IR464      Half Unit
The Politics of International Human Rights

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Theresa Squatrito CBG 8.08


This course is available on the MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Human Rights, MSc in Human Rights and Politics, MSc in International Relations, MSc in International Relations (LSE and Sciences Po), MSc in International Relations (Research), MSc in Political Science (Global Politics) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is not available as an outside option.

Course content

What are human rights? How can they exist? In what ways have they been institutionalized in the international political arena? What institutions, actors, and processes exist for the purpose of realizing human rights? Are global human rights policies false promises or causes for hope? These are among the central questions examined in this course. The course takes a thematic approach to studying the politics of international human rights. It first focuses on key controversies and debates about the philosophical foundations and historical origins of international human rights. It then explores global institutions (e.g., UN treaties and treaty bodies) and regional institutions (e.g., human rights courts) established to address human rights, asking how these institutions function and why states commit to and comply with them. The course then considers the policy responses employed by states to enforce human rights and address atrocity crimes (e.g., sanctions, humanitarian intervention), assessing their appropriateness and effectiveness. Finally, the course problematizes the statist premise of the international human rights regime to ask what role and responsibilities nonstate actors (e.g., corporate actors, NGOs) have toward the protection of human rights. Substantively, the course relates to a wide array of issues, including civil and political rights, socio-economic rights, women’s and minority rights, war crimes, genocide and more.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the WT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

Group presentation in the WT

Essay outline with annotated bibliography and human rights description (1500-2000 words) in the WT.

Indicative reading

Forsythe, David. Human Rights in International Relations. 4th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 

Donnelly, Jack. Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice. 3rd edn. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013.

Chen, Cher Weixia, and Alison Dundes Renteln. International Human Rights : a Survey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023.

Sikkink, Kathryn. Evidence for Hope : Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017.

Simmons, Beth A. Mobilizing for Human Rights: International Law in Domestic Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. 

Dickinson, Rob, Elena Katselli, Colin Murry, and Ole W. Pedersen (Eds). Examining Critical Perspectives on Human Rights. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: International Relations

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills