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Human Rights: Theory and Practice


This seminar is earmarked for PTLJ, IP, DR, NP


Human rights are typically defined as norms that aim to protect fundamental human interests against important threats. Its simplicity notwithstanding, the idea of human rights is often disputed both in theory and in practice. In this course, we will attempt to clarify what human rights are, what makes them controversial, and how these controversies get resolved in practice.
The course is divided into three thematic parts. In the first part, we will explore the normative foundations of human rights from various philosophical perspectives. We will address some of the fundamental questions such as what does it mean to have a right, and who bears duties to protect it? Are human rights universal or are they relative to different cultural contexts? Are human rights based on natural rights or are they a product of social and political practices? In the second part, we will consider the relationship between human rights as philosophical ideas and as legal rights protected by international law. We will address some of the most important tensions such as the tension between internatinal human rights and sovereign nation-states; between the global economic system and socio-economic rights; as well as between individual and group rights. Finally, in the third part, we will turn to the newest developments of the idea of human rights concerning new forms of threats such as climate change and the rise of artificial intelligence.

Course objectives

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the normative foundations of human rights as well as the distinction between legal and moral rights;

  • Distinguish between the main theoretical approaches to human rights;

  • Analyze and evaluate important human rights issues in terms of these theoretical accounts;

  • Reconstruct and critically evaluate normative arguments in oral and written form.

Mode of instruction

Discussion-based seminar

Assessment method

Your final grade for the course will be calculated as follows:

  • Participation: 20%

  • Mid-term essay: 30%

  • Final paper: 50%

Reading list

A selection of articles and book chapters (to be announced in the syllabus on Brightspace)


See Preliminary Information


See 'MyTimetable'