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International Human Rights Law in Today’s World


Admission requirements

Admission to the Masters programme.


This course examines the current state of substantive international human rights law through the lens of some of the most pressing issues of our day. The course opens with a general overview of the history and evolution of contemporary international human rights mechanisms (regional and universal). In doing so, it will encourage critical engagement with the structures of international human rights law and practice, while also providing a solid foundation in the debates that have shaped contemporary international human rights law (e.g. the classic universalism versus cultural relativism debate, the individual versus collective rights distinction, debates relating to the conceptualization of first, second, and third generations of human rights, prominent critiques of international human rights law (feminist, neo-imperial, Marxist etc)).

Having provided a grounding in the structures and fundamental principles of international human rights law, the course then turns its attention to the examination of how international human rights law interacts with and can play a role in addressing some of the most pressing and complex issues in our world today. This focus on some of the themes and issues that lie at the heart of contemporary discourses allows for in-depth engagement and understanding of the capacity of international human rights law to protect the rights and interests of individuals and groups from abuses of power. Each thematic area encourages the unpacking of a distinct set of relevant rights and obligations derived from international human rights law and related regimes (e.g. international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international environmental law, international refugee law etc).
The thematic areas are selected each year on the basis of current developments and ongoing debates. For example, some of the thematic areas that may be focussed on include: Human Rights and the Climate Crisis; Human Rights and Pandemic; Human Rights and Migration; Human Rights and Gender; Human Rights and Terrorism; Human Rights and Race; and Human Rights and the Digital Age.

Lectures and Working Groups will provide students with the theoretical underpinnings of the respective areas of law relevant to each thematic area but with a strong focus on the practical application of the law and challenges arising therefrom.

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
This course aims to provide an overview of the main structures, principles, and enforcement mechanisms of international human rights law generally, and in relation to specific issues of contemporary concern. Students will gain insights into how international human rights law interacts with other relevant branches of international law, while also obtaining a keen appreciation of the ability of international human rights law to address the most pressing issues in today’s world.

Achievement levels

After successfully completing this course, the student will have knowledge of and insights into the existing legal framework, principles and system of international human rights law and related regimes and how it adjusts and responds to contemporary issues. The student will be able to critically appraise the strengths and weaknesses of the international human rights law framework. The student will have an understanding of the interaction between different branches of public international law, in particular international human rights law, international humanitarian law, international criminal law, international environmental law, and international refugee law. The student will appreciate the potential and limitations of international human rights law to address a range of contemporary, complex issues.

Academic skills and attitude:
After successfully completing this course, the student will be able to interpret and analyse the relevant literature and sources in a critical manner and to present solutions for legal problems after thorough legal research.


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • One, two hour lecture per week, for five weeks.

  • Names of lecturers: Prof. dr. J.C. Powderly

  • Required preparation by students: Mandatory literature and case law


  • One, two hour working group session per week, for five weeks

Assessment method

Examination form(s)
Written exam with questions.

Regulation retake passed exams
In this course it is possible to retake an exam that has been passed (cf. art. and further of the Course and Examination Regulations). Students who have passed the exam may retake the final written assessment (test) of the course if they meet certain requirements. To retake a passed exam, students need to ask the Student Administration Office (OIC) for permission. For more information, go to 'course and exam enrollment' > 'permission for retaking a passed exam' on the student website.

Submission procedures

Areas to be tested within the exam
The subjects taught in the lectures, seminar, and all other materials which are part of the course and made available, e.g. via Brightspace.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials


  • Syllabus

Recommended course materials
Made available via Brightspace


Check the website under “course and exam enrollment” for information on how to register for the course.

Contact information


  • Institute: Public Law

  • Department: Public International Law

  • Room number secretary: KOG, B1.11

  • Telephone number secretary: 071 – 527 7713/7723

  • Email:


In case of (corona)restrictions imposed by the government, this course description is subject to change.