The information below describes the content of previous and current years of the programme and lists the tutors who regularly teach the various classes. We expect future years to be similar but it may be necessary for changes to be made in certain circumstances, as explained at www.graduate.ox.ac.uk/coursechanges.
The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law (online)
Tutors: Profs Atrey, Ghanea, Mansell, Murray and Sellers Viseur
This online course aims to develop the understanding of the theory and doctrine of international human rights law along with a concern for its application and realisation in practice. The course provides an overview of the key principles, concepts, doctrine and practice in the field to build a foundation for studying specialised topics later in the programme. The course is divided into two main components: theory and concepts; and monitoring and enforcement, covered in Michaelmas and Hilary terms respectively. Each component is composed of three units each. For each unit there is a reading period and a discussion period. There is a summative assessment, an essay of 3,000 words, at the end of each term, covering topics taught in that term. Students have a wide range of choice on the course. Whilst the reading list exposes the students to a vast breadth of international human rights norms and practice, the essay topics invite students to choose from amongst them (one out of six) and write on topics they find most relevant to their study and practice of human rights.
Summer Residential Electives
The following are the elective seminars regularly offered during the summer residential sessions. Not all are offered every year. Students choose two classes from those available at each summer residence (i.e. four in total) but, due to timetabling and class size constraints, it is not always possible to allocate students to their first choice of classes.
Business and Human Rights
Tutor: Dr Umlas
This seminar seeks to introduce students to the rapidly developing field of business and human rights. The course begins with a review of the international debate on the responsibility of corporations to respect human rights, and traces the emergence of the UN framework on business and human rights. We then look at examples of measures and mechanisms (judicial and non-judicial; international, national and local) through which corporations might be held accountable for their impact on human rights. Next we focus on two areas (extractive industries; global supply chains) that pose particularly difficult human rights challenges, and we explore how civil society organizations, governments, organized labor, companies and other stakeholders have sought to address these challenges. The seminar concludes with a discussion of an approach from within the private sector – socially responsible investment (SRI), one aspect of which involves using investment to bring about positive change in corporate behavior – and the implications for strengthening corporate responsibility to respect human rights. This course explores both theory and practice, and students will discuss and debate actual cases that demonstrate the complexities found at the intersection of business and human rights.
International Rights of Children
Tutor: Profs Skelton or Vučković Šahović
This course provides a general introduction to the international law on the rights of the child. The almost universally ratified Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), its Optional Protocols and other international and regional texts are central to the international law on children. The way in which international law on children has developed and how these international and regional documents are implemented will be reviewed through presentations and discussions of selected topics. The proper application of best interests, the right to participation, and the concept of evolving capacity are cross cutting themes. Depending on the tutor, particular attention may be given to civil rights; family environment and alternative care; child rights in the economic and social sphere with a focus on the right to education; violence against children; criminal justice for children; children in armed conflicts and children in situations of migration. Enforcement of child rights, including domestic remedies for rights violations through strategic litigation and the use of treaty bodies and other international proceedings is also highlighted in the course through a discussion of mechanisms and case law.
International Criminal Law
Tutor: Prof Sellers Viseur
This survey course emphasizes the historical development of international criminal law and the "system" of international courts and tribunals. The course has several objectives. The first objective is to have a critical appreciation of the international legal regimes employed at International Military Tribunals of Nuremberg and Tokyo and an understanding of the heritage bestowed on international judicial institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, the ad hoc Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the internationalized Courts of Sierra Leone and Cambodia. The second objective is to examine the evolutionary trajectory of the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression. Also, the modes of individual liability applicable to international crimes, such as superior responsibility, joint criminal enterprise or co-perpetration and aiding and abetting, will be critically appraised. The third objective is to study excerpts of seminal international criminal law jurisprudence and to gain familiarity with the judicial reasoning in decisions such as the Prosecutor v. Lubanga, the Prosecutor v. Bemba, the Prosecutor v. Karadzic, the Prosecutor v. Krstić, Prosecutor v. Nahimana and the Prosecutor v. Karemera, or the Prosecutor v. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Tutor: Adv Jason Brickhill
This course has as its focal point economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights but these are viewed within a wider context, particularly of poverty and development, at both the global and local levels. There have been significant advances in enforcing ESC rights at the international level, where individual complaints are now possible, and at the national level, especially in some parts of the Global South, often drawing on international human rights law. The course situates itself at the cutting edge of the academic debate and global practice in this fast-moving area. After an introduction to the wider context and the current debates on ESC rights, the first part of the course examines the nature and scope of states’ obligations under the key international instruments. The second part focuses on specific ESC rights – health, housing, water, food, education and work – and the challenges that each right presents. In the third part, we will specifically consider enforcement and compliance at the international and domestic levels, and strategies and approaches that are likely to maximise positive impact.
Equality, Discrimination and Identities
Tutor: Prof Ghanea
The aim of the course is to provide participants with a broad overview of the major concepts, instruments and mechanisms developed by the international community to address various questions of identity, and the challenges and tensions that arise from this. Upon successful completion of the course, the student should have the ability to conceptualise key questions relating to identity, analyse and interpret leading texts in this area, and understand the potential contribution of normative regulation to the management of these issues.
Human Rights and Environmental Law
Tutor: Profs Knox or Rajamani
This course explores the main concepts, laws, institutions, and policies at the intersection of international human rights law and environmental protection. The course will: provide an overview of the conceptual architecture of international environmental law; explore the effects of environmental harm on the enjoyment of human rights, and the developing obligations of States under human rights law to protect against such harm; and consider the application of human rights law in more detail to two global environmental threats: the loss of biodiversity and climate change. Overall, the course is intended to provide participants with a framework for understanding and applying human rights law to environmental challenges.
International Humanitarian Law
Tutor: Profs Akande or Kritsiotis
This course examines the law that governs the conduct of participants in an armed conflict. The course addresses the distinction between the law applicable to international armed conflicts and that applicable to non-international armed conflicts. We also consider the extent to which transnational violence between States and non-State groups should be considered an armed conflict to which international humanitarian law applies. We will explore both the law relating to the humanitarian protection of victims of war (so called “Geneva law”) and the law relating to the means and methods of warfare (“Hague Law”). In particular, we will examine the law relating to the detention, prosecution and treatment of combatants, civilians and unprivileged belligerents (or ‘unlawful combatants’) in time of armed conflict. We then turn to the law that applies to the conduct of hostilities, examining in particular the rules relating to targeting and weaponry. The course also considers the extent to which international human rights law applies in time of armed conflict. In this part of the course we examine the extraterritorial application of human rights obligations and the relationship between human rights and international humanitarian law.
Right to Life
Tutor: Prof Christof Heyns
This seminar will explore the nature and extent of the right to life, often described as the supreme or foundational right, highlighting the breath of issues included in or derived from the right to life. Participants will be first introduced to the right to life normative framework and its evolution over time, from State sponsored killings, to State responsibility for killings in the private sphere and the notion of a dignified life. The seminar will focus on some of the right to life key normative foundations, including investigations, prevention, accountability and remedies, and on two key issues that have defined the right to life over time, namely police use of force and death penalty. Finally, we shall analyse some of the cutting edge issues in the field, including those arising from the use of drones and from killings by armed groups, and discuss some groups’ specific risks to arbitrary killings, including human rights defenders and migrants. In order to make the subject matter more concrete, a number of case studies and courts decisions are included.
Racial Discrimination, Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
Tutor: Prof Castellino
This seminar analyses three interlinked areas of human rights. Discussions of racial discrimination cover the ‘grounds’ and concepts of discrimination, equality, affirmative action, racist hate speech, and cultural and environmental racism. Sessions on minority rights address their historical development, negation and affirmation, conceptualisations of ‘minority’, rights to culture, education and language, and participation in decision-making. Discussions of indigenous rights cover standards at global and regional levels, self-determination, free prior and informed consent, land rights, the impact of mega-projects and resource exploitation on territories and cultures. Exegesis of standards is undertaken in a critical perspective, in light of debates on the standing of ‘differentiated’ and ‘undifferentiated’ rights, and individual and collective rights, in the corpus of international human rights law. Students will also gain an overview of the current institutional fora – regional and global – in which claimants seek redress for violations of these rights and how these institutions are shaping norms.
Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Human Rights
Tutor: Dr Edwards or Prof Harvey
This course examines the relationship between refugee law and international human rights law generally and provides participants with a framework for their work involving refugees and asylum-seekers. The course has several objectives: to examine the origins and evolution of refugee law and the refugee ‘regime’ during the past and current centuries; to understand who is and who is not protected by international, regional and domestic refugee law; to assess the scope and limits of the refugee’s rights; to investigate various legal and policy impediments to asylum-seeking and some key topical challenges; and to explore international and regional approaches to the protection of these involuntary migrants.
Comparative Regional Human Rights Systems
Tutors: Profs Heyns or Viljoen plus guest tutors
The seminar examines an aspect of the implementation and development of human rights law, namely the role of regional human rights systems in the protection of human rights. The course covers the normative instruments, institutions, procedures and some of the jurisprudence of the African, Inter-American and European regional systems, drawing comparisons between the three systems. Recent regional human rights initiatives in respect of Asia and the Arabic-speaking countries are also referred to.
Religion and Human Rights
Tutor: Prof Shaheed
This seminar explores the synergy and interdependence of religion and human rights, while examining possibilities of mediation of the tensions between these two normative systems. Since experiences of both religion and human rights are specific and contextual, the seminar will focus on the relationship of present Islamic traditions (in the plural) and human rights. That emphasis will also be discussed in light of current realities of post-colonial and neocolonial geopolitical and cultural relations. The emphasis on synergy and mediation of Islam and human rights will be highlighted in discussions of the role of the agency of human subjects in the articulation and protection of their own human rights.
Tutor: Dr De Greiff or Prof Méndez
The emergence of societies from mass violence or political repression raises crucial questions about achieving justice and accountability for the human rights abuses of the past. The course will interrogate the questions of how and why, in the wake of grave human rights abuses, individuals and societies attempt to make these violations “visible,” create modes of collectively understanding the events, and manage the inherent tensions in this process of legal, social and moral reconstruction. The course will examine the roles and culpability of bystanders, perpetrators, and civilian and military commanders, as well as the issue of collective responsibility. In addition, the course will address the evolving legal standards, such as the legality of amnesties, the right to redress, and the duty to prosecute. We will examine the claims and methodologies of the central strategies which have developed to engage with the past, including truth-seeking mechanisms, criminal accountability, reparations and apology, and institutional reform.
International Rights of Women and Gender-Related Discrimination
Tutor: Prof Banda
This seminar addresses issues of gender with a specific focus on the international human rights of women. The general objective of this seminar is to introduce you to approaches and concepts that will enhance your ability to explore strategies and opportunities for protecting women’s rights at the national and international level. It will explore conceptual writings by important theorists as well as deal with the actual standards and their application in particular fact situations. The course has twelve sessions and is divided into four sections. The first section explores the theoretical assumptions that underpin women’s international human rights. It will focus on feminist theories of international law and challenges thereto and explore the concept of equality and its different manifestations. It also seeks to explore the gender dimensions of rights violations particularly as they relate to issues around sexual orientation. The second section will look at CEDAW, the role of the CEDAW Committee, and the Optional Protocol to CEDAW. Reservations to CEDAW, considered by many to evidence lack of commitment on the part of states to upholding the human rights of women are considered. The final section will concentrate on issues relating to violence against women and sexual minorities, intersectionality as well as participation and reproductive rights.
The Dissertation (residential and online)
Supervisors: Profs Blum, Ghanea, Heyns, Kritsiotis, Sellers Viseur, Subedi and Thornberry
You will write a dissertation not more than 12,000 words. Most of the research and writing for the dissertation you will do from home, using the extensive on-line resources of the University’s Bodleian Libraries. The fifth week of your first Oxford residential session is dedicated to a helping you develop your plans. You will have multiple tutorials with your tutors, develop your online and library-based research skills, use the libraries and begin to develop your outline. The dissertation is submitted the following April before returning for the second residential session.