International Protection of Human Rights

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Chaloka Beyani

Additional teachers: Dr Theodora Christou


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 and to General Course students.

This course should be taken in the third year (see prerequisites). It is capped at 25 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 engages with both the theory and practice of human rights law and, in that process, some of the most vexing issues facing us today will be considered. What is the scope of the right to privacy in a digital age? What’s the geographical scope of a state’s human rights obligations? How does human rights law apply in war?  What are the human rights obligations of corporations in a globalized landscape? What rights do asylum seekers have when they are fleeing conflict?  Does existing law adequately protect women’s rights?

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 and promoting human rights is analyzed. 

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.

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.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year some or all of this teaching will be delivered through recorded online lectures and a mix of both in-person and online classes to accommodate students who are unable to physically be on campus.  This course includes a reading week in Weeks 6 of Michaelmas Term and Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to produce 1 essay in the MT and 1 essay in the LT.

Indicative reading

R. Smith, International Human Rights; Ilias Bantekas and Lutz Oette, International Human Rights Law and Practice.


Essay (100%, 8000 words) in the ST.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Law

Total students 2019/20: 20

Average class size 2019/20: 21

Capped 2019/20: Yes (23)

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Communication
  • Specialist skills