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Issues in International Law and Human Rights


Module description

This module examines the contemporary significance of human rights and studies the historical, political and social reasons which have turned human rights into such a powerful discourse. It combines a theoretical and historical approach to the study of human rights with a more direct, practical and campaigning attitude. The first part of the module will examine the concepts and philosophies of human rights in the context of challenges to traditional international law in the last two or three decades. The liberal or ‘humanitarian’ theory of rights will be examined from non-liberal standpoints, grouped under the term ‘liberationist’ perspectives.

The second part describes the major institutions and documents that serve as a basis for the protection of human rights worldwide. Familiarity with these sources of human rights law in the international arena is a must for anyone wishing to engage in the defence and promotion of human rights. We will also examine the ongoing merging of the discourse and practice of human rights with security concerns and development.

Finally the module examines in detail the protection of human rights around the world and the case law of European human rights and Commonwealth institutions. We will focus upon subjects such as race, torture, gender and migrants, self-determination, liberation wars and terrorism. The old conflict between those promoting traditional civil and political rights and those prioritising social and economic rights has been transformed after the end of the Cold War into a debate between those promoting the universalism or the cultural specificity of rights. In turn, after 9/11, this state of affairs is yet again being reshaped by the discussion regarding the use of violence for the purposes of achieving liberation and economic justice, and international terrorism. We will examine these lively and highly significant debates and we will then turn to a number of current problems around the theme of violence, human rights and the law.

Indicative module content

  • Concepts of Human Rights and Challenges to International Law
  • The UN Charter and Treaty Systems
  • Regional Systems and Rights
  • Basic Legal Sources: UDHR/ICCPR/IESCR
  • Justice and Development
  • Torture
  • Terrorism, Humanitarianism and Self-Determination v. Contingent Sovereignty
  • NGOs and the Role of Sanctions, Pressure and Mobilisation
  • Judicial Enforcement before Ad Hoc International Tribunals
  • Judicial Enforcement before Permanent International Tribunals
  • Judicial Enforcement before Domestic Courts
  • Nature and Mechanisms of Reporting