Seminar options 2024
In the mornings, all students take the Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law (IHRL) course which provides an in-depth understanding of relevant laws, legal principles, obligations and enforcement machinery. This course comprises a plenary lecture, followed by small-group seminars. One group will be an advanced group focusing on Human Rights Lawyering. Students may opt for this class if they have already studied international human rights law or can demonstrate significant professional experience. In the afternoons, students choose one of six seminars for a more in-depth study of a particular specialised area of IHRL.
You will be asked to choose your seminar options on the online application form. For the afternoon seminars, we will ask you to make a first, second and third choice of class. We will always try to place you in your first choice of class but if a class is oversubscribed, we may have to place you in your second or third choice. Classes are allocated on a first-come first-served basis according to payment date. Therefore, if you are keen to take one particular class, we advise you to apply early and pay as soon as possible though this does not guarantee you will get your first choice. We expect to be able to confirm your class choices by the end of May.
All courses are evaluated by way of a written examination and class participation (75/25% or 80/20%). Participation includes discussions and, for some courses, in-class exercises.
For information on all of the tutors, please see Your tutors.
The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law
Prof. Stephen Meili, Prof. Alexandra Xanthaki
This core course provides students with a broad grounding IHRL and its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. The course is accessible to students who have no prior knowledge of international law or IHRL, as well as those who are seeking to broaden their understanding of IHRL.
The first part of the course examines the philosophical basis and historical development of human rights, in light of the key principles of public international law which underpin IHRL. In this part of the course, particular emphasis is placed on the sources of IHRL. The second part of the course explores international and regional human rights laws and their enforcement mechanisms. In this part of the course, we examine and evaluate the work of the United Nations Charter and treaty bodies, as well as the regional human rights laws and systems in Africa, the Americas and Europe. The final part of the course examines a number of substantive issues in IHRL, including poverty and human rights, women's human rights, humanitarian law and intervention, refugee rights, business and human rights, international criminal tribunals, and the role of non-governmental organisations in the protection and promotion of human rights.
Teaching on the course comprises a mix of plenary lectures and seminars.
Human Rights Lawyering (advanced class)
Prof. Başak Çalı
This course, designed for advanced students with previous studies or experience in the field, emphasises the role of legal professionals in the interpretation, application and enforcement of IHRL. Students analyze human rights norms in the form of treaties, customary international law, “soft law” instruments and case law. They further gain a practical insight into the workings of various international, regional, and domestic systems of enforcement and their effectiveness. At each juncture, they confront contemporary problems in IHRL, especially, access to IHRL mechanisms, standards of attribution, jurisdiction and evidence, implementation of human rights judgments, human rights backlash, and liability of non-state actors and international organizations.
War, Peace and Human Rights
Prof. Stuart Maslen
This course focuses on the rules applicable to armed conflict, particularly the conduct of hostilities (Hague Law) and the treatment of persons in the power of the enemy (Geneva Law). Key topics for discussion include identifying an armed conflict, the legality of means and methods of warfare, including the weapons used, piloted and unmanned bombing, blockades, cyberattacks, and conflict in space. Application of the law to non-state armed groups are covered as well as the relationship between warfare and law enforcement and between the law of armed conflict and jus ad bellum. We also consider the means by which the law of armed conflict is enforced in the current international system.
Gender, Sexuality and International Human Rights Law
Prof. Charles Ngwena
This course critically explores the role and effectiveness of IHRL in protecting women’s rights at the intersections of gender and sexuality. The emphasis is on protecting the rights to equality, non-discrimination and human dignity. In conceptualising gender and sexuality, the course acknowledges the intersections with reproductive rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) serves as a necessary human rights source in the framing and appraisal of the human rights protections for women. At the same time, the course makes connections with other human rights treaties that are contributing to the protection of human rights of women, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The discussion will cover classical issues such as domestic violence, contraception, sterilisation and abortion as well as contemporary issues such as transgender, disability, #Me Too movements and climate justice. The course draws on critical social theory and mainly feminism and decolonial theories to show how social and legal norms shape gender and sexuality and to evaluate the efficacy of international human rights protections. The aim is to understand, apply and critique international law and its contribution to improving the lives of women at the intersection with gender and sexuality.
Prof. Helen Duffy
Climate change threatens the effective enjoyment of the full array of human rights, including the rights to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, equality, culture, development, self-determination and more. States have human rights obligations to prevent the foreseeable adverse effects of climate change and ensure that those affected by it, particularly the most vulnerable, have access to effective remedies and means of adaptation to enjoy lives with dignity. This course addresses the framework of international human rights law (IHRL) establishing obligations of duty bearers to rights-holders with respect to the threats and harm to human rights associated with climate change, and the tensions and challenges that arise in seeking to give effect to that framework in practice. It explores what a human rights-based approach to climate action could look like. This include analysis of the range of evolving rights and principles, including the right to a healthy environment, the array of implicated economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights, the principle of participation and reparation. The course analyses the roles of a range of IHRL mechanisms, institutions, agencies (at the UN and regional levels) and other actors in addressing climate change. A particular focus is on role of the courts and the burgeoning global practice of strategic human rights climate litigation. We explore the role of diverse international and national fora, and the goals and impact, as well as limitations and challenges, of climate litigation. Overall, the course therefore takes a comprehensive approach, considering law, process, actors and strategy, to examine the potential and limits of IHRL in pursuing climate justice.
Freedom of Expression in the Digital Age (new for 2024)
Prof. David Kaye
The right to freedom of expression has long been considered a cornerstone of democratic society and an essential element for human development. Yet it faces global challenges arguably not seen since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The digital age, for one thing, has transformed the public understanding of speech harms, triggering a wave of regulation in democratic and authoritarian societies alike. Digital technologies have not only provided new tools for censorship and the surveillance of journalists, opposition figures, and others; they have also created new tensions between rights, such as the privacy-expression tension encapsulated in the right to be forgotten. At the same time, government repression of criticism and dissent, expansion of defamation laws, barriers to access to information, and concentration of media, among many other problems, threaten expressive rights. Beyond government burdens on speech, other free speech debates are proliferating, from rights during protest, the problem of hate speech, and academic freedom. This course will address these issues and more, often but not exclusively focused on issues in the digital age. The course will center discussions on international and regional human rights law, largely exploring the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Human Rights Committee and UN Special Procedures, as well as case law in African, European and Inter-American human rights mechanisms.
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights - Law and Practice
Prof. Judith Bueno de Mesquita
This course focuses on the legal and institutional system for the protection of economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights such as health, housing, education, food, water and work. Once neglected, this is now a particularly dynamic field of international human rights law. The course will critically explore the contribution of these ESC rights to protecting people against poverty, inequality and discrimination including on grounds of gender, race, and socioeconomic status; and to achieving the building blocks for a dignified life for all – such as affordable healthcare, quality education, adequate housing, a living wage, social protection, safe drinking water, a healthy environment, and freedom from gender-based violence.
Grounded in international law including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the course will critically explore the emergence of an increasingly rich ESC rights jurisprudence at the international, regional and domestic levels; and the implementation of ESC rights through human rights ‘mainstreaming’ in policies and budgets. The course will introduce students to the latest frontiers of ESC rights research and practice, including in the context of contemporary global environmental, public health and economic challenges that have a particular impact on ESC rights.