If you would have asked me about international human rights law before Jan. 23, I would simply have nothing to say. After enrolling in LAW 4081: International Human Rights Law with Elizabeth Brundige, Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, though, I can now say that the previous statement has changed.
In the short amount of time that I’ve been enrolled in the course, I have already expanded my knowledge on the topic of human rights law on a global scale and learned the essentiality of intergovernmental bodies in protecting human rights. As a pre-law student studying Industrial and Labor Relations with intended minors in Law and Society and Policy Analysis and Management, I’ve known about my interest in the law for quite some time now. That being said, only recently have I been able to further develop a breadth of knowledge on the technicalities of the law both domestically and internationally.
My interest in the law involves the intersection of labor and environmental law focusing on defending the rights of workers exploited by the agricultural system of America. This issue disproportionately impacts undocumented immigrants who don’t have the legal right to unionize given their lack of citizenship. And yet, seventy-three percent of all agricultural workers in the United States belong to immigrant backgrounds, while an estimated three percent of all workers in the U.S. belong to unions in agriculture. In addition to this overwhelmingly large population of agricultural workers that belong to immigrant backgrounds, twenty-eight percent of this workforce is women. This topic of discussion is not directly related to what I will be discussing today, but I figured offering context on my interest in the law might explain my inclination to enroll in a related course at CLS.
Prof. Brundige founded and directs the Gender Justice Clinic at CLS where she emphasizes the efficacy of research and advocacy regarding gender-based violence and discrimination. Learning about methods of remedying gender-based discrimination has been indispensable to me as I’ve been able to better understand the overarching applications of the law in other contexts. In taking Prof. Brundige’s course I’ve been able to train my critical thinking muscle and think like a lawyer. The issue of the exploitation of workers in the agricultural system involves racial discrimination, as well. This discrimination can look like many different things: Sexual harassment, assigned caregiving, lower pay and the denial of a living wage as a whole. When one zooms out from a domestic standpoint and addresses this issue on an international level, it becomes clear that this isn’t only happening in America. The United Nations has the solutions we are looking for, but its methods are not foolproof.
The United Nations offers a comprehensive list of existing intergovernmental organizations that have been created by states globally through multilateral treaties. As noted by CLS, a multilateral treaty is pertinent to international law and covers “human rights to inter-state agreements on matters such as trade or transportation.” These intergovernmental bodies exist with the primary role of preventing human rights violations in the masses, including the violations that take place in agriculture. They are particularly important because they hold states accountable for violations of human rights and must adhere to a given treaty as long as they are a party to it. In addition to this measure, in 1979, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted by the United Nations as a part of the Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. CEDAW includes a total of 30 articles dedicated to the protection of women internationally whose rights have been violated in any form ranging from property rights to gender-based discrimination.
Again, it is important to recognize that while states are being held accountable through the presence of intergovernmental bodies, violations can still exist among states that are parties to multilateral treaties. For instance, article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights establishes that “the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others” must be adhered to — an article that was arguably violated after the United States declared a public emergency during the pandemic due to peaceful protests.
I believe that the presence of intergovernmental bodies and respective multilateral treaties is a necessary force to prevent the violation of human rights by states globally. I’d like to extend a special thank you to Prof. Brundige for her passion-driven teaching and inspiring lectures.
Adam Senzon ’26 is a freshman in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected] My Two Sen-ts runs every other Thursday this semester.