Human rights law and practice


How can we use human rights to solve some of the world’s most wicked problems? In this bite-size lecture, Professor John Tobin, lecturer in The Melbourne Juris Doctor (JD) discusses the processes needed for change.

Ignoring the challenges currently facing society is impossible. Globally and locally movements around pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Black Lives Matter and the struggle for Indigenous reconciliation, amongst others, are playing out against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

Considering this, Professor Tobin asks, “How can we use human rights as a tool to respond to all the challenges we are facing globally and locally? And what does human rights law have to say about these issues?”

When teaching human rights law, to the aim is to equip students with the skills and knowledge required to practice as a human rights lawyer or advocate; for an NGO or a UN agency; a public think tank or a government department.

Being able to address these challenges requires skills and knowledge in the following four areas: the technical aspects, the need to be critical, being strategic and, as Professor Tobin states, the most important of the four, the personal side – the need for a reflective law practice.

“We need to ask questions such as: For whom am I acting? Why? What motivates me? Why do I care?”

Sometimes it’s more than case books and courtrooms. Simple acts like shaking a person’s hand or knowing their name can be more important than appearing in a high-profile human rights case.

“Are we willing to do the small things? To act with humanity, to actually care and show compassion for those who come into our lives?” At the end of the day, human rights law is ultimately about hope. Hope that the rights which we saw adopted back in 1948 are realised for everyone – no matter where you are, no matter where you come from, no matter who you are.”