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International Human Rights Law


This course explores the UN and regional human rights systems, with only cursory comparative references to the European system. The latter is extensively addressed in a separate, parallel course. Taken together, the course on International Human Rights Law and the course on European Human Rights Law provide the foundation for the rest of the programme.
After a general introduction on the historical and philosophical background of human rights and the development of multiple human rights protection mechanisms at the global, regional and national level the UN system is explored. Both treaty based human rights protection mechanisms (reporting procedures, complaints procedures, General Comments and the like) and Charter based mechanisms (the Human Rights Council, Universal Periodic Review; special procedures) are addressed and compared regarding their specific role and usefulness within the system, their strengths and weaknesses. In addition several topical human rights issues will be delved into that fall under the scope of application of several UN human rights mechanisms and raise considerable debate or attract major attention worldwide; the different approaches by different bodies this entails will be analyzed.
The second part of the course is devoted to regional approaches to human rights protection, with particular attention being paid to the American and African human rights conventions. The thrust of the human rights standards they contain and the specific supervisory mechanisms that have been set up under those conventions will be explored. To conclude this part of the course the American, African and European human rights conventions (the latter has by then been addressed in the parallel course on European Human Rights Law) will be compared regarding several selected topics.


  • students gain profound knowledge and understanding of the main features of the UN and regional human rights system (except for the European system, which is covered in a separate course). They can articulate and explain the ways in which different human rights protection mechanisms co-exist, overlap and may influence each other.

  • students can articulate and explain the different workings of different human rights protection mechanisms at the UN and regional level

  • students can evaluate and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the various UN and regional protection mechanisms within their political, social and legal setting

Mode of instruction

  • 12-16 Lectures/seminars scheduled for 2 hours or as double seminars

  • Teachers: prof. Titia Loenen (coordinator); prof. Carsten Stahn; guest lecturers

  • Required preparation by students: read the compulsory course materials; prepare questions and cases; prepare individual and/or group presentations; find and analyse additional materials to prepare for such assignments.

Assessment method

  • (group) paper / oral exercise 20%

  • written exam part I (UN system): 40%

  • take home paper exam part II (regional systems): 40%

Reading list


  • Ilias Bantekas & Lutz Oette, International Human Rights Law and Practice, Cambridge University press, 2013 (first ed.) or 2016 (second edition) + additional materials.


  • Course reader is available to be downloaded from Brightspace

Contact information

  • Co-ordinator: Prof. Titia Loenen

  • Contact information: Leiden University, Faculty of Law, Institute of Public Law
    Kamerlingh Onnes Gebouw, Steenschuur 25, 2311 ES Leiden, Room number B114
    Tel. +31 71 527 3689


  • Institute: Public law

  • Administration advanced masters: BIO

  • Mrs. Mahshid Alizadeh (LL.M.):

Disclaimer: This course description has been updated to the best of our knowledge at the current time of publishing. Due to the evolving nature of the Covid 19 pandemic and possible changes in lockdown regulations, however, all information contained within this course description is subject to change up to 1 September 2020. Since it is uncertain how the Covid 19 pandemic will develop after 1 September 2020, further changes to the course description may be unavoidable. However, these can only be made in the event of strict necessity and only in the circumstances where the interests of the students are not impinged. Should there be a need for any change during the duration of the course, this will be notified to all students in a timely manner and will not be to the prejudice of students. Modifications after 1 September 2020 may only be done with the approval of the Faculty Board.