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LL102: Introduction to International Human Rights: Theory, Law and Practice

Session: One
Prerequisites: None

Dr Emmanuel Voyiakis
Dr Jo Murkens

This course will be concerned with a critical exploration of what is meant by human rights and in particular with the possibility that the international human rights movement, together with the law that underpins it, can provide a universal ethical and legal order, binding together an international community of states and peoples. 

The course will begin with an introductory account of the general idea of human rights and of the history of the idea from ancient Greek origins and the Enlightenment to contemporary understandings of human rights. Early on students will be exposed to several enduring human rights critiques and, through a series of case-studies, examine the tensions that the practice of human rights today highlights, such as in the areas of free speech, prohibiting torture, and countering terrorism. Having considered the theories along with several challenges that underpin human rights, the course will turn to assess the structure and standards that govern international human rights law, beginning with an introduction as to what modern international law is and how it is made. This part of the course will consider the international and regional human rights systems and the range of legal instruments and standards that have been developed. 

In the final part of the course, we will study selected key issues in international human rights law such as: 

  • The right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment (including the issues of deportation and extradition, and the use of torture in the so-called “war on terror” and the “ticking bomb case”)
  • Sex, life, and death (including the sexual freedoms of gays and lesbians, the thorny issue of abortion, and the increasingly controversial issue of assisted suicide)
  • Freedom of expression (including the protection awarded to expression that is offensive to religious feelings, holocaust denial, and “hate speech”). 

Primary texts

All students should buy
S. Ghandi (ed.), Blackstone’s International Human Rights Documents, 8th edition, Oxford University Press (2012).

Then students should buy either

P. Alston & R. Goodman, International Human Rights, Oxford University Press (2012)


R.K.M. Smith, Texts and Materials on International Human Rights, 3rd edition, Routledge (2013).

Secondary texts

J. Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, 3rd edition, Cornell University Press (2013)

M. Freeman, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach, 2nd edition, Polity (2011)

D. Moeckli, S. Shah & S. Sivakumaran, International Human Rights Law, 2nd edition, Oxford University Press (2013)

R Smith, Textbook on International Human Rights, 5th edition, Oxford University Press (2012)

Lectures: 36 hours    Classes: 12 hours
Assessment:Written work and one written examination