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Human Rights: Theory and Practice



Human rights are typically defined as norms that aim to protect the fundamental interests of human beings. Although the definition is quite simple, it is very 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 can be resolved in practice. The course is divided into three thematic parts. In the first part, we will explore the conceptual foundations of human rights from various historical and philosophical perspectives. We will address some of the fundamental questions such as what does it mean to have a right, and why does it matter? If we have rights, who are duty bearers? Are human rights universal, and if yes, how to apply them in different cultural contexts? 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 international 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 take a closer look at particular human rights norms and analyze their philosophical and practical soundness. For instance, we will examine whether people have a right to move freely across borders or a right to live in a democratic state. We will also discuss the grounds of extending rights to persons who are not yet born (aka future generations) and to animals.

Course objectives

Upon the completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Understand the conceptual foundations of human rights and 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

  • Construct their own arguments and identify reasons to support them in oral and written form.

Mode of instruction

The course will be taught in seminar form, combining short lectures and class discussions in plenary and small groups.

Assessment method

Participation: 20%
Short written assignments: 30%
Final paper (with the possibility of revision): 50%

Reading list

The course syllabus, including the complete reading list, will be made available on Brightspace before the start of the course.


See Preliminary Information

### Timetable
See 'MyTimetable'