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.
Course Induction (online)
Tutors: Three of Profs Atrey, Ghanea, Mansell, Murray, Petrasek and Sellers Viseur
The course begins with a short online introduction. This has three basic objectives: to introduce you to your tutor and fellow students, to begin the formation of a working community investigating human rights law, and to practice using the IT you will need for the course.
The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law (online)
Tutors: Three of Profs Atrey, Ghanea, Mansell, Murray, Petrasek and Sellers Viseur
This online course aims to develop your understanding of key areas of the international law and institutions of human rights. The course provides an overview of the principles, problems and prospects for international human rights law and the basis for your further study of the subject. The six units of the course are studied within three modules addressing the context, advancement and implementation of human rights. Within the ‘context of rights’ we examine forgiveness, justice and reconciliation and the intersection between human rights and democracy. In ‘advancing rights’ we give attention to the sources of rights and international human rights mechanisms. In ‘implementing rights’ we address human rights in the economic and social sphere and future directions. Each unit consists of a period of private study, an online group discussion, and writing a 2,000 word essay.
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 emerging and 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 – 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 seeks to provide a general introduction to the state of the world’s children and 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 texts are central to the international law on children. The way in which international law on children is developed and how these international documents are implemented will be reviewed through presentations and discussions of topics including: the evolving capacities of the child; general principles of the rights of the child, such as respect for the views of the child and ‘best interests’ assessment. 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 during migration; and implementing child rights, including domestic remedies for rights violations through strategic litigation and the use of treaty bodies and other international proceedings.
International Criminal Law
Tutor: Profs Cryer or Sellers Viseur
This course seeks to provide a general introduction to international criminal law, to the extent that it operates as a mechanism for the international protection of human rights. The course includes sessions on the International Criminal Court and the other international criminal tribunals; universal jurisdiction and national prosecution; international crimes; alternatives to criminal justice, including truth commissions; and rights of the accused in an international trial.
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 relationship between international environmental law and international human rights law, with a particular focus on climate change and human rights. This course seeks to: examine the points of intersection and divergence between these two fields; explore the contours of the environmental rights found in treaty and soft law instruments; and, consider the consequences of applying a human rights optic to environmental harms. In relation to environmental rights, the course will examine their origins, evolution and spread as well as their scope, content, and justiciability. It will also examine international, regional and illustrative national approaches to implementing environmental rights, including tools, techniques and fora. In relation to the more ambitious project of applying a human rights optic to environmental harms, it will consider, in an illustrative fashion, how a human rights optic may be applied to the international climate change regime, what value it may add and what limits there may be. It will also consider the human rights references and their implications in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
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 Callamard
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 responsibilitiy 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.
Human Rights, Poverty and Development
Tutor: Profs Bedggood or 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 inequality, and development in its widest sense, at both the global and local levels. Poverty is seen as a gross violation of human rights and thus its eradication as necessary for the enhancement of human rights. These rights and the eradication of poverty are also central to the development enterprise. The course therefore aims to provide an examination of the implementation of these ESC rights, although always against this wider background, so that the themes of poverty and inequality will be woven through the course even while we concentrate on ESC rights. In the last twenty five years emphasis has been moving from reclaiming ESC rights, which are now well established in theory and increasingly in practice, to recognition of their crucial importance and role in the wider contemporary context. After an introduction to that wider context, the main part of the course will examine the nature and scope of these rights (to health, housing, water, food, education and work) and of the rights to equality and non-discrimination in this context; and of other rights relevant to our topic: the controversial right to development and the so-called ‘democracy rights’, to information, consultation and participation. We will also consider the players who have obligations, responsibilities or influence in their delivery; and the institutions and tools available at international and domestic level to implement them. The final sessions of the course will turn to consider the place of these rights, obligations and players within the context of poverty eradication, inequality and their connection to development, particularly the SDGs. Although this part of the course will concentrate on that particular context it too plays out against a wider background of international aid and trade, the increasing influence of multinational enterprises (MNEs) and of the private sector provision of social goods and services and the policies of international financial and trade institutions, especially in this period of anxieties about climate change, food and water scarcity, taxation inadequacies and widespread corruption – in all of which the relevance of human rights, and ESC rights in particular, is often ignored. While these topics will only be touched on in this course, we will endeavor to keep this essential background constantly in mind.
Racial Discrimination, Minorities and Indigeous Peoples
Tutor: Profs McDougall or Thornberry
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: 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 century; to understand who is 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 to explore international and regional approaches to the protection of these forced 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: Profs Ghanea or 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 Bedggood, Blum, Ghanea, Heyns, Kritsiotis, Sellers Viseur, Shacknove, 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.