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NGOs and the Human Rights Movement: Strategies, Successes, and Challenges

Human Rights
Enrollment in this course is by invitation only

About This Course

This course will focus on the evolution of the international human rights movement and on the NGOs that drive the movement on the international, regional and domestic levels. Starting with the pre-Cold War period and including some of the most up-to-date issues and questions going on in this field today, the course will cover the relevant human rights movement and NGOs, such as their strategies, successes, origins and challenges.

Course Content

1. Social Movements and NGOs

  a) International human rights movement

  b) The idea of a “movement”

  c) The lens of civil society theory and social movement theory

  d) Ways in which individuals, associations, and organizations, including NGOs, engage with each other in building a movement “ecosystem”

2. The Human Rights System

  a) Understanding the International Human Rights

3. Defining the Movement

  a) National and international Human rights non-governmental organizations

  b) Transnational Advocacy Networks (TANs)

  c) The role of private philanthropy in the human rights ecosystem

  d) The “translator” or “vernacularized” role that many professional non-governmental organizations play

4. Theories of change and strategy

  a) Organizations goals, theories of change, strategies and tactics to reach their goals

5. Global dynamics of the international movement

  a) The emerging 21st Century dynamics of the international human rights movement

  b) The “spiral theory” of compliance

6. The Compliance Gap

7. Cultural strategies: Narrative, power

  a) NGOs strategies and programs that focus on culture, tradition, and power outside of the state

8. The data and digital revolution and what it means for the human rights movement

  a) Data and digital revolution impact in human rights advocacy:

  i) As a substantive theme (and subfield)

  ii) Introduction of a new set of communication and media tools which are transforming the nature and scope of advocacy work

  iii) Creation of a humanitarian resilience technology sector

9. Emerging Powers, multi-polarity, and human rights advocacy in the 21st Century

  a) Will shifts in the global order in the 21st Century change the ways that human rights are articulated in foreign policy?

10. Measuring the impact of Human Rights NGOs and the future of the international human rights movement


Risse T., Ropp C. S., Sikkink K., The Persistent Power of Human Rights: From Commitment to Compliance, Cambidge, 2013

Asano C., Foreign Policy and Human Rights in Emerging Countries: Insights Based on the Work of an Organization from the Global South

Merry S., “Transnational Human Rights and Local Activism: Mapping the Middle”

Glasius M., Ishkanian A., Surreptitious Symbiosis - Engagement Between Activists and NGOs

Alcoff, “The Problem of Speaking for Others”