What Is Human Rights Studies at UC Davis?

What Is Human Rights Studies at UC Davis?

Human Rights Studies is the multi-disciplinary and interdisciplinary scholarly effort to understand the history, theory, and criticism of the Human Rights Idea – the idea that human beings have rights, including economic, cultural and social rights, simply because they are human beings, and not on the basis of national citizenship, belonging to the right ethnic group or being the right color, religion, gender or sexual orientation. 

Human Rights Studies professionals seek to understand and critique the International Human Rights System: that is the host of governmental, non-governmental and intergovernmental institutions, especially those associated with the UN tasked with protecting and promoting human rights. Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch would fit under this element, as would laws, treaties, and conventions, for example the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations Declaration of the Rights Indigenous People, and the Convention Against Torture, that define human rights and the measures required for their defense.

We study forms of Human Rights Abuse in the present and the near-past, especially systemic abuse: Apartheid, Dirty Wars, the Armenian Genocide, Jim Crow, Totalitarianism, Slavery, and Settler Colonialism being among the best examples.

We study the Human Rights Struggle, that is efforts by individuals and groups to oppose human rights abuse and create more just societies.  In this sense human rights can be approached as part of the embodied and lived experience of everyday people, including refugees and indigenous peoples, and not just an elite or Western practice.  At UC Davis, we tend to focus a great deal of our research on this element through the lens of area studies – hence our courses on Human Rights in Latin America and Human Rights in the Middle East.  In this element we also seek to understand human rights struggle as it is expressed through the arts, music, and other forms of culture.

We celebrate Human Rights Achievements, that is moments in the successful defense of the Human Rights Idea, and use the tools of storytelling in its multiple forms to explore episodes of resistance, survival and perseverance.

Through teaching and research, Human Rights Studies professionals work to understand and support Human Rights Advocacy.  This includes the full embrace of forms of engaged scholarship and closing the gap between theory and practice. Human Rights Studies professionals engage in policy advocacy, often provide expert testimony, and work outside of the academy in international organizations.  In this element, Human Rights Studies teachers will often invite human rights activists, advocates and defenders into the classroom and emphasized internship activities with Human Rights organizations and career preparation in Human Rights work, broadly conceived.

May 8, 2021