NSAC Feature: Professor James W. Nickel

By Kevin Peterford – A Google search of the name “James Nickel” will display a man who is renowned for his publications regarding Human Rights.  At the University of Miami, Professor James Nickel teaches courses in both the Philosophy Department and the Law School. Specifically, he teaches and writes in human rights law and theory, political philosophy, philosophy of law, and constitutional law. His impressive credentials include having received his Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and his Juris Doctorate from Columbia Law School.

Sitting in Professor Nickel’s office, one is presented with the extraordinary sight of shelves filled with an abundance of materials regarding Human Rights. It is amazing to meet someone as passionate about Human Rights as Professor Nickel. The way Professor Nickel articulates and explains different theories in the field is even more astounding. Hearing him speak at length on this topic, one simply has to inquire as to where Professor Nickel’s extensive interest in Human Rights manifested.

Professor Nickel credits the late Professor Henkin from Columbia Law School for his decision to pursue a concentration in Human Rights. In 1978 Professor Henkin co-founded what is now the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and later launched Columbia Law School’s Institute of Human Rights with former professor Catherine Powell. Professor Nickel said that Professor Henkin’s teaching played a big part in his pursuit of the study of Human Rights.

Professor Nickel’s latest work, Two Models of Normative Framework for Human Rights during Emergencies, goes into detail about emergency provisions included in international treaties. Professor Nickel explores how different countries face different types of disasters that require different types of relief.  The paper talks about a “type-oriented” model that focuses on identifying different types of disasters and creating specific ways to recover from each of them. The other model, the “undifferentiated”model, does the opposite of the “type-oriented”model and does not attempt to classify each type of emergency. Rather, the “undifferentiated”model attempts to focus on what rights may be derogated from or limited in the event of an emergency. Professor Nickel ends his paper by discussing a hybrid model that incorporates different aspects from the models.

In Spring 2016, Professor Nickel will teach International Human Rights at University of Miami School of Law. This course will give students a “big picture” view of Human Rights law worldwide. Through this course, students will have the opportunity to learn the history of Human Rights and see how it has evolved over time. Further, students will learn about an array of different international treaties and the important provisions they contain. Finally, for students who are not fans of reading and briefing a multitude of cases, Professor Nickel has stated that this course will not involve much case reading and will instead focus primarily on Human Rights around the world.

Professor Nickel has a busy schedule ahead of him in the Human Rights education spectrum. In Europe, Professor Nickel will be talking about his paper as well as many other areas of Human Rights. Also, Professor Nickel provided this author with a glimpse of some of the other material he will be writing about. Currently, Professor Nickel is working on researching how certain human rights affect others and their interplay.

Professor Nickel remains very busy working on a topic that is clearly very important to him. This author was very fortunate to have met Professor Nickel, and more so to sit in his office and discuss the intricacies of Human Rights law, a topic near to his heart, with him. The University of Miami is very lucky to have him part of the faculty.


Further information about Professor James Nickel, as well as a list of his many publications, may be found here and here. The National Security and Armed Conflict Law Review greatly thanks Professor Nickel for giving one of its Blog Team Members the opportunity to discuss his recent work and his interest in the field, especially in light of his very busy schedule. We further encourage all students to look into Professor Nickel and his course offerings in Spring 2016.

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