Comparative Human Rights

Human rights issues are both universal and contested. As human beings, we should all have human rights; yet there remains deep disagreement about the meaning and application of human rights. Courts in different jurisdictions face similar human rights questions; yet the answers often differ. At the same time, there is a growing transnational conversation between courts, with cases in one jurisdiction being discussed and cited in other jurisdictions. This course uses comparative methodology to examine the ways in which central human rights questions are addressed in different jurisdictions. On the one hand, the shared language of human rights suggests that there should be similar solutions to comparable problems. On the other hand, there are important differences between legal institutions, socio-economic development, history and culture.

The course involves a comparative study of key human rights issues, using the comparative method to highlight the key controversies in modern human rights law, and the possible range of responses in different jurisdictions. It examines material from Europe, North America, India and South Africa, drawing on other jurisdictions where relevant, as well as international and regional human rights instruments. The course begins with a theoretical framework and then draws on this framework to analyse the meaning of particular human rights, their significance in theory and in practice, and the efficacy of the legal institutions designed to protect them. The course critically examines the divide between civil and political rights and socio-economic rights, and aims to transcend the divide by incorporating both kinds of rights within a thematic whole. The course proceeds by way of in-depth study of specific rights in order to illustrate the complex interplay between theory, legal concepts and procedure, and between legal and non-legal sources of protection. It also examines the close connections between domestic and international human rights law. The course as a whole aims to provide the opportunity for in-depth comparative study, during which the appropriateness and utility of comparative legal techniques will be considered.

Learning outcomes: an understanding of theoretical concepts of human rights and of how those concepts relate to legal concepts and are applied in different jurisdictions.

Students are encouraged to participate in the activities of the Oxford Human Rights Hub, which is directed by Professor Fredman. Guest seminars organised by the Oxford Human Rights Hub take place on alternative Tuesdays at lunchtime during term time. The Hub website features daily blogs on cutting edge new developments in human rights and equality law, and students on the course are encouraged both to read and to write for the blog. The Hub also produces webinars and podcasts on pressing current issues in comparative human rights and equality law and will be launching its first online course on Strategic Litigation and the Right to Education this autumn.