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Making Human Rights Work: Legal and Non-Legal Strategies


While the rise of human rights regimes across the globe is evident, to which extent these regimes are accessible and effective is less clear. Citizens who wish to invoke human rights in support of a particular cause are usually confronted with both legal and practical obstacles, and may choose alternative forms of action rather than going to a court or a human rights body. Moreover, in particular in societies where religious and/or customary law are important, framing problems as human rights issues may even be counterproductive and reinforce resistance against redressing such problems.

This course examines issues concerning the proliferation and effectiveness of human rights, access to justice and legal and non-legal human rights-related strategies that actors use in practice. It will introduce students to the main theories regarding the potential and limitations of rights and rights discourse, regarding access to justice, as well as regarding the way in which human rights may be interpreted, contested and reframed in practice. Such analysis will assist students to better understand under what conditions and in what ways human rights can become effective tools for citizens in improving their lives. The primary focus will be on the developing world, as it is here that the problems of realising human rights are generally most profound. The course is of a socio-legal nature and will thus help students to broaden their view from an internal-legal perspective to an external view of what human rights may and may not achieve.


  • Students are able to explain the roles human rights play in different social contexts, and how they can be translated into local normative repertoires, notably in societies where customary and religious law are important

  • Students are able to explain what the relevance of access to justice theories is for promoting human rights and apply this knowledge to concrete cases

  • Students can understand the difference between looking at human rights from an internal-legal perspective and from an external, socio-legal perspective and how these two relate to one another, and they are able to assess concrete cases from both perspectives

Mode of instruction

** Number of (2 hour) lectures: 10 Lectures/seminars of 2 hours each

  • Names of lecturers: Prof. Janine Ubink

  • Required preparation by students: Students are supposed to have read all the assigned materials for the course before the seminar concerned. See further under assessment.

Assessment method
Reflection Papers (30%)
Group presentations (30%)
Essay (40%)

Contact information

  • Course Co-ordinator: Janine Ubink

  • Work address: Kamerlingh Onnes Gebouw, Steenschuur 25, room: not yet available

  • Telephone number: 071-527-7493

  • Email:


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 2021. Since it is uncertain how the Covid 19 pandemic will develop after 1 September 2021, 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 2021 may only be done with the approval of the Faculty Board.