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International Human Rights Law


This course provides an overview of the international legal system, exploring the UN and regional human rights systems, with brief 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. The course provides a general introduction on the historical and philosophical background of human rights, the legal sources and scope of application of IHRL, and its location within the broader framework of international law, the development of multiple human rights protection mechanisms at the global, regional and national level and the roles of relevant human rights actors, while illustrating how these tools and actors seek to give effect to the law in practice.

The UN system is explored, including 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) and their specific roles within the system and their strengths and weaknesses. The course also addresses regional approaches to human rights protection, with particular attention being paid to the American and African human rights conventions and supervisory mechanisms. Several cross cutting topical human rights issues will be addressed, to consider the scope of application of human rights law in diverse systems and challenges with its application in practice in the world today. The course will end with a class on realising rights, exploring how the systems have been brought to bear and rights given effect in practice.


  • 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, and their strengths and weaknesses.

  • students understand the sources of IHRL and how IHRL forms part of the broader system of international law;

  • students understand and can reflect critically on the strengths and weaknesses of various areas of IHRL and its application in practice;

  • students can the workings of different human rights protection mechanisms at the UN and regional level and how they are engaged for the protection of human rights

Mode of instruction

  • 14-16 Lectures/seminars scheduled for 2-4 hours

  • Teachers: prof. Helen Duffy and Prof. Carsten Stahn

  • 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.

Other methods of instruction

  • Description: guest lectures (t.b.c.)

Assessment method
Assessment method(s) and the weighting of each form of assessment towards the final grade:

  • (group) paper / oral exercise part 1 20%

  • written exam part I (UN system): 30%

  • video exercise part 2 10%

  • take home paper exam part II (regional systems, specific legal issues and their applicationin practice): 40%

Reading list


  • Ilias Bantekas & Lutz Oette, International Human Rights Law and Practice, Cambridge University press, 2013 (first ed.) or 2020 (third edition) + additional materials.


  • Course reader is available to be downloaded from Brightspace

Contact information
Institute: Public law
Administration advanced masters: BIO
Mrs. Mahshid Alizadeh (LL.M.):

Should there be any future extenuating circumstances which may impinge our teaching and assessment, these could necessitate modification of the course descriptions after 1 September. This will only happen in the event of strict necessity and the interests of the students will be taken into account. Should there be a need for any change during the course, this will be informed to all students on a timely basis. Modifications after 1 September 2023 may only be done with the approval and consent of the Faculty Board and Programme Director.