MOOC Review: International Human Rights Law: Prospects & Challenges

International Human Rights Law: Prospects and Challenges is offered by Duke University through Coursera. It is the first Coursera course I have taken that is not related to music. I previously completed Coursera’s Fundamentals of Music Theory, Develop Your Musicianship, and History of Rock Part 2. This course is, of course, quite different. While I for the most part had no trouble breezing through the weekly quizzes of those music-related courses, this human rights course was far more challenging. 

I’ve marked this course in my cult category because my interest in taking this course stems from my volunteering with North Korean defectors here in Seoul. That is an interest which grew from my interest in cults, and I certainly view the North Korean regime through the lens of an experienced cult watcher. Hence, I view my taking this course as an extension of my interest in cults.

Given the fact North Korea is often in the news and that defectors are also often in the news, I fully expected this course would explore the unique challenges of monitoring, documenting, and ultimately working towards endings the human rights abuses of the ruling Kim family. To my surprise, I have listened to five of the six weeks of lectures, and North Korea has yet to be mentioned. That absence is also reflected in the forums where as far as I can determine, I am the student to post about the subject. Of course, it’s natural for us all to have our own particular interests based on experience, education, location, but I have been honestly surprised that the unique challenges the Kim regime presents to the international community have not been explored.

That is not to say I have found the course uninteresting. I have found it to be very interesting as it has explored in some depth institutions, laws, people, UN bodies, and histories I previously had a superficial knowledge of. As of the time of writing, the final assignment has not been published. It is my hope that that assignment will allow me to explore my interest in North Korea in greater depth.

The content to date has covered topics such as the history of human rights, introduction to human rights law, capital punishment, genocide, the UN and human rights, and national reporting on human rights. While very interesting, it dawned on me how essentially powerless the international community and the UN are regarding North Korea’s abysmal human rights record. Most of the laws, conventions, and treaties seem to rely on at least some cooperation from the state. In North Korea, such cooperation simply does not exist. Certainly, North Korea is often on the agenda at UN meetings, and there have been numerous testimonies heard, reports delivered, and recommendations made, but there seems to be little, if any, progress towards improving the human rights situation in North Korea. Discussions and reports do have worth as I’m a strong believer in the notion that education and awareness are always worth pursuing; however, due to the unique self-imposed isolation of the regime, we might as well be discussing life in another galaxy.

The lectures themselves were quite fascinating and I quite like how they were presented with often the professor in one corner of the screen with the remainder of the screen taken up with bullet points and summaries. Now, when giving presentations, I certainly prefer less text, but I did find the presence of the text useful when skimming looking for certain information – usually the answers to quiz questions. Furthermore, I think the text on the screen can be helpful to learners whose native language is not English. Here’s a screenshot from week 5:


As with the other Coursera courses I have taken, I found the course and site to be very easy to navigate. The forums offer interesting discussions on a wide variety of related topics showcasing an equally wide range in opinions. For the first time, I have made use of the download function. That enabled me to place the lectures on my iPhone as MP3 recordings. I enjoyed a few long walks to and from work recently while listening to the lectures. Two birds, one stone.

I would certainly recommend this course to others interested in North Korea and to my fellow volunteer teachers. I very much look forward to completing this course and to further exploring the topic through the large amount of resources provided.




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