Human Rights by Andrew Clapham

Title: Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction

Author: Andrew Clapham

Publisher: Oxford University Press

ISBN: 9780199205523

 This short book is an accessible resource for teachers. The book is probably, as a whole, too complex for most high school students. Teachers might use it primarily to familiarise themselves with the debates surrounding human rights. There are, however, several sections which could be used to generate teaching material.

Chapter One, entitled ‘Looking at Rights’, (pgs 1-22), offers an overview of the history of human rights, and criticisms of them. The views of Jeremy Bentham (pg 11), who describes natural rights as ‘nonsense on stilts’, and Karl Marx (12), who thinks that rights are ultimately counterproductive, are especially accessible, and presented in passages that students would be able to engage with.

Chapter Four, entitled ‘The International Crime of Torture’, (pgs 81-95), deals with a topic that is likely to engage students, and stimulate discussion. Teachers are likely to find pages 87-90, which look at the question of whether or not torture can ever be justified, especially helpful. Box 18 (pgs 88-89) gives an example of a scenario which would see many people conceding that torture can sometimes be justified. This example would be useful for prompting discussion.

Chapter Six, entitled ‘Balancing Rights – the Issue of Privacy’, (pgs 108-118), presents some interesting ideas. The chapter is not very accessible; for this reason, teachers might consider re-formulating the ideas that it contains. Especially interesting is the discussion on the purposes of privacy (pages 111-112).

Chapter Seven, entitled ‘Food, Education, Health, Housing, and Work’, (pgs 119-142), looks at examples of specific rights that people supposedly have. Box 27 (pg 120) presents the view that there are different qualities of rights, and that states have a stronger obligation to stop torture than they do to provide food and shelter. Teachers might present students with this passage, and ask them whether or not they agree with what it says. There is also an accessible discussion on the implications that our supposed right to food has for governments (pgs 121-123).

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