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International human rights law is a rapidly developing specialty area of public international law, which presents legal advocates with a very particular set of theoretical and practical challenges. Among them are issues associated with the origins of rights; the purported ‘universality’ of human rights; the treatment of marginalised groups (like refugees, women, children, the elderly, indigenous peoples, sexual minorities, and people with disabilities); the challenges associated with enforcing human rights at the international, regional and domestic level; the justiciability of economic and social rights; the balancing of conflicting rights and the application of human rights law during periods of armed conflict. There is also the vexed question of how to hold private actors, especially multi-national corporations, accountable for violations of human rights.
The focus of this subject is on how international human rights law either responds to, or being developed to respond to, these challenges. It is principally concerned with the core international human rights treaties and the work of United Nations Charter institutions, particularly the Human Rights Council and its Special Procedures. The subject aims to equip students with the skills necessary to engage with the international human rights system, so that they are able make a contribution to addressing the challenges associated with the protection of international human rights in the years to come.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will have an advanced and integrated knowledge of the complexities of international human rights law, both theoretically and practically. This includes the ability to inform their human rights advocacy with highly developed analytical and evaluative skills in relation to:
- Understanding the key elements of the post World War II development of the law (international and to some extent regional and domestic) relating to human rights;
- Appreciating the challenges and dilemmas associated with the ‘universal’ claims of international human rights law;
- Appreciating the complexities and relationships between, civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights;
- Creatively interpreting and applying the international treaties that protect human rights and effectively engaging with the treaty bodies established to monitor their implementation;
- Understanding the limits and the potential of the institutional framework for the protection of human rights developed pursuant to the Charter of the United Nations; and
- Having an advanced capacity to examine current issues by reference to international human rights standards and understand the nuanced significance and limitations of the international human rights system.
On completion of the subject, students will have developed and demonstrated their skills in the following areas:
- Cognitive skills to demonstrate mastery of theoretical knowledge and critical reflection in the context of academic and professional debates about the protection of human rights;
- Cognitive, technical and creative skills to generate and evaluate complex ideas and concepts at an abstract level and the ability to translate those abstract ideas and concepts and apply them to practical problems and in assessment tasks;
- Communication and technical research skills to justify theoretical propositions, methodologies, conclusions and professional decisions to specialist audiences in the context of scholarly writing and/or professional advice in assessment tasks;
- Specialist understanding of the legal status and practical impact of a broad range of international legal materials;
- Specialised ability to develop a research question in this complex field and to creatively carry out research involving diverse international sources;
- Specialised capacity to compare, analyse and reflect on international legal issues across received legal categories; and
- Highly developed intercultural sensitivity and understanding.
Last updated: 21 November 2020