rule of law. The course will explore these concepts in a number of contexts, including peacemaking/peacebuilding, economic development, environmental protection, advancing standards of health and conditions of work, and promoting cultural understanding among peoples. A primary focus during the course will be on specific case studies--both country based and thematic--involving the denial of human rights within nations and the efforts of UN treaty bodies and operational agencies, including the newly created Human Rights Council, to provide redress.  Throughout the course, we will seek to look behind the façade of the UN organization and seek to determine the degree to which the organization is effective as a cohesive whole or, as some critics charge, merely a "sprawling array of fiefdoms" that is more interested in promoting internal or personal agendas than the mandates of the UN Charter and treaties. During the course we will relate the international principles to real world situations occurring over the years since the inception of the UN through to the present day.

Special Topics in International Criminal Law (3 credits)

In a shrinking world, crime increasingly knows no borders. This three-credit hour course explores U.S. criminal prosecutions of international crimes. A discussion of the jurisdictional and venue requirements for overseas crimes segues into the crimes themselves: piracy, cybercrime, international cartels and more. Special attention is paid to increased prosecutions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in a global marketplace. The class concludes with discussions of extradition and gathering evidence abroad.

International Criminal Law (3 credits) 

This course provides an introduction to international criminal law as it pertains to the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals and the contemporary international and hybrid criminal tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (and their successor, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals), the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Students study the sources and evolving definitions of the atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression, as well as the creation, jurisprudence, and rules of procedure of the tribunals. 

Comparative Human Rights Law: Differing Perspectives, Europe, the Americas, the US (2-3 credits)

In this seminar course we will consider the developing case law of two international regional courts—the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter American Court of Human Rights—and the US Supreme Court, with a particular emphasis on matters of topical interest, such as the critical elements of a democratic society; non discrimination; due process standards for those charged with crime; the duty of government to protect individual rights; freedom of expression and association, the role of religion in the society and the right of privacy, including the right of gays and lesbians to participate fully in the society. We will contrast and compare the regional international law in these areas with the law in the United States and in certain other select jurisdictions. The course will also offer an introduction to an understanding of various European and hemispheric institutions, including the European Court of Justice and the Organization of American States, and how the regional human rights courts fit into those contexts.

The Law of War/International Humanitarian Law (2-3 credits) 

In this seminar course we will examine the international legal parameters relating to the conduct of war/armed conflict, a topic that is also known under the heading of international humanitarian law. We will consider the application of legal regulation in the context of armed conflict from three perspectives: the lawfulness of a resort to armed force in the first instance; the lawfulness of belligerents' conduct during armed conflict once it has commenced, and the post conflict legal consequences of forms of criminal misconduct during the conflict. More specifically, we will examine the regulation of various means and methods of warfare (including the choice and use of weapons); the status and treatment of civilians, civilian objects and POWs; the regulation of non-international armed conflicts; the application of the law of war to non-state actors (such as terrorist organizations and corporations); various enforcement mechanisms and the effectiveness thereof; the legal ramifications of belligerent occupation and issues related to the protection of cultural artifacts and the environment during wartime. We will consider the application in armed conflict of several international instruments and the military manuals of selected countries. Throughout the course we will relate the international legal principles to real life situations in places such as Iraq; Afghanistan; Libya; Palestine; Kosovo; East Timor; Darfur and Rwanda (and elsewhere in Africa); Columbia; Sri Lanka and elsewhere in the world.

Health and Human Rights (2.5 credits)

The course, which is open to Law, Kellogg and Master's in Public Health students, examines the intersection of health and international human rights. Readings and discussion will focus on whether there is a universal right to health; how to maximize access to health; the health implications of war crimes and atrocities; and the meaning of rights and access in resource-poor settings such as refugee camps and fragile states. Special attention will be paid to the role of corporate social responsibility and advanced economies in access to health.

Students will work in interdisciplinary groups on a health assessment and intervention known as the Access to Health Project. Headed by Professor Sorensen of the Center for International Human Rights and Carolyn Baer, Deputy Director of the Center for Global Health at Feinberg Medical School, the Access to Health Project seeks to leverage academic partnerships to maximize access to health in communities in the developing world. Specifically, this class will participate in a needs assessment and intervention for the town of Bonga, Ethiopia, a town in southwestern Ethiopia where public health issues in the area include malnutrition; maternal mortality; and disease that is treatable by basic vaccinations such as tetanus, typhoid, and measles.

The needs assessment will reflect human rights, public health and sustainability considerations. In lieu of an exam, student teams will prepare a final written report detailing their findings and recommendations. Pursuant to an application process at the start of the class, up to five students will travel to Ethiopia over spring break to conduct a site visit and evaluate their findings.

Additional Human Rights or Criminal Law-Related Courses within the Law School

In addition to the above-listed courses offered by the faculty of the CIHR, every year a number of additional courses related to international human rights or international criminal law are offered as part of the general Law School course offerings. While the offerings change from year to year, the following courses are representative of the kinds of courses offered:

Refugees and Asylum (2-3 credits) 
The seminar concentrates on the U.S. statutory definition of refugee which forms the basis for asylum. This definition includes the definition from the 1951 United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees and the 1967 United Nations Protocol to which over 140 countries are signatories. Consideration will be given to exclusions from and alternatives to asylum. While the basic definitions apply globally, most cases read are from the U.S. Evaluation: Presence, participation, oral presentation; research paper. Teaching Method: Several methods will be used to explore the concepts of refugees and asylum: (1) lecture; (2) discussion and roleplay of hypothetical cases of aliens seeking refugee status and asylum; (3) presentation and discussion of students' paper topics and (4) submission of a paper. Text: Coursepack compiled by Professor Hughes. Prerequisites: None. Papers: Multiple draft papers are permitted.

International Environmental Law (2-3 credits)
This seminar examines the question of how global resources like rare species, marine environments, and clean air can be protected within an international legal framework where state actors reign supreme. Sources of international environmental law and associated enforcement mechanisms will be discussed with reference to various environmental problems including climate change, ozone depletion, transboundary air pollution, loss of biodiversity, and over fishing. The relationship between trade, development, and environmental protection will receive particular attention throughout the seminar, as will issues arising from the evolving role of non-state actors. Students will be evaluated based on a research paper and class participation.

Principles of Justice (2-3 credits) 
An examination of law and process for using American force abroad, intelligence gathering, the war on terrorism, torture, the Iraq War, the USA Patriot Act, detention without process, extraordinary rendition, counterterrorism, the Department of Homeland Security, border and transportation security, military commissions, intelligence reform legislation, and related civil liberties concerns.

Women, Children, Gender, and Human Rights (2-3 credits)
Law involving the civil, criminal, or constitutional rights of children is a recent development, as is the global discourse and international law of human rights treaties and standards. The jurisprudence, consequences, and administration of human rights law for children, while largely undeveloped, are rapidly emerging in treaty law, case law, customary law, legislation, and legal hearings (U.N. Commission on Human Rights, European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the International Criminal Court) around the world. This seminar will examine the framework of children and human rights, including matters of evidence, jurisdiction, and the domestic implementation and applicability of major treaty law. The class will investigate the changing constructions of childhood with its contending frameworks of property, protection, rights, and participation. The class will examine the impact of both essentialism and religious law and traditional customs (such as Shari'a, Islamic Law) on international human rights. Students will examine, in some depth, five substantive areas of human rights law in both the U.S. and abroad: juvenile justice and the deprivation of liberty; sentencing and the death penalty for children; separated children (orphans, street children, and refugees/asylum-seekers); children in armed conflicts; and child labor.

Course expectations: Students will examine the conditions of children incarcerated, executed, institutionalized, separated or laboring in the U.S. in light of international human rights standards and will prepare group presentations of conditions observed first hand (including class trips), as well as submit an individual 10-15 page paper analyzing a specific aspect of human rights for children. Students are expected to read widely, to identify newsworthy and topical events, to participate in class discussions and group projects, and to select, read, and discuss two works of literature from the optional reading list. The background textbook is: The International Law on the Rights of the Child by Geraldine Van Bueren. Weekly reading assignments, including basic treaties, conventions, protocols, cases, and articles, will be provided in advance. Active class discussion matters.