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Making Human Rights Work: Legal and Non-Legal Strategies


Admission requirements

Master degree


While the rise of human rights regimes across the globe is evident, to what extent these regimes are accessible and effective is less clear. Citizens who wish to invoke human rights in support of a particular cause are usually confronted with both legal and practical obstacles, and may choose alternative forms of action rather than going to a court or a human rights body. Moreover, in particular in societies where religious and/or customary law are important, framing problems as human rights issues may even be counterproductive and reinforce resistance against redressing such problems.

This course examines issues of access to justice and legal and non-legal human rights-related strategies. It will introduce students to the main theories regarding access to justice and legal empowerment, as well as to the way in which human rights may be interpreted, contested and reframed in practice. Such analysis will assist students to better understand under what conditions and in what ways human rights can become effective tools for citizens in improving their lives. The primary focus will be on the developing world, as it is here that the problems of realising human rights are generally most profound. The course is of a socio-legal nature and will thus help students to broaden their view from an internal-legal perspective to an external view of what human rights may and may not achieve.

Course objectives

-Students will have gained an insight into the role human rights play in different social contexts, notably in societies where customary and religious law are important

-Students will have obtained knowledge about access to justice theories and their importance for human rights realisation

-Students will understand the difference between looking at human rights from an internal-legal perspective and from an external, socio-legal perspective and how these two relate to one another

Assessment method

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

Group presentations 15%
In-class participation (including debates) 15%
3 short reaction papers to week’s readings (300 words each)10%
Final essay(2000 words) 25%
Final written examination 35%

Submission procedures
All assignments will be submitted through Blackboard or by email to the course lecturer.

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 |