International Protection of Human Rights

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Chaloka Beyani


This course is available on the BA in Anthropology and Law, BSc in International Relations and LLB in Laws. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit. This course is available to General Course students.


Students need to have already taken and done well in a course in Public International Law or in Civil Liberties Law.

Course content

This course aims to provide a comprehensive and analytical account of the application of human rights standards in international law, and the operation of the existing international machinery for the protection of human rights. The course is designed to be both theoretical and practical.

The course deals with important conceptual issues: What are human rights? What is their purpose and status in international law? Are they absolute or relative? Can they be of equal significance to societies at different stages of development? When may they be qualified? What is the relation between economic and social rights as well as civil and political rights? Are rights attributable to groups as well as to individuals? Why are there special categories of protection, e.g. minorities, indigenous peoples, children, women and refugees?

Extensive use is made of relevant case law, of the Civil and Political Covenant, the European Convention, the American Convention, the African Charter, and the International Court of Justice; and particular rights (such as those of persons belonging to minorities, the right to life, the prohibition of torture, the right to a fair trial, family life, and the fundamental freedoms) are studied in considerable detail.

The law of human rights reflects attempts made internationally to articulate basic legal standards for the protection of individuals and groups in their relations with the state, and to use the authority of international law, institutions, and procedures, to secure compliance with such standards. Human rights law is a modern phenomenon; but it has an ancient lineage. Some account of its evolution is given, from natural rights, civil liberties, the history of minorities protection, and the progressive development of human rights in public international law since 1945.

However, the major part of the course relates to post-1945 events concerning the protection of human rights. A section of the course deals with the role and reform of the United Nations to promote and secure the observance, on a universal basis, of international standards of human rights. The development of important legal standards (such as those of non-discrimination) is traced; and the work of various UN bodies in applying human rights is analysed. The International Covenants on Human Rights are closely studied, with equal emphasis on the Committee under the Civil and Political Covenant, and the Committee under the Economic Covenant.

Comparisons are also drawn with regional attempts to promote and protect human rights, with the European system, the Inter-American system and the African system receiving special attention as regards their treaties, their institutions, procedure, and case-law.

By the end of the course students should have a good understanding of the substantive content of contemporary human rights and of the existing and alternative means available for protecting these rights and fundamental freedoms.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 2 essays in the MT and LT.

Indicative reading

R. Smith, International Human Rights; S. Joseph, J. Schultz, M. Castan, The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Cases, Materials and Commentary; Jacobs and White, European Convention on Human Rights or Harris, The Law of the European Convention on Human Rights or Janis, European Human Rights Law. A detailed reading list is also provided.


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours, reading time: 15 minutes) in the main exam period.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2016/17: 14

Average class size 2016/17: 15

Capped 2016/17: Yes (25)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

PDAM skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills