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Discrimination Law: Transnational Perspectives


Admission requirements
Master Degree


Saying human rights = saying that all human beings enjoy the same fundamental rights and liberties in life. Equality and non-discrimination are therefore core to the idea(l) and project of establishing a human rights system. However: unequal treatment, exclusion, oppression and violence against particular groups of human beings are pervasive and stubborn aspects of all societies Therefore, the constructors of human rights norms – starting with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Rights (UDHR) – found it necessary to include the explicit provision that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights and that any kind of discrimination is prohibited. Subsequently, this norm was elaborated in many Human Rights Treaties at the UN Level, at the level of European, African and Inter-American regional organisations of nation states, and in most national constitutions around the world.

Characteristic of human rights norms in the area of combating discrimination is that these norms are interpreted and applied in a dynamic and progressive way across most of the courts and treaty bodies that are involved in the process of implementing human rights standards. The gradual evolvement from a merely formal understanding of the principle of equality to substantive and transformative approaches to this principle is indicative for this dynamic. Another indicator is the gradual evolvement of the concept of discrimination from direct to indirect and also systemic discrimination, as well as the fact that increasingly courts and supervising treaty bodies stress the positive obligations of States parties to combat discrimination ‘with all appropriate measures’. This dynamic makes this area of human rights law particularly interesting. It can be observed that courts and treaty bodies are looking to each other and across borders, including to national constitutional traditions in various parts of the world, in order to find inspiration as to what equality and non-discrimination might mean in today’s world and how these principles could and should be applied in a proactive and effective manner. In that regard, anti-discrimination law is truly multi-layered and transnational.

Unequal treatment and discrimination are stubborn and all pervasive phenomenon. This is no different today than at the time the UDHR was adopted. Apparently anti-discrimination law as such is not enough to put an end to these practices. But legal norms will certainly not be effective when the causes of oppression and exclusion on particular grounds are not taken into consideration when devising implementation strategies to combat discrimination. In this regard, the course will concentrate on four grounds of discrimination that are particularly vicious and pervasive on a global scale: sex; sexual orientation and gender identity; race and ethnicity; and disability.

Course objectives

-to familiarize students with the width and variety of legal instruments against discrimination in the context of human rights protection under the various operative human rights systems worldwide;
-to teach students how to examine and compare the different ways in which, within the particular context of various human rights systems, the core norms of equality and non-discrimination are conceptualised and to which concrete negative and positive obligations of States parties these norms may lead;
-to teach students how to analyse in-depth the ways in which the existing anti-discrimination norms are applied and implemented in case law of human rights courts, in decisions, concluding observations and general recommendations of supervising treaty bodies, and in case law, legislation and policies at the national level;
-to teach students about the resistances against application / implementation of the equal treatment and non-discrimination norms, both at the level of States parties and of particular (dominant) actors in civil society;
-to teach students about which ways of implementing anti-discrimination human rights law may be most effective (considering these resistances) and which could stand out as ‘good practices’;
-to train student’s research skills as well as to train their ability to construct sound legal arguments as to how anti-discrimination law could / should be developed further.

Assessment method

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

  • Weekly Journals (for seminar type 1): students need to submit 5 Journals marked sufficient.

  • Weekly assignments (for seminar type 2) (5× 5%): 25%

  • Test of legal knowledge (immediately after the course ends): 25%

  • Final paper (take home exam; 1 week submission time): 50%

Submission procedures
Journals (for Seminar type 1) are submitted via Blackboard one day before the session.
Papers for the weekly assignments (seminar type 2) are submitted via Blackboard (safe submission procedure; including plagiarism check). Final paper: idem.

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.

Contact information Programme Co-ordinator: Ms. Mahshid Alizadeh Leiden University | Leiden Law School | Office for International Education Steenschuur 25 | 2311 ES Leiden | The Netherlands | (t) +31 71 527 3593 |