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International Human Rights




Admission Requirements

100-level courses in Global Justice, World Politics, and International Development give access to this course, which in turn gives access to 300-level courses tagged with Global Justice, World Politics, and/or International Development.


The realisation and protection of Human Rights worldwide remains an ongoing struggle. Often we witness how aspirations for political freedom and a decent life are violently repressed in places like Syria, Darfur and North Korea. In addition, problems caused by poverty and gross disparities of income, such as unequal access to education, work and health care, often lead to serious violations of human rights. Thus, it is not suprising that human rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch annually report on critical human rights situations in over 90 countries and territories worldwide.

The objective of this course is to develop your critical understanding of the principles and institutions of international human rights law and their role in a changing world order. The course will examine the abuse of civil and political rights as well as violations of economic and social rights within the context of the international human rights system. Interdisciplinary strategies for stopping, repairing and preventing human rights violations are explored, with a focus on human rights activists, institutions and movements. In the process, the course will provide you with the tools to investigate and analyse human rights violations and to consider the possible responses from state and non-state actors.

Teaching materials may be drawn from a diverse range of fields and interdisciplinary sources including law, medicine, philosophy, psychology, political science, social theory, critical theory, how-to-guides, media reports, video, podcasts, human rights reports, witness testimony and forensic materials. The success of the course depends on the active, engaged, and critical participation of students.

Course Objectives

This course will provide students with a solid understanding of the theory and practice of strategic, interdisciplinary and creative human rights investigation, reporting and advocacy. Students will also develop the ability to identify and think critically about ethical problems and principles related to human rights work. After completion of this course you will be able to:

  • Research and analyse specific cases of human rights abuse by applying your knowledge of the international human rights system.

  • Locate human rights violations in the broader context of our globalized society and critically evaluate the actions or omissions of the actors involved.

  • Identify and examine critical successes and failures in the trajectory of current (or past) human rights activists (and/or human rights movements) who influence(d) the evolution and protection of human rights.

  • Investigate, articulate and contextualise options available to secure human rights (e.g., in terms of redress or prevention) and to further implement international human rights standards.

Mode of Instruction

This course primarily combines oral presentations and class discussions. Accordingly, two weekly interactive seminars – and their preparation – will provide you with the opportunity for thoughtful participation in class discussions, peer reviews and oral presentations, based on the careful analysis of required readings and group work. Written work (weekly essays and a final essay) will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your critical appreciation and effective application of the international human rights framework, and to conduct research by applying your improved skills and knowledge to this interdisciplinary field. To that effect, your oral presentationa and final written essay will address complex human rights challenges, past, present or in the future.


Assessment: In-class participation
Learning aim: Interactive engagement with course material
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1 – 7

Assessment: Weekly Individual Assignments (approximately 500 words)
Learning aim: Individual engagement with course readings
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Weeks 1-7 Due before first weekly seminar

Assessment: Group Presentations
Learning aim: Understanding of course content
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Weeks 1-7 During Second Class

Assessment: Final research essay (3000 words)
Learning aim: Expression of holistic understanding of the course
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday, 20 December 2013 at 18:00 hours)


Daniel Moeckli et al., International Human Rights Law, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010

Additional required reading material will be made available on Blackboard.

Recommended Readings:
P. van Dijk, C. Flinterman, and P.E.L. Jansen (eds.), International Law, Human Rights (5th ed.; Den Haag: Sdu Uitgevers, 2006)

The course will also draw on resources readily available on the internet (e.g., official documents and videos via the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international institutions, academic human rights journals via the Digital Library, podcasts, youtube material, etc).

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

Please identify the topic or theme for each week of the course. N.B. Teaching weeks run from Week 1 to Week 7, followed by a reading week – Week 8, when there are usually no classroom hours

Week 1: Foundations
1.1 History and Struggle for Human Rights
1.2 Philosophy and Critique of Human Rights

Week 2: Human Rights in Action
2.1 The International Human Rights System
2.2 Local and National Human Rights Movements

Week 3: Life and Society (Civil and Political Rights)
3.1 The Right to Integrity of the Person
3.2 The Rights to Freedom of Thought, Expression and Association

Week 4: Well-Being (Social and Economic Rights)
4.1 The Rights to Food and Health
4.2 The Rights to Education and Work

Week 5: Working to Improve Human Rights and Global Justice
5.1 Defining Problems, Identifying Goals, Formulating Strategies and Tactics
5.2 Ethics and Accountability for Human Rights Professionals

Week 6: The Environment and Climate Change
7.1 Human Rights and the Environment
7.2 Human Rights and Climate Change

Week 7: Retribution and Reparations for Human Rights Violations
6.1 National and International Criminal Tribunals
6.2 Other forms of Restorative Justice (Truth Commissions, “traditional” justice, etc.)

Week 8: No classes

Preparation for first session

The final syllabus will contain required reading for the first session.