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International Human Rights Law: Prospects and Challenges

This course introduces the international and domestic laws, institutions, and legal and political theories that protect basic liberties of all human beings. The course provides an overview of the internal law of human rights and the principal mechanisms and strategies for holding governments accountable for violating those rights.


Course at a Glance

About the Course

This course analyzes the international and domestic laws and institutions that protect the fundamental rights of all human beings. The course also describes and evaluates the principal mechanisms and strategies for holding governments accountable for violating those rights.

Students engage with thought-provoking issues that arise at the intersection of human dignity, state sovereignty, and international justice.  Cutting-edge topics include: genocide and humanitarian intervention, the right to life and capital punishment, the right to health and HIV-AIDS, counterterrorism, and LGBT rights.  Students also learn about the international, regional and national mechanisms for monitoring government conduct and redressing violations of human rights, such as United Nations political and expert bodies, international courts, domestic criminal prosecutions, and truth commissions.

Course Syllabus

Week 1 – What are human rights?

Week 2 – Which human rights are protected in international law?

Week 3 – How are human rights implemented and enforced? – Global Mechanisms

Week 4 – How are human rights implemented and enforced? – Regional Mechanisms

Week 5 – How are human rights implemented and enforced? – National Mechanisms

Week 6 – What are some current and future human rights challenges?

Recommended Background

This course is a modified version of the international human rights law course that I offer at Duke University School of Law.  It is intended for anyone interested in learning about human rights, including undergraduate and graduate and professional students. No prior knowledge of law, international relations or human rights is required, although the course will be of interest to those who have studied or worked in these areas.

Suggested Readings

The course lectures will refer to the key texts of international human rights law (such as treaties and declarations), to the decisions of international and national courts, and to relevant news stories or video clips.  These materials are freely available on the internet.

Students interested in more detailed information and analysis may wish to consult:  Henkin, Cleveland, Helfer, Neuman and Orentlicher, Human Rights, University Casebook Series, 2d Edition, 2009, which is available for purchase here. The August 2013 Supplement to this book is available for free download here.

Course Format

The course consists of videotaped lectures (4 to 7 each week) between 8 and 12 minutes each in length.  Each lecture includes a PowerPoint presentation, a short quiz, and a case study or problem to prompt student discussion in the online forums.  Some lectures may include news clips, field interviews in different countries, or conversations with human rights advocates.  A separate lecture on how to research international human rights law using open-access online resources will be provided.  The course concludes with a final exam composed of multiple choice, true-false and other objective questions.


Q: Will I get a certificate after completing this class?

Yes.  Students who successfully complete the class will receive a certificate signed by the instructor.

Q: What resources will I need for this class?

All you need is an Internet connection and the time to read, think, and engage with the issues that the course raises.

Q. What is the coolest thing I'll learn if I take this class?

You will learn about a topic that makes headlines around the world every day.  You will learn how to think about human rights from a legal perspective and how advocates use international law to promote legal and social change.