Insegnamento a.a. 2022-2023


Department of Social and Political Sciences

Course taught in English
Go to class group/s: 31
BIG (6 credits - I sem. - OBS  |  SPS/04)
Course Director:

Classes: 31 (I sem.)

Lezioni della classe erogate in presenza

Mission & Content Summary


This course aims at understanding human rights as embedded in specific historical circumstances, and looks at their codification in international law as the product of heated political debates and struggles. In order to do so, it articulates itself in three interlocking learning units. In the first one, historical, we will trace the genealogy of the concept and we will focus on the birth of the “human rights regime.” In the second, we will look at specific cases and rights, and in the third we will look at critical readings of human rights as possibly an instrument for “Western hegemony,” or as inadequate in other ways.


Historical development of human rights, civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, the right to health, women's rights, intervention, LGBTQ rights, critiques of human rights.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILO)


At the end of the course student will be able to...

Know the content of the most important documents in the “human rights regime.”

Understand the path that lead to the formulation of these documents and the significance of debates on universality.

Understand the political stakes behind the affirmation of one formulation or another.


At the end of the course student will be able to...

Become (more) aware of their political beliefs on human rights and of the histories and struggles behind them.

Develop an enduring intellectual and political interest in this concept (whether as an advocate or a critic, or both) that is rooted in knowledge about its development, historical background, and founding documents.

Teaching methods

  • Face-to-face lectures
  • Online lectures
  • Guest speaker's talks (in class or in distance)
  • Case studies /Incidents (traditional, online)
  • Individual assignments
  • Group assignments
  • Interactive class activities (role playing, business game, simulation, online forum, instant polls)


We will take advantage of experts' knowledge from around the world to enrich the class topics.

We will focus on case studies on intervention to appreciate the complexity of the problem.

Students will have the opportunity to work individually or in groups on a topic related to the class of their choice, and to problem-solve in groups during class time.

Assessment methods

  Continuous assessment Partial exams General exam
  • Written individual exam (traditional/online)
  x x
  • Individual assignment (report, exercise, presentation, project work etc.)
  • Group assignment (report, exercise, presentation, project work etc.)
  • Active class participation (virtual, attendance)
  • Peer evaluation


Two partial exams in October (50% of the final grade) and December (50% of the final grade), or comprehensive final exam in December worth 100 percent of the grade. The exams will be written.

The exams assess understanding of course materials, including lectures, readings, and classroom activities.  The exams will involve answers to short questions to test factual knowledge and answers to longer analytical questions.


Students will have the opportunity to earn up to one extra credit point, which will be added to the final grade, by way of a paper/presentation/advocacy project.


Participation will be crucial for success in this class. I expect students to read all of the assigned readings before class, and to ask questions and clarifications during class or during office hours. I encourage them to make notes on the readings, preferably in a dedicated notebook. Notes should include the main points of the text, the author’s assumptions, questions about confusing points, and your own responses to the text. 


One of the goals of the class is to become more aware of one's identity as a citizen, of their political beliefs, and of the histories and struggles behind them. I believe this awareness can only be achieved through respectful discussion with others. I therefore encourage students to speak out in class. Other options to show you are actively engaged in the class are: posting on the Blackboard discussion section, and sending articles, audio, video from news sources, or artwork (you can even make your own!) that you think relate to class material, with an explanation of how they do.

Teaching materials


BBC The Compass The Great Unravelling – Human Rights


Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, Introduction


Kathryn Sikkink, “The Diverse Political Origins of Human Rights,” Chapter 3 in Kathryn Sikkink, Evidence for Hope. Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century, Princeton University Press 2017.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (


Eleonor Roosevelt, “The Promise of Human Rights” Foreign Affairs (1948)

Statement on HR, Anthropological association. Available at



Sarah B. Snyder, “Human Rights and the Cold War,” in The Routledge Handbook of the Cold War, available at and Nico Shijiver, “Fifty Years of International Rights Covenants,” available at

Samuel Moyn, “Beyond Human Rights,” available at (from minute 8 to 20 and 26 to 28)

Samuel Moyn, “Not Enough,” The Nation March 16, 2018. Available at

“Righting Wrongs,” The Economist, August 16th 2001. Available at


Kok-Chor Tan, “World Poverty” and “Global Economic Inequality,” in What Is This Thing Called Global Justice? Routledge 2017.


Paul Farmer, “Pathologies of Power,” Chapter 1


Kok-Chor Tan, “Just War and Humanitarian Intervention” Chapter 8 in What Is This Thing Called Global Justice?

Listen: BBC The Compass The Great Unravelling – War:


 “The Problems of Doing Good: Somalia as a Case Study in Humanitarian Intervention.” Georgetown University, Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, Case 249 and “Watershed in Rwanda: The Evolution of President Clinton’s Humanitarian Intervention Policy,” Georgetown University, Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service, Case 244


ICC – “Understanding the International Criminal Court,” available at:


Duncan McCargo, “Transitional Justice and Its Discontents,” Journal of Democracy, April 2015, Volume 26, Number 2. Available at:


“Women’s Rights:” Chapter 12 in Franke Wilmer, Human Rights in International Politics, Rienner 2015.


Sally Engle Merry and Peggy Levitt, “The Vernacularization of Women’s Human Rights” in Human Rights Futures, ed. by Stephen Hopgood and  Leslie Vinjamuri, Cambridge University Press 2017. Look for this book in the Bocconi library website under “ebooks and ejournals”


“Introduction,” in Activists Beyond Borders, by Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink.


Human Rights Watch, “LGBT Activism in the Middle East and North Africa,” 2018. Available at:


Kerri Woods, “Environmental Human Rights, in Oxford Handbook of Environmental Political Theory (look for it on the Bocconi library website under “ebooks and ejournals”)


Kok Chor Tan, “Borders: Immigration, Secession and Territory,” ch. 9 in What Is This Thing Called Global Justice? (Excluding territorial rights)

Costas Douzinas, “Are Rights Universal?” The Guardian March 11 2009 and “What Are Human Rights?” The Guardian March 18th 2009,

Listen: BBC The Compass The Great Unravelling – Self-Determination


New York declaration for refugees and migrants” available at


Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism, Chapter 9

Also look at:


Amartya Sen, “Human Rights and Asian Values,” 16th Annual Morgenthau Memorial Lecture on Ethics and Foreign Policy, May 25 1997, available at

Bangkok declaration of 1993. Available at:


Makau Mutua, “Savages, Victims, and Saviors: The Metaphor of Human Rights,” Harvard International Law Journal, Winter 2001

Kathryn Sikkink, “Conclusions,” in Evidence for Hope

Last change 10/06/2022 15:41