Starting off our last full week in Brussels, we began our final class of the program, Human Rights in Europe taught by Dr. Eliza Markley. After spending the past two months discussing security and European institutions in lecture and at our site visits, I think it will be refreshing to have a new topic, human rights, to round out our general understanding and analysis of current and past European issues.
On Tuesday, we welcomed Dr. Markley to Brussels with a delicious lunch at a local crêpe food truck, and today, we dove right into lecture. The lecture for the day was based off a couple of chapters from our assigned reading, International Human Rights by Jack Donnelly. The chapters covered everything from the history of human rights to human rights applied in foreign policy.
Dr. Markley started off the lecture by giving a brief history of human rights. She told us that the beginnings of the human rights movement arose from the Declaration of International Rights of Man in 1929. We started to discuss how at first, human rights were considered a state sovereignty matter and how World War II and the Nuremberg Trials changed that by bringing international human rights and the concept of “crimes against humanity” to the forefront. Our discussion then transitioned around the international institutions that contribute to the international human rights debate. We mainly discussed the United Nations and how it has evolved and adapted to address human rights with initiatives like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the International Human Rights Covenants in 1966. Before our lunch break, we wrapped up the discussion by focusing on what the sources of human rights are and the various models of human rights. As a class, we concluded that human rights are sourced from humanity, basic needs, morality, and dignity and that human rights are independent and indivisible.
After lunch, we discussed a South African apartheid case-study from our reading. Dr. Markley elaborated a little bit more on the South African government’s deep-rooted and wide-ranging systematic racial domination and then talked about some major turning points during apartheid such as the murder of Steve Biko, a South African anti-apartheid activist and philosopher. After the murder of Steve Biko and ensuing riots and protests, an international campaign against apartheid started. Powerful states reduced or ended diplomatic, cultural, and commercial relations with South Africa and the United Nations even prevented the country from taking its seat in the United Nations General Assembly in 1970. After the discussion, we learned that international pressure undoubtedly played a major role in the abolition of apartheid in South Africa.
We ended our day of lecture by briefly discussing the legitimacy of transnational human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We discussed their roles and how some human rights NGOs can define themselves by addressing human rights generally or focusing explicitly on a subset internationally recognized human rights, or even a single right. This was a perfect way to end the lecture because we are visiting Human Rights Watch, a transnational human rights NGO, tomorrow! We all look forward to using the knowledge we gained from today’s lecture as we prepare to embark to The Hague and Berlin in order to become truly immersed in current human rights issues through relevant site visits!