Seminar options 2023

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.

Morning seminars

The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law

Prof. Başak Çalı, Dr. Elvira Dominguez-Redondo, Prof. Joshua Castellino

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. Ralph Steinhardt

This course, designed for students with previous studies or experience in the field, emphasises the role of attorneys in the articulation and enforcement of international human rights law. Students will analyze human rights norms in the form of treaties, customary international law, and “soft law” instruments, always with an eye to using the law effectively in advising and representing individual clients, organisations, and governments seeking compliance. Students will assess the value of various international, regional, and domestic systems of enforcement. At each juncture, they will confront contemporary problems in international human rights law, especially the liability of non-state actors (e.g. multinational enterprises), the sporadic internalization of human rights norms by government actors, and the challenge of cultural relativism and other forms of skepticism.


Afternoon seminars

Human Rights in the Marketplace

Prof. David Kinley

The class explores the intimate relationship between international human rights standards and the global economy – why it is so important, how it works and when it doesn’t, and what is being done to improve it in ways that benefit the poor and marginalised, not just the privileged and powerful. We examine the human rights implications of the main drivers of the global economy – transnational corporations, global financial institutions, international trade regimes, and aid and development agencies – and critique the principles, policies, laws, and institutions that endeavour to regulate them. We also consider the crucial roles played by good governance and the rule of law in protecting human rights alongside sustainable economic development. The class finishes with an open-ended assessment of the main problems and possibilities that lie ahead in the field.


War, Peace and Human Rights

Prof. Stuart Maslen

This course will focus 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 will 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 will be covered as will the relationship between warfare and law enforcement and between the law of armed conflict and jus ad bellum. We will 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 international human rights law 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, evaluate and critique the international law and its contribution to improving the lives of women, gender and sexual minorities around the world.


International Human Rights Law and Refugees

Prof. Stephen Meili

This course will examine international and domestic protections available to refugees. Its primary focus will be the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol and other international instruments, and how they have been interpreted by various international, regional and national institutions. The course will emphasize the human rights approach to refugee law, i.e., the extent to which human rights instruments such as the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights inform interpretations of the Refugee Convention. Given the ongoing refugee crisis in various parts of the world, we will pay particular attention to the role of regional human rights instruments applicable to refugees, including the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Organization of African Unity 1969 Convention. We will also analyze the way that the constitutionalization of human rights law in many countries has impacted refugees and asylum-seekers, and the strategies of the advocates who argue for their protection. The course will combine lectures, discussions and in-class exercises such as oral arguments and debates.


Climate Justice (new for 2023)

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, self-determination, culture and development. States have a human rights obligation to prevent the foreseeable adverse effects of climate change and ensure that those affected by it, particularly those in vulnerable situations, have access to effective remedies and means of adaptation to enjoy lives with human dignity. This course addresses how international human rights law (IHRL) sets out a framework to establish the responsibilities of duty bearers to rights-holders with respect to the threats and harm to human rights, including through environmental degradation. It explores what a human rights-based approach to climate action could look like, including through the development of environmental policies embracing principles of participation and non-discrimination, and the right to remedy and reparation. The course also analyses international human rights mechanisms, institutions and agencies at the UN and regional levels with roles in addressing climate change. The role of the courts will be an area of particular focus, as we explore the goals, impact and challenges arising in the burgeoning practice of strategic human rights climate litigation around the world. The course will identify the potential and limits of the use of international human rights law and processes in pursuit of climate justice. It takes a comprehensive approach, considering law, process, actors and strategy.


Human Rights and the Digital Realm 

Dr. Daragh Murray

The digital age has radically transformed the field of human rights. On the one hand, digital technologies, including the internet, have become central to the exercise, defence and realisation of human rights. They are widely considered as vital tools for holding powerful actors to account. On the other hand, digital technologies are regularly used to exacerbate human rights abuses, deepen inequality, and silence critical voices. This course unpacks the complex and evolving relationship between human rights and digital technologies, identifying and assessing the nature of challenges to human rights in the digital age or digital human rights (often called ‘digital rights’) and the responses of international human rights bodies and mechanisms and regional human rights courts to such challenges. This course covers threats to particular digital human rights – such as freedom of expression and access to information, privacy and data protection, equality and non-discrimination – through the analysis of recent case-studies, while emphasising cross-cutting themes, emerging debates and controversies. By drawing on a broad range of sources, this course highlights the respective roles played by a range of state and non-state actors – notably national governments, the European Union, regulators, technology companies, intergovernmental organisations, civil society organisations, and the media – and the relationships between them in the governance of digital human rights and the construction and implementation of solutions to the issues confronting human rights in the digital age.      

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