Int l Human Rights law. 2014. examiners report


Question 1

“The Universal Declaration is, at root, a catalogue of aspirations about the value of a good society. Human rights are too vague to be more than ideals.” Discuss.


The title statement is apposite.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was promulgated in 1948. It says that ”people are born free and equal in rights and dignity.” In terms reminiscent of the American Declaration of Independence it makes many bold statements about how life should be. It says that people have the right to freedom of expression but it does not set a limitation to this.

In some cases the UDHR is quite specific. It says that all adults in a country are entitled to take part in free and fair elections to choose their government. Therefore the said document is not always vague.

Many governments who signed the UDHR had not the slightest intention of honouring many of its provisions. They felt comfortable signing up to this because there was no enforcement mechanism. The florid language and sweeping grants of rights were almost worthless. These were ideals towards which one could strive. In many countries there was a massive gulf between the noble nostra of the UDHR and the real situation.

Some people at the time believed that the UDHR was not simply a high minded expression of theoretical goals.

It was only when later human rights instruments came along that the UDHR was fleshed out.  These instruments have stated the values in the UDHR in a more exact format and new rights have been added. The UN later established a Human Rights Committee and a Human Rights Commissioner. There are special rapporteurs who look into human rights situations in various countries or examine certain aspects of human rights issues. Countries are brought to book. The exigencies of the Cold War meant that the superpowers overlooked the crimes of their client states whereas the inflated the crimes of their enemies.

The more human rights instruments there are the better enforcement has become. The core of human rights as stated in the UDHR have been extrapolated. Since the end of the Cold War human rights has improved. Many formerly totalitarian countries such as Romania have become free countries.

The UDHR is problematic because in 1948 many nations which now exist were not independent or were not members of the United Nations. For instance Eire was independent in 1948 but was not in the UN until 1955 because the Soviet Union kept blocking us. Therefore the UDHR was framed by certain countries. It owes much to Occidental liberal traditions. Those from other continents and with other mindsets feel that it is insufficiently exclusive. It does not pay enough heed to other ideologies and philosophical traditions.

The UDHR is not justiciable yet. Some of its provisions have been turned into law through other instruments. The UDHR only deals with civil rights and not social rights which is another of its failings. The UDHR was solely aspirational at the outset but has become firmer.

In conclusion, it is not quite true to say that the UDHR is mere rhetoric. It is the basis for much human rights law. The UN makes some effort to uphold the noble notions embodied in the UDHR and is semi effectual in so doing.


General remarks Note that the question breaks into two statements: a good essay must engage with both parts. So: is it accurate to state that the Universal Declaration is ‘a catalogue of aspirations’ about values; and, is it accurate to state the human rights are ‘too vague to be more than ideals’?

To take the first part of the statement, it would probably be wrong to understand the Declaration as merely aspirational. It would follow that rights are more than ideals. As Section 2.4 of the subject guide explains, some of the rights may be aspirations, but other rights are more precise and capable of enforcement. It would also be fair to say that both the aspirations in the Declaration and the enforceable rights are ‘about the values of a good society’.

In discussing this theme, you could make use of the material in Sections 3.1 and 3.2 of the subject guide. You might argue that although the values of rights may be contested, the point of agreement might be over the need to affirm certain values as definitional of a good society. LA3029 International protection of human rights 2 Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use This question focuses on material in Section 2.4 of the subject guide, although you could also make reference to the material on the nature of human rights in Chapter 3. Common errors Insufficient focus on the question asked; superficial analysis.


Question 2 “The UN system operates through a process of consensus building at an international level. It cannot be thought of as a court providing legal remedies for individuals whose rights have been breached by states.” Discuss with reference to the UN system for the protection of human rights.


The UN system for protecting rights is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 and many other human rights instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.

The UN’s system for enforcing human rights relies on a UN Human Rights Commissioner and a Human Rights Committee. The Human Rights Committee is chaired by a different country every six months. This country chairing the said committee is elected by the UN General Assembly. This has led to the farcical situation where countries with terrible human rights records such as Gaddafi’s Libya chair the human rights committee. The UN appoints special rapporteurs to examine the human rights predicament of different countries or look at human rights from a certain angle as in women’s rights or the rights of refugees and so forth.

The United Nations Charter and the various treaties have created human rights organisations which have a supervisory role. They are not juridical. They highlight good conduct and expose abuse. They urge countries to clean up their act. This leads to better behaviour. Governments are shamed into improving their conduct.

Countries can be referred to the UN Human Rights Committee by other countries. A nation state that has been denounced by another is entitled to see the dossier. The country that has been accused of egregious offences against human rights is allowed to prepare a defence and argue that the accusations are bogus, distorted, exaggerated or not contextualised. Individuals do not have locus standi. Only one state can refer another.  The UN Human Rights COmmittee can make recommendations and pass motions censuring a state. The UN General Assembly can authorise sanctions over human rights abuses. This happened in relation to South Africa and then Iraq.

The UN General Assembly can pass resolutions calling for a nation to take action. These are passed under a chapter of the UN Charter that is advisory and not binding. The UN Security Council can pass binding resolutions. The UN Security Council has twenty five members. Twenty of them are temporary and serve for six months. They are voted on and off. There are five permanent members. The five permanent member states are the United States, France, the UK, Russia and China. These five countries have veto power.

The UN has various agencies which monitor human rights with regard to particular groups and relating to special instruments. For instance the International Declaration on the Rights of the Child has a committee to go with it.

The UN Security Council can condemn gross human rights abuse in a country. The UNSC can demand action from the relevant government.Only the UNSC can authorise the use of force against a member state. However, the thresh hold for this is very high. Superpowers tend to protect their allies and not let these be passed.

The title statement is accurate. The UN is not a court of justice. There is the International Criminal Court set up by the UN. It has tried people for crimes against humanity. One of the lacuna in its jurisdiction is the United States is not signed up to it lest its people be prosecuted therein. This is hypocritical since the USA helped send people to be tried there. The UN has helped to establish different ad hoc courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The UN itself does not provide legal remedies but it has created courts that do. The UN is about international affairs and is not a judicial organ.

The UN has to build a consensus because this is about diplomacy. The UN says it will not intervene in internal affairs. There is a tension between this and the imperative to uphold human rights. States have necessarily pooled their sovereignty by joining the UN and signing its many protocols and ratifying them. It is the nation state which sometimes abuses rights or at least fails to defend them. The UN has to forge alliance in order to better the situation. No state will ever be perfect. The UN is about compromise. Sometimes it compromises too much to keep all states on board. It sometimes turns Nelson’s eye to bad conduct. The UN is frequently denounced as a lackey of those who dislike one;s country if one’s country takes flak from UN bodies.



General remarks In answering this question, the key concern to bear in mind is that the statement above makes a claim about the UN system for the protection of human rights. In discussing this statement, you must argue whether or not you agree with this assertion about the nature of the UN system. Is it accurate to argue that the UN system operates ‘through a processes of consensus building at an international level’? You also need to deal with the claim that it ‘cannot be thought of as a court providing legal remedies for individuals whose right have been breached by states’. These claims have to be assessed in the light of the discussion in Chapter 5 of the subject guide. This calls for a consideration of both the Charter and the Treaty bodies.

You should avoid simply listing the functions of these bodies under the various mechanisms, and focus on the matters outlined above. The UN system does not operate in a ‘courtly’ way. The Charter and the Treaty bodies effectively have an oversight and reporting function. They also initiate debates and publicise good and bad practice. These methods of enforcement are not similar to a court applying a remedy. However, it might be fair to argue that they do indeed operate to build consensus, and, in certain instances, to build pressure on individual nations to rectify their human rights abuses. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use Sections 5.3–5.8 of the subject guide. Common errors Rather superficial analysis.


Question 3 “The distinction between human rights of men and the human rights of women makes very little sense. We are all human beings.” Discuss.


Human Rights have been around in some form for centuries. For most of that time in most of the world women had very few rights indeed. Only in the 19th century in the Western World did women acquire the right to own property separately from their husbands. Only then was higher education opened to them. Many professions did not admit women until the 20th centuries. Certain religious denominations still do not allow women to be leaders. This is why female rights are seen as a distinct area of human rights. Reproductive rights are an especially female concern. This is because only women can become pregnant and pregnancy affects a women greatly. Women have a number of reproductive choices whereas men have two. Abortion is a female rights issue on which there is much heated debate. Marriage and divorce are also tendentious topics. Early marriage can be bad for women in a way it is not bad for men. Forced marriage and under age marriage are widespread in certain lands. In some countries women have limited divorce rights especially if they are being beaten by their husbands.

Women’s biology puts them at the mercy of hormones. Not enough is done for feminine health in some countries.

Some people find the existence of women’s rights as a special section of human rights objectionable. It arguably privileges women over men. It could be said to be degrading to women. Some see it as erecting a barrier between men and women. It is seen to over emphasise the distinction between the two genders.

The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women is a UN human rights instrument. It has its own UN Committee to oversee the implementation of this document. There is an optional protocol thereto.

Until recently women were almost never leaders of their countries. Men made laws and these tended to suit males more than females.

The International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racism says that positive discrimination is permitted when it addressed the under representation of groups who have been discriminated against. The same principle surely holds true of assisting more women to gain positions where women were previously discriminated against. Women were often virtually excluded from the political and judicial elite. The law reflected that patriarchy’s desires.

Women face certain problems that men do not. They experience gender discrimination much more so than men. Women are more likely to be poor than men. They are more likely to contract HIV. They tend to have less education. They are far more likely to be raped and kidnapped. They are much more likely to be compelled to work as prostitutes for economic reasons. They are more likely to face religious authorities which mistreat them. They are discriminated against by law in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and various Sharia states.

Some people are transgendered. Where do they fit in? They find it difficult to gain acceptance in many countries. This categorisation of people as male and female creates more problems for trans people.

The situation of women is much worse than men in Less Economically Developed Countries. Because women especially need help this is why there is a separate area of human rights for men.

Females and males share the same core needs. We all need sustenance, shelter and so on. The right to vote and a decent wage affect both genders the same. Human rights are identical for the genders in that respect. However, there remain areas of concern which are chiefly or exclusively about the fair sex. For that reason it is right to have women’s rights as a discrete area.


General remarks Resist the urge to write out everything you know about CEDAW and instead focus on what the question is asking. Do you agree or disagree with the statement: ‘The distinction between human rights of men and the human rights of women makes very little sense. We are all human beings’? While it would be possible to agree with this statement, it would be difficult to write a good essay that showed an understanding of human rights if you took this approach.

The distinction between the rights of men and the rights of women reflects the different experiences of men and women. To assert that we are ‘all human beings’ only makes sense if we remember that ‘human being’ is ‘divided’ into men and women. Thus, rights around Examiners’ report 2014 3 health only make sense if we take into account the fact that women are biologically different to men and that this biological difference tends to take on social meanings. An example would, of course, be around issues of custody and care of children.

Another example would be forms of discrimination and exclusion that women experience at work. One could, of course, over-emphasise the differences between men and women.

To be crude: surely a man as well as a woman has a legitimate concern in the right to work; a man as well as a woman has a legitimate concern in the right to vote. To assert that men and women are different kinds of human beings would thus see CEDAW as a basis of thinking about human rights more generally, as the rights of men and women, rather than just simply the rights of men. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use Chapter 3 and Chapter 6 of the subject guide. Common errors A refusal to engage with the actual question and simply repeating the contents of the Convention.


Question 4 EITHER (a) “It would be worth reminding some world leaders that you cannot object to racial discrimination, and discriminate against homosexuals.” Discuss.

OR (b) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people deserve the protection of human rights. Discuss with reference to one or more of the following: i) the African Charter; ii) the European Convention on Human Rights; iii) the American Convention on Human Rights.


Racial discrimination is treating people less favourably on account of their ethnicity. Discrimination against homosexuals is the same thing except with regard to those who are primarily sexually attracted to persons of their own gender.

Many people do not see race and sexual orientation as comparable. One is born into an ethnicity or indeed into a mixture of ethnicities. There is no precise boundary or fixed number of ethnicities. Contrariwise homosexuality is about behaviour and no phenotype attaches thereto. Furthermore, homosexuality is probably genetic although there is some dispute on this. Moreover, there is no certain demarcation between heterosexuals and homosexuals.

Apartheid was the most enhanced and systematic form or racism. Racism can even lead to genocide. Blatantly racist policies have been abolished in almost all states. Informal racism persists. Racist violence still occurs in many countries In AFrica in particular anti black discrimination was abolished and is especially detested. Most people in Africa are black. However, many African countries discriminate against gays.

Anti gay discrimination can extend to criminal sanctions for homosexual conduct. In Indian ”carnal intercourse contrary to the ordinance of nature” is punished by incarceration for the duration of one’s life. In some countries it is punishable by death. In less intolerant societies homosexual acts are unlawful. In many places the hetero age of consent is lower than for gays. Children are not told about homosexual acts. There are no gay civil partnerships. Those who are known to be gay are discriminated against in employment.

Some would argue that not allowing same sex civil partnerships is acceptable. They claim that marriage is only for straight couples. Homosexuals have opted out of this. Not all gays believe that gay marriage or civil partnership should be allowed.

Countries that often complain about racism have the worst record on gay rights. Zimbabwe is a salient example. Barak Obama was brave in speaking out in Kenya about gay rights.

Of all areas of human rights gay rights is perhaps the most fiercely contested. The status of gays varies more widely than any other group of people. There is absolute equality in somewhere like Belgium to violent oppression in somewhere like Iran.

Equality for gays has been very recent in coming. IN Denmark in 1989 two men had the first gay civil partnership in the world. This was highly tendentious at the time. Since then two dozen countries have legalised full gay marriage. This has been greeted with abhorrence in much of the world. Many people dislike this Western tolerance of homosexuality. They perceive gay rights as a Western concept and the attempt to impose it on other cultures is imperialism in a new guise.

In conclusion one can only concur with the thrust of the title statement. It is worth telling all leaders that the mistreatment of homosexuals offends the central tenet of human rights and that is human dignity. Gays have always existed in every land and always shall. The title statement is accurate. Equality is a core principle of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and all human rights law.


The European Convention on Human Rights stresses that states should promote personal liberty and human dignity. However, when the ECHR was published in 1948 almost all signatory states had laws against homosexual behaviour. The exceptions were Italy and Sweden.

The ECHR has since been interpreted by the courts of grant rights to homosexuals. The right to marry and found a family has been extended to gay couples too. In most of the states of the EU same sex marriage is lawful. Moreover, gays are permitted to adopt children. Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender people have acquired equality in the most humane countries.

More traditional people object to LGBT rights. This is especially so for those whose opposition to such legislation is rooted in religious texts. As Europe has become less religiously observant so LGBT rights have advanced.

There is no consensus on LGBT issues throughout the world. Thankfully in the EU gay rights are widely respected. Not all EU countries permit gay civil partnerships but most are moving towards doing so. Respect for gay people is the hallmark of a civilised and humane society.




General remarks (a) In this question, you must think about the relationship between different kinds of rights, and the fundamental principles on which they are based. Note the terms of the question: ‘It would be worth reminding some world leaders that you cannot object to racial discrimination, and discriminate against homosexuals.’ What is meant by ‘worth’ here? This takes us back to the very idea of human rights as based on concepts of human dignity and equality. If discrimination on the grounds of race is wrong, then surely to discriminate against someone on the basis of their sexual orientation is also wrong. The latest Recent developments engages with some of the arguments in this area, and a sensible engagement with these themes is required for this essay.

(b) Shifts the focus towards regional systems for the protection of human rights. At a fundamental level, you need to show that – while human rights instruments might not be explicit about LGBT human rights – we need to engage with the idea that human rights are based on concepts of human dignity and equality. In other words, human rights instruments should be interpreted broadly to cover rights that they might not explicitly mention. However, following the material in the Recent developments 2014, a good LA3029 International protection of human rights 4 answer would point out that the advocates of human rights have perhaps been a little slow to realise the importance of LGBT rights; and human rights instruments themselves have neglected this area of concern. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use (a) Chapters 3 and 8 of the subject guide and the Recent developments 2014. (b) Recent developments 2014 and (at least to some extent) Chapters 13, 14 and 15 of the subject guide.

Student extract

”LGBT rights are a controversial area of international law that has provoked divergent views across the various continents, cultures and religions. There is at present no agreed international position on LGBT rights, whilst in many cases such people face hard penalties at law. However, this essay argues that LGBT people deserve the protection of human rights and will make reference to certain regional human rights charters.”

Comment on extract This is the introduction from an essay that went on to achieve a first on this question. The essay itself was well-informed and coherently structured. Note how the author of the essay makes it absolutely clear to the reader what the central thesis of the essay is: ‘LGBT people deserve the protection of human rights’. This is very useful as the reader is in no doubt about what the writer thinks about the key concern raised by the question. It might also have been helpful to have a more extended overview of the argument itself, as the writer goes on to do more than review the relevant regional systems. There is a slightly misleading statement in the second sentence: ‘[t]here is at present no agreed international position on LGBT rights’ because the writer goes on to argue exactly the opposite: ‘the problem is not that there is a lack of agreement about LGBT rights as human rights – rather – there are various cultural resistances to this claim.’


Question 5 “The human rights of children were invented by rich nations in the developed world. Children in the developing world cannot be afforded the luxury of human rights.” Discuss.


Children’s rights are a part of human rights. They are specifically mentioned in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Most countries already had special protection for children in their law prior to this. The United Kingdom has the Children’s Act in 1910 for instance. Almost every country recognised that children do not have juridical capacity and that they must not marry and so on. The definition of a child varied hugely from 12 to 21. Moreover, it depended on the activity. A country could have different ages of legal majority for voting, purchasing alcohol, serving in the army, marrying etc… Human rights reflect cultural values. Some cultures place a greater emphasis on rights than others. Not all aspects of every culture is equally worthy of respect.

The title statement is accurate in that wealthier countries have tended to care more about children’s rights. This is partly because of their longer life span. At 20 someone is a quarter of the way through their life span in Japan but half way through it in Niger.

Richer countries provide schooling free of charge. They often insist people stay in school until 18. They may provide higher education free of charge.

Less Economically Developed Countries find it difficult to afford to ban children from working before the age of 18. They cannot afford too give children schooling free of charge. Early marriage is deeply culturally ingrained. Insisting on the same children’s rights in Pakistan as in Norway is unrealistic for economic as well as cultural reasons. The universalist to children’s rights is largely a Western pretension.

The Declaration on the Rights of the Child has been signed by almost every country. It has been ratified by every nation with the single exception of the United States. Obama has called this a disgrace. Western countries have mostly implemented its recommendations. This is partly because they have the fiscal means to do so. The Declaration on the Rights of the Child was drawn up in 1990. Many non Western nations took part in writing the text. Many of these countries were not economically advanced.

As country’s become richer they tend to raise the school leaving age and the legal age of marriage. Marriage below 18 is unlawful in India but happens a lot. It is difficult to enforce. To do so would criminalise people who do not perceive themselves to be doing anything immoral. This legal age of marriage is in fact higher than in many highly developed countries.

One should make allowances for penurious countries. In the early 21st century they are going through what the West went through in the 19th century. To enforce the full range of children’s rights would retard the economies of these lands. It might backfire and force children to starve. It would offend cultures which favour teenage marriage.

The universalist argument has some merit. Children are children whatever their culture or faith. They have the same need of education and healthcare. Premature pregnancy is as bad for a 13 year old girl in the United States as in Nigeria. Because of the worse economic outlook. Every child should be guaranteed at least an elementary education free of charge, adequate housing, sufficient nutrition, decent healthcare and not be married until they are 16.

In conclusion, the full gamut of children’s rights expounded by Occidental governments are desirable for all children. However, there are certain minimum rights which all children should be granted.


General remarks Like Question 3, this question asks you to think about the nature of human rights, and then to assess a particular area of human rights protection from this perspective. It is very important to realise precisely what the question is asking. Do you agree with the statement? Note how the statement breaks down into a number of themes with which you have to deal: is it accurate to say that children’s rights were ‘invented by rich nations’? Moreover, is it fair to say that the developing world cannot afford the ‘luxury’ of human rights? To deal with these provocative statements, you need to make an argument about human rights.

A good answer will meet the question head on: and perhaps assert that while human rights do reflect cultural values (those of the ‘rich’ ‘west’ – what do these terms mean?) they may also have cross-cultural reach. You might also question just how valuable child labour might be in development terms. You could go on to argue that children should not be used for cheap labour, no matter what culture they are born into. The best way to approach this question, then, is to think about the issues that the question raises, and engage with them directly, rather than simply writing out everything you know about the subject in the hope that something is relevant. Examiners’ report 2014 5 Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use Chapters 3 and 5 of the subject guide. Common errors Failure to engage with the actual question.


Question 6 “The failure of western powers to intervene in the Syrian civil war shows that the era of military support for human rights is over.” Discuss.


This is a highly vexed question. The Syrian Civil War has been raging since 2011. The Assad family have ruled Syria as their fief since 1970. The Ba’ath Party there is violently intolerant of the mildest dissent. Amnesty International and Human RIghts Watch had long condemned the Syrian dictatorships blatant disrespect for human rights. In 1982 the Syrian Government massacred 10 000 of its own civilians. However, the Ba’athists were secular and permitted liberty in the personal sphere. People were free to practise their religion but the state did not facilitate any particular denomination. Women had real equality. Alcohol was legal. In these regards Syria was one of the freest of Arab lands. The Shia minority comprising no more than 10% of the population dominated the country. The 80% who were SUnni said they were mainly excluded from positions of consequence.

In 2011 the Arab Spring inspired Syrians to protest at their lack of rights. Protestors were shot down in their hundreds. Protests became militant.

The United States, the UK and other Western countries wanted to see the overthrow of Dr Bashir Al Assad. They wished to see a democracy established in Syria. It was a forlorn hope since democracies never flourish at first where there has been no tradition of parliamentarianism. The Free Syria Army was one of the main insurgent movements. Assad pretended that all of his enemies were religious maniacs. The notion that the revolution was a liberal one was furphy. The Free Syria Army aims at a free country. However, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria wanted to establish a Shariat state. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are both absolute monarchies. They assisted the rebels. The civil war has been horrific for human rights. There have been several large scale atrocities carried out by the Syrian military and by ISIS. ISIS kills religious minorities such as the Shia, Christians and druze. They kidnap and they forcibly marry girls. They vandalise cultural heritage. The Ba’athists are eager to let ISIS do this because it makes them look good by comparison.

The United Nations has sent unarmed observers to enforce ceasefires. Ceasefires have been continually broken. Assad repeatedly promised reform. His sacred vows were broken time and again. Farcical elections were held. He did not even control most of the country.

In 2013 the Baathists almost certainly used poison gas to kill hundreds of civilians. A US proposal for air strikes against the Ba’athists were rejected. Assad handed over his arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. He thereby avoided aerial bombardment. John Mc Cain, an ultra hawk, had argued against air strikes. He said they would no nothing. Only ground intervention could succeed. President Obama had no desire to do that. The American public had no stomach for this fight after the lengthy conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

China and Russia back Assad to the hilt. He is their client and Russia has a  military base there. Russia has cordial relations with Syria dating back decades. Russia was eager to maintain its foothold in the Middle East. Iraq and Iran support the Ba’athists to the hilt. This is mainly for denominational reasons. They want to see the mainly Shia Government in Damascus survive.

China and Russia have blocked any UN Security Council Resolution that might lead to Assad’s ouster. They saw their client in Libya overthrown and are eager not to see that repeated. They supported a UN Security Council Resolution authorising countries to use force to protect human rights in Libya. That was interpreted very widely by the EU and United States. They bombed Gaddafi’s forces and acted as the air arm of the Libyan rebels.

The failure to resolve the situation is a livid scar on the world’s conscience. The human rights situation is abysmal with around 300 000 people killed. Millions of people have been displaced. The UN has failed to resolve the situation. The United STates, UK and France were eager to rid Syria of the dictator because they wished to ameliorate the human rights situation. As the rebels failed to win quickly this war has made the human rights situation much worse with no end in sight. Western countries are unwilling to intervene. That would embroil them in a multi sided civil war. they would find themselves with some very unsavoury allies against Assad. The ISIS is even more ghastly.

Turcomans have also asserted autonomy in this conflict. The Kurdish nationalists have carved out a statelet in north-west Syrian adjacent to Iraqi Kurdistan. The Turkish military has bombed the Kurdish independence fighters. Turkey is in the odd position of vehemently opposing the three major parties to the conflict – ISIS, the Ba’athists and the Kurdish militia.

There have been air strikes by the United States, the UK, France, Russia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates against ISIS. A UN Security Council Resolution voted for this. Russian troops are in Syria assisting the army there. It is not true to say there has been no military intervention. However, it has largely been an intervention by planes. Western countries are much more circumspect about getting involved in internal conflicts. Utopian notions of refashioning a society are not largely rejected. The neo conservative view that one could introduce democracy by overthrowing tyrants has been tested to destruction.

The use of the word failure in the title statement is revealing. The fact that Western countries did not send ground troops is not necessarily a failure. It could be a wise move. They have learnt from misadventures elsewhere. Interventions in other lands went awry.

Intervening to support a rebel side is illegal. This was in Nicaragua against Honduras in the International Court of Justice. The same conclusion was reached in Military Action and Paramilitary action in Nicaragua where the United States lost. The Alabama case is another relevent ruling of the ICJ.

In conclusion, the title statement is partly right. For the moment there is no will to launch armed interventions to protect human rights in Syria. The conflict will peter out. The Ba’athists are gradually gaining the upper hand. They have negotiated with some rebels. It remains to be seen if these parleys are just for the sake of publicity or if Assad has any desire to strike a deal with the FSA. The era of support for armed intervention is over for the moment. It could come back. Russia and China have always favoured sovereignty over human rights except when it was Russia that was intervening in the Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and so on. There is no appetite for a fight in Western countries. It could be that the era of intervention returns and Western countries become more pro active in defending human rights.


General remarks While this question is focused on Chapter 12 of the subject guide, you need to be able to put the general discussion on military intervention and human rights into a contemporary context. Clearly the discussion about Iraq is relevant, as is some consideration of intervention in Libya. However, you need to engage with the claim that ‘the era of military support for human rights is over’. To deal with this claim, you need to discuss some general and common sense points. How is it possible to say that an ‘era’ is over? Who knows what might happen next? Furthermore, does the ‘failure’ of western intervention relate to geopolitical issues that make intervention in Syria difficult? You might, for instance, have to say something about the significance of Russian support for the regime. Even if you do not know a great deal about the subject of the Syrian civil war, these matters are in the news to such an extent that a person carefully thinking through this question should have enough information. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use Chapter 12 of the subject guide is the primary point of reference.


Question 7 “Ongoing refugee crises in different parts of the world suggest that refugee rights exist solely on paper and are far from being a reality.” Discuss


A refugee is someone who flees abroad owing to a well founded fear of persecution attendant on their religion, race, political or other belief. This as laid down in the Geneva Convention on Refugees. There are other international human rights instruments that have defined refugeehood.

There are millions of refugees in the world. They are fleeing conflicts in Syria, Libya, Sudan and so on. SOme of them are internally displaced. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees cares for them.

Refugee rights include the right to be granted refuge in a host country until such time as the situation in the home country has improved sufficiently to allow the refugee to return. Refugees have the right to be provided for by the host country until they are allowed to work. This means food, housing, medical care and juridical personality. Minors who are refugees must be allowed education. Refugees must be treated no less favourably than citizens of that country. Moreover, refoulement is forbidden. A receiving country must not return a refugee to face persecution or death unless he or she has committed a grave crime against the host country.

Refugees are often held in detention centres while their claims are processed. They are not always well treated.

A refugee who marries a citizen of the receiving country must be permitted to stay. The same goes for those whose children become citizens of the host country. This could be through the child being born in the land. SOme countries have Ius terris citizenship. This includes the United States.

R (ex parte Karanakaran ) v Secretary of State for the Home Department helped to define a refugee in English law.

There is much anti refugee rhetoric from politicians. Many so called refugees are economic illegal immigrants. Many of them pass through several safe countries to go to a rich country. They might go to an English speaking country because they speak English. They may seek to get to a nation where they have friends or relatives. Many illegal immigrants come to Europe without passports. They often refuse to say what nationality they are because then they cannot be returned. They are held in prison in Spain or Italy for a few months. They have not committed an offence that allows them to be detained indefinitely so they are set free. But they have no legal right to live in the country and no identity document. They cannot legally work, rent a property, enroll in an educational course and so on. They end up working illegally or committing crime.

Poor countries receive many refugees. These are countries like Jordan, Iran and Pakistan. The UN HCR does what it can. It is underfunded.

People traffickers often cause refugees to die on leaky boats. By allowing refugees in and treating them well one enriches people traffickers and expose illegal immigrants to risk.

The issues of illegal economic migration and being a refugee are blurred and overlap. Someone can move for both reasons – economic and due to persecution.


In conclusion, these rights do not exist only on paper. Much is done for refugees sometimes too much. There are other places where refugees services are overstretched. Not all states live up to their obligations partly because they are impoverished but also because they are unwilling to honour their duties.


. General remarks A fairly straightforward question on the rights of refugees. As with most of the questions on this paper, it is necessary to engage directly with the question asked. Would you, or would you not agree with the statement? Deal with the different parts of the question. While it might be possible to speak of ongoing crises, would it be accurate to assert that refugee rights exist purely on paper? In order to engage with this question, you need to outline the fundamental rights that a refugee has, and show how these rights are effective or not. A good answer will explicitly try to weigh up this question. Whether or not an answer has up to date information on the nature of ongoing refugee crises is not so important. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use Chapter 9 of the subject guide. Common errors Superficial analysis; reluctance to move away from the subject guide. LA3029 International protection of human rights 6


Question 8 “The pressing issue for advocates of human rights is the extent to which they can influence trade and economics.” Discuss.


The title statement is apposite and this essay shall argue in concurrence therewith. Human rights have expanded considerably since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Although the UDHR is principally concerned with civil rights (the right to life, freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial etc…) there were also social rights in the UDHR. This document said that people need the means of life as well as education, shelter and healthcare.

These social rights were fleshed out in the International Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were both solely concerned with economics at the outset. The World Bank is a UN body. However, both of them now recognise that human rights are part of their mandate.

The UN has increasingly striven to improve the lot of people through bodies such as the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Educational Fund.

As an American Supreme Court judge said a necessitous man is not a free man. Moreover, contracts are not valid if entered into under duress. People in dire situations accept unfair contracts and starvation wages.

Civil rights are somewhat respected in most countries. Improving social rights is the next big challenge. Thankfully as the world has got richer countries have become better at providing for their people. Higher wages have meant greater tax revenue and more money is spent on healthcare, social security and schooling.

Ironically some countries with a poor record on civil rights have a good one on social rights. For instance, Cuba is a one party state but has superb healthcare and educational provision.  There is a connection between civil rights and social rights. In a society with freedom of expression, free elections and free association (including the right for trades unions to strike) and so on then people can get the government they want. Ordinary people can ensure that the ruling party provides them with their needs. In a dictatorship penury is denied and not exposed. The ruling clique can fail to do the bare minimum to help the citizens and there is nothing people can do to assert their rights.

As the world population increases competition for resources will become fiercer. Trade is what is often keeping people poor. The European Union subsidised farmers and then dumps excess foodstuffs onto African markets. This undercuts local producers. Unfair trade policies make it very hard for producers from Less Economically Developed Countries to access markets in wealthy countries. Tariff barriers made their goods unfairly expensive. This is what trade is an area of human rights. The General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs has only been partly successful in reducing these barriers to trade.

More equitable economic policies would improve the lives of hundreds of millions in LEDC’s. As Bono pointed out children die preventably every few seconds in Africa due to lack of medicines. The high cost of medicines is to blame. Anti retrovirals are prohibitively expensive. HIV patients die decades sooner than they need to because of exploitative policies.

Oxfam has pointed out in a report ”Rigged rules and unfair policies” that trade rules perpetuate poverty. The richest 85 people have more wealth than the poorest 3 billion. This staggering level of inequality is what explains so much suffering. If billionaires gave only a tiny fraction of their lucre to the neediest it would relieve much pain. The avarice of a tiny minority explains so much anguish. Oxfam underlined that globalisation can benefit the neediest but only if trade is fair.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has highlighted how much the poor suffer in his report ”Nasty, brutish and short.”

The UN Council on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights noted that the world trade situation is a nightmare for the poorest people in the world. This is because the mighty countries have tilted things in their favour. This keeps LEDCs continuously poor. The Make Poverty History Campaign in 2005 emphasised how much of persistent poverty depends on equitable trade policies. However, little has changed since then.

Most countries pay lip service to civil rights. Even North Korea pretends to be a multi party state. It is social rights that are blatantly denied even in rich countries like the United States. In the USA the Affordable Care Act has only partly improved the situation.


In conclusion, trade and economics are exigent issues for those who care about human rights. Social rights are harder to achieve because vested interests oppose granting them. The super wealthy will do anything to avoid paying their fair share. There are other urgent human rights issues such as the Syrian Civil War which kills tens of thousands a year. Yet tens of millions die prematurely to do impecuniosity. Indeed trade and economics are pressing issues for human rights advocates.


General remarks

This question asks you to assess the statement. Is it, or is it not the case, that the influence of human rights on trade and economics is a ‘pressing issue’? You could argue this point either way: the clear focus of any sensible consideration of this issue, however, must be an assessment of the relationship between rights, economics and development. Law cases, reports and other references the Examiners would expect you to use The Recent developments 2014 contains relevant discussion on this point, as do the last two Recent developments publications. These build on the discussion of this topic in Chapter 4 of the subject guide.

Student extract

”Oxfam recently released a report on the ‘rigged rules and double standards’ of world trade. The wealth disparity is staggering: the world’s 85 richest people have the wealth equivalent to the world’s poorest 3 billion people. As Amartaya Sen wrote in the foreword to the report, life is “nasty, brutish and short” for the impoverished. Nevertheless, Oxfam states that trade can work for the poor. International trade is closely linked to development. Development can be defined as the right to an equitable stake in the economic wealth of the world. The UN CESCR (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) report on Globalisation in 2000 stated that the current policies of the WTO were a “nightmare” for the world’s poorest.”

Comment on extract

This introduction is definitely moving in the right direction, and the essay went on to show that the writer had an intelligent and well informed grasp of the area; anyone who attempts to think about these ‘new’ issues in human rights also deserves praise. However, the introduction as it stands needs tightening up. Compare it with the introduction to the essay considered above (Question 4(b)). The reader is not absolutely sure what the writer thinks, as the writer has presented information about the subject area, rather than a direct response to the question. At best, the writer’s position is perhaps implicit – but it needs to be made explicit. It soon becomes clear that the writer agrees with the statement that forms the question, but the whole point of the introduction is to state this as the writer’s central thesis. This is not only helpful to the reader, it returns to the fundamental point of any essay: to make an argument. The argument will not be successful if the reader is never clear what the writer is arguing. These are basic points, but incredibly important ones. Note, also, that the points that the writer makes are somewhat disjointed and repetitious. The second paragraph merely repeats the first, but with reference to a different report. It would have been better to make a reference that goes to one of the main issues that the question raises: human rights can influence trade. Perhaps the definition of development is attempting to make this point, but the argument seems implicit, and needs to be made explicit.


About Calers

Born Belfast 1971. I read history at Edinburgh. I did a Master's at UCL. I have semi-libertarian right wing opinions. I am married with a daughter and a son. I am allergic to cats. I am the falling hope of the not so stern and somewhat bending Tories. I am a legal beagle rather than and eagle. Big up the Commonwealth of Nations.

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