In this first case study, we will be exposed to many things in advance of learning about them systematically, such as the structure of human rights enforcement and the process of evaluating claims in the Human Rights Committee (which, as we will learn later, monitors a treaty called the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). You can simply register the importance of knowing these things later, but bypass them for now, in order to focus on the topic of this case study: what is a right in general, and what is the right to life in particular?
Your main focus in reading this document is twofold. First, what happened? Second, what is a right (specifically, the right to life), such that the state might have violated it? Of less importance is the great deal of procedural detail — you can skim the parts of the decision that spell out what happened to the complaint (though we will still cover it to get an early sense of what kinds of processes human rights law can prompt).
Again, your main inquiry in reading this case is to think about what the scope of the right to life is, and more generally what a right is – how do we think about its content and what effects invoking seem to have.
Our goal in the readings in this section is to think about how to defend (or oppose) the idea that individuals have rights in virtue of their humanity. After reading an excerpt from John Locke, we turn to a description of how philosophers today have argued with one another about the foundations of human rights. You should not try to master this material or even read it carefully. As the syllabus says, we are only looking at the first and third parts of the essay in any case. As you read, you should think about how (if at all) it might be relevant to human rights law.
John Locke (1632-1704) was a famous English philosopher (and terrorist) commonly thought to have helped inspire the American Revolution thanks to his argument that natural rights justify violent rebellion. Our question, looking briefly at Locke, is where he thinks individual rights come from, and whether we think he is correct.
As with the right to life, the right to privacy provides us with another example of a specific right, whose content, scope, and application have to be determined. The details do not matter, so much as what contemporary debates about the right to privacy — and especially its so-called extraterritorial application — suggest about the value and limits of legal protection based on rights. In reading the materials, think not just about what content and limits the right to privacy has according to different sources, but also what political or other processes the invocation of a right unleashes.
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