Human Rights Advocacy and Criminal Justice

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Spring 2012 Seminar
Meets: T 5:00pm - 7:00pm in Lewis Room 301
2 classroom credits

Domestic criminal justice systems remain major sources of human rights abuse throughout the world despite decades of normative advances in international human rights law and the development of a global human rights movement. This seminar will explore the role of international human rights advocates in pressing for criminal justice reform in a range of contexts.

The seminar will critically assess the contents of international human rights protections regarding criminal justice. What are the contours of the rights to life, personal integrity, liberty, due process, and judicial protection? Do human rights norms adequately address structural problems in criminal justice systems, such as mass incarceration or racial and socioeconomic discrimination?

The seminar will also consider the context in which advocates promote the rights of those in the criminal justice system. What is the extent of and nature of popular support for violent policing methods, extreme conditions of detention, and harsh judicial proceedings? Can public condemnation of other forms of rights abuse, such as politically targeted abuses (for example, the jailing of political opponents), translate into a rejection of violations that victimize ordinary criminal defendants?

Within this context, the seminar will evaluate strategies for addressing the problems of police violence, prison overcrowding and abuse, lack of due process, and lack of accountability for abusive state agents. Where and under what circumstances have reform efforts succeeded, and where and when have they failed?

The seminar will address these issues from the perspective of human rights advocates, considering the challenges of working on behalf of unpopular clients, particularly in contexts of high levels of crime and insecurity. The seminar will examine examples from the Clinic's past work on security and human rights issues, which has included extensive engagement in the United States, South Africa, Brazil, Panama, Paraguay, El Salvador and elsewhere. To a lesser extent, the seminar will address the ways in which counter-terrorism, national security, and war paradigms constrain debates on respect for human rights in the domestic (U.S.) criminal justice system.

Students will also participate in skills-building exercises, including a fact-finding role play and media training.

A Spring clinical practice component is required of all students. Clinical placements are with the International Human Rights Clinic of the Human Rights Program. Enrollment is through clinical registration. Please refer to the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs website for clinical registration dates, early add/drop deadlines, and other relevant information.

Subject Areas: Human Rights , Criminal Law & Procedure , International, Comparative & Foreign Law , Procedure & Practice .