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Human Rights Conceptions in a Pluralist World


Admission requirements
Master degree

Since their inception in the European liberal tradition the notion of human rights has evolved and nowadays the human rights standards as contained in the UN and regional human rights conventions are claimed to represent a truly universal and inclusive standard. At the same time, this claim has been contested. The standards have been challenged for not being truly universal and to have largely retained their liberal characteristics and particular, western biased focus. This controversy is played out over several distinct conceptual issues: the relationship between universality of human rights and cultural relativity/diversity; between civil/political rights and social/economic rights; between individual rights and collective rights; between human rights protection in the public sphere and human rights protection in the private sphere (private both in terms of the family and of the market: private business)
The course explores these issues in more detail and discusses the developments in human rights practice: where do we stand now and what can we expect for the future? How is contemporary human rights law dealing with cultural diversity, social and economic rights, collective rights and human rights concerns in the private sphere (family and business), and what further developments may be expected? What does this all imply regarding the developing conceptualization(s) of human rights? The larger part of the course focuses on developments in the area of social and economic rights, including their links with the issue of collective rights (right to development; right to a healthy and sustainable environment) and of the responsibility of corporations for respecting human rights.
To conclude, we look ahead at the future of human rights: will the increasing acceptance of human rights discourse as a global language for the more general goal of promoting justice and human dignity in most parts of the world continue, or are we, as one author put it, in ‘the end times’ of human rights? What inspiration can the concept of human rights give us for the future?

Course objectives *Students acquire thorough understanding of developments in the conceptualization of human rights; *students gain thorough knowledge of and insight into the main debates on these developments in different parts of the world, with specific emphasis on developments regarding social and economic rights; *students acquire thorough understanding how these debates may play out in concrete legal cases in different parts of the world *Achieving the course objectives in turn will help graduates to work with or within human rights systems embedded in different historical, intellectual and legal traditions; will enhance their ability to cooperate with colleagues from different intellectual and cultural backgrounds on human rights issues; and will thus enhance their ability to work in global and intercultural settings.

Mode of instruction

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

  • Names of lecturers: Professor Titia Loenen (coordinator); guest lecturers (t.b.c.)

  • Required preparation by students: read the compulsory course materials; prepare questions and cases; prepare individual and/or group presentations; find and analyze additional materials to prepare for such assignments.

Assessment method

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

  • written exam(s) 90%

  • discussion paper 10%

Submission procedures:
Written exams: hard copy
Paper: hardcopy and via Blackboard (safe submission; including plagiarism check)

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.

Reading List


  • Yes, on Blackboard

Contact information Course Co-ordinator: Prof. T. Loenen
Work address: Kamerlingh Onnes Building, Steenschuur 25, Room B.1.14
Email: m.l.p.loenen@law,

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