Fall 2023 - POL 417 D100

Human Rights Theories (4)

Class Number: 8004

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Sep 6 – Dec 5, 2023: Fri, 9:30 a.m.–12:20 p.m.

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 6, 2023
    Wed, 11:59–11:59 p.m.

  • Prerequisites:

    Eight upper division units in political science or permission of the department.



This course introduces students to the problems involved in the assertion of universal moral standards across political and cultural divides. These issues will be explored at a theoretical level, and in the context of specific human rights controversies.


This course analyses how democracies deal with the crimes of the past in an attempt to reconstruct the present and prevent future human rights abuses. We will comparatively analyze various types of ethnic/nationalist conflict in divided societies around the world particularly South Africa, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Middle East. We will explore different responses to massive oppression and gross human rights violations, particularly the role of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC).  Can the famous South African TRC be an international model, or is amnesty for perpetrators a travesty of justice and an insult to victims?

We will explore responses to massive oppression and gross human rights violations.  How have some nations searched for a formal response to atrocity and struggled over how much to acknowledge and how to punish?  How are versions of the past remembered?  What is the role of justice and remembering in nation building?

Various options exist for addressing the historical roots of past conflict:

  1. Amnesia: Burying the past, denial and distortions
  2. Public Trials to ensure justice and meet out retribution.
  3. Lustration: Disqualifying collaborators from public office.
  4. Compensation of victims and restitution.
  5. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions with amnesty after disclosure.
  6. Political Re-education.

The six strategies are often used simultaneously in the same society with varying degrees of emphasis over time.  Particularly interesting are attempts at forging new democratic consciousness through explicit political education based on an awareness of past crimes.  We shall explore these strategies with the examples of post-war Germany and post-apartheid South Africa.  What lessons can be drawn for other divided societies, from Bosnia to Israel and Rwanda?

Students with credit for POL 430 'Democracy in a Global World' with the same instructor may not take this course for further credit.



  • Oral Presentation 15%
  • Participation 10%
  • Essay 35%
  • Final Take Home Exam 40%



Martha Minnow, Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence, Beacon Press,1998 ISBN: 0-8070-4506-3

Patricia Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Transitional Justice and the Challenge of Truth Commissions, Routledge, 2010 ISBN: 0415806356

Antjie Krog, Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa, Three Rivers Press, New York, 1999 ISBN: 0-8129-3129-7

Philip Gourevitch, We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, 1999.


Your personalized Course Material list, including digital and physical textbooks, are available through the SFU Bookstore website by simply entering your Computing ID at: shop.sfu.ca/course-materials/my-personalized-course-materials.

Department Undergraduate Notes:

The Department of Political Science strictly enforces a policy on plagiarism.

Registrar Notes:


SFU’s Academic Integrity website http://www.sfu.ca/students/academicintegrity.html is filled with information on what is meant by academic dishonesty, where you can find resources to help with your studies and the consequences of cheating. Check out the site for more information and videos that help explain the issues in plain English.

Each student is responsible for his or her conduct as it affects the university community. Academic dishonesty, in whatever form, is ultimately destructive of the values of the university. Furthermore, it is unfair and discouraging to the majority of students who pursue their studies honestly. Scholarly integrity is required of all members of the university. http://www.sfu.ca/policies/gazette/student/s10-01.html


Students with a faith background who may need accommodations during the semester are encouraged to assess their needs as soon as possible and review the Multifaith religious accommodations website. The page outlines ways they begin working toward an accommodation and ensure solutions can be reached in a timely fashion.