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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

Mode of instruction

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

  • Names of lecturers: Dr. Adriaan Bedner, guest lecturers (t.b.c)

  • Required preparation by students: Students are supposed to have read all the assigned materials for the course before the seminar concerned. See further under assessment.

Assessment method

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

*Group presentations 15% *3 short reaction papers to week’s readings (300 words each)10% *Final essay(2000 words) 30% *Final written examination 45%

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

  • Course Co-ordinator: Dr. Adriaan Bedner

  • Work address: KOG, Steenschuur 25, room B 3.16

  • Telephone number: 071-527-7252

  • Email: