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Discrimination Law: Transnational Perspectives


Admission requirements
Master Degree

Saying that all human beings enjoy the same fundamental rights and liberties in life means that equality and non-discrimination are core to the idea(l) of human rights. However: unequal treatment, exclusion, oppression and violence against particular groups of human beings are pervasive and stubborn aspects of all societies. Therefore, the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) considered it necessary to include the explicit provision that all human beings are equal in dignity and rights and that any kind of discrimination is prohibited. Subsequently, this norm was elaborated in many human rights treaties at the UN Level, at the level of European, African and Inter-American regional organizations of nation states, and in most national constitutions around the world.

Human rights norms are interpreted and applied in a dynamic and progressive way across most of the courts and treaty bodies that are involved in the process of implementing human rights standards. The same holds true for standards regarding equality and non-discrimination. The gradual evolvement from a merely formal understanding of the principle of equality to substantive and transformative approaches to this principle is indicative for this dynamic. Another indicator is the gradual evolvement of the concept of discrimination from direct to indirect and also systemic discrimination, as well as the fact that increasingly courts and supervising treaty bodies stress the positive obligations of States parties to combat discrimination ‘with all appropriate measures’. This dynamic makes this area of human rights law particularly interesting. In this context it is also interesting to note that courts and treaty bodies are often looking to each other and across borders, including to national constitutional traditions in various parts of the world, in order to find inspiration as to what equality and non-discrimination might mean in today’s world and how these principles could and should be applied in a proactive and effective manner. In that regard, anti-discrimination law is truly multi-layered and transnational.

The course will explore the conceptual development of equality and non-discrimination as legal norms and pay particular attention to sex equality/discrimination on grounds of sex. In addition it will concentrate on several other forms of discrimination that are particularly invidious and pervasive on a global scale: discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation; race/ethnic origin; religion/culture; and disability.

Course objectives
Objectives of the course and achievement levels

The following objectives have been set for this course:

  • students gain profound understanding of the width and variety of legal instruments against discrimination in the context of human rights protection under the various human rights systems;

  • students can articulate and distinguish the different ways in which, within the particular context of various human rights mechanisms or systems, the core norms of equality and non-discrimination are conceptualized;

  • students can articulate and explain to which concrete negative and positive obligations of States parties equality and non-discrimination norms may lead;

  • students can reflect on the – often underlying – resistances against application / implementation of the equal treatment and non-discrimination norms, both at the level of States parties and of particular (dominant) actors in civil society;

Mode of instruction


  • Number of lectures: 10 Lectures/seminars of 2-4 hours each

  • Names of lecturers: Professor Titia Loenen (coordinator); guest lecturers (t.b.c.)

  • Required preparation by students: read the compulsory course materials; prepare questions and cases; prepare individual and/or group presentations; find and analyze additional materials to prepare for such assignments.

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

-final written exam: 70 % -(group)paper+ presentation: 30%

Submission procedures
Paper to be submitted via Blackboard.

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.

Reading list
Obligatory course materials
-see course syllabus

Contast information

  • Co-ordinator: Prof. Titia Loenen

  • Work address: Room B1.14

  • Contact information:

  • Telephone number: 003171 527 3689

  • Email:

Institution Division

  • Institute: Public law

  • Administration advanced masters: BIO

  • Mahshid Alizadeh