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Elective: Mobilizing Rights and Social Justice


Admission requirements

This course is open to students enrolled in the Master Law and Society.


This course aims to provide students with the tools to think and act strategically in trying to promote human rights. Under what conditions can human rights activism be effective? When does it make more sense to bring a case to court and when are other forms of advocacy more likely to bring about the results we’re looking for? And if one decides in favour of litigation, how do you actually go about it?

Building on insights students have acquired during the course Making Human Rights Work we will engage more specifically with the literature on legal mobilization and what we can learn from it with regard to human rights promotion. We will discuss other forms of advocacy and their pros and cons and look at case studies to apply such insights to contemporary human rights issues, such as FGM and dispossession.

During the second part of the course the focus will move to the practice of human rights litigation, how to conduct such litigation but also what kind of actions outside of court can support it, for it to have maximum effect. Through case studies, we will explore diverse forms of strategic litigation adopted in different contexts and fora, on a range of human rights issues, to identify areas of progress and impact, as well as pitfalls and limitations. Particular focus is on factors that may have informed the litigation process and its impact, including strategies adopted by diverse actors. The ultimate aim is to make students more conscious of the possibilities and limitations of human rights approaches to real life problems and to provide them with the tools to engage in such promotion in a meaningful way.

Course objectives

At the end of this course, students are able to:

  • Assess the advantages and disadvantages of framing a real life problem as a human rights violation

  • Make an assessment of a viable course of action with regard to addressing a particular human rights problem

  • Explain under what conditions it makes sense to engage in litigation to further human rights

  • Devise a course of action to engage in strategic and effective human rights litigation and related action


Check MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


  • Number of (2 hour) lectures: 5

  • Names of lecturers: Adriaan Bedner, Helen Duffy

  • Required preparation by students: reading assigned materials


  • Number of (2 hour) seminars: 5

  • Names of instructors: Adriaan Bedner, Helen Duffy

  • Required preparation by students: reading assigned materials.

Active student participation is essential and reading the required texts in advance of the relevant sessions is vital, so that participants can contribute to class discussions.

Assessment method

Examination form(s)

Students will be divided into groups and each group will be assigned a particular human rights issue and be asked to develop a strategy to promote this right. They will do this in the form of an advisory report to an NGO working on the issue concerned. A list of topics will be posted on Brightspace.

Before week 2, all students will be asked to submit their preference for which human rights issue they would like to work on. The instructor will then organize groups of four or five to analyze the cases. For each case study, students should:

  • Divide the topics among themselves and compile a list of literature for each of them;

  • Write a 2500-word report for each of the topics (one per student).


90% of your grade will be based on the part of the report that you prepared. 10% will be based on the overall structure of the report (including the co-written introduction and conclusion).

Submission procedures

To be announced.

Reading list

Obligatory course materials


Registration for courses and exams takes place via MyStudymap. If you do not have access to MyStudymap (guest students), look here (under the Law-tab) for more information on the registration procedure in your situation.


  • Coordinator: Adriaan Bedner

  • Work address: KOG (Steenschuur 25 Leiden)

  • Telephone number: 071 – 527 7260

  • Email:


  • Institute: The Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of the Law

  • Department: Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance & Society

  • Room number secretary: KOG (Steenschuur 25 Leiden), room B1.14

  • Opening hours: Monday till Friday 10:00 - 15:00h

  • Telephone number secretary: +31 (0)71 527 7260

  • Email: