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What is International Human Rights Law?

Examine the history & nature of human rights law, its norms, systems, and institutions, and consider its proclaimed universality.

What is International Human Rights Law?
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    4 hours
  • 100% online

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  • Included in an ExpertTrack

    Course 1 of 3
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Delve into the nature of human rights law

The development of international human rights law started quite slowly, with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the first binding UN human rights treaty adopted nearly 20 years later in 1965.

On this four-week course, you’ll examine the nature of international human rights law, asking questions about the history and geography of its evolution and whether its particular history and geography have had an impact on the question of its alleged universality.

Discover the history of human rights law

You’ll travel through time to examine some of the monumental moments that led to the development of international human rights law.

From the Magna Carta to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (the ICCPR), you’ll explore the different steps that got us where we currently are.

Explore whether human rights are truly universal

During week three of this course, you’ll discuss the much-claimed universality of human rights; the arguments for and against the idea that human rights law is applicable and relevant to all people in any part of the world.

You’ll examine the history leading up to the adoption of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and consider the role of state sovereignty, in an attempt to assess universality claims.

Learn about the norms, systems and institutions designed to protect human rights

The final week in this course will take you through the UN human rights system, examining both treaties and the bodies designed to oversee the implementation of human rights. You will also look briefly at regional systems for the protection of human rights.

Syllabus

  • Week 1

    The Nature of International Human Rights Law

    • Introduction to the Course

      In this activity, you will be introduced to the ExpertTrack, the course instructor, and your fellow learners. Finally, you will learn how this course will be assessed.

    • International Human Rights Law in the Current Era

      Here you will learn how international human rights law has come to occupy a very central place in the discourse between states and in the discourse of international organisations including the United Nations.

    • What Constitutes International Human Rights Law?

      Here you will learn about some of the sources of international human rights law and you will examine the contents of one UN human rights treaty.

    • Human Rights and the State

      In this activity, you will examine the considerable tension at the heart of international human rights law.

    • What Underpins International Human Rights Law?

      Here you will learn about the notion of human dignity as the organising principle around which human rights are constructed.

    • Wrap Up

      Here you will find a list of references and a summary of this week’s materials.

  • Week 2

    History of Human Rights

    • Where Did Human Rights Come From?

      Here you will begin to get a sense that while a recent creation, human rights do have antecedents dating as least as far back as 1215.

    • Philosophical Thought and Historical Antecedents

      Here you will consider some antecedents to international human rights law. You will also consider the thinking of a number of philosophers whose writings had an impact on the articulation of rights in national contexts.

    • Key Developments in International Law

      Here you will examine a number of international developments prior to 1948 that signalled an increased international legal concern for human beings.

    • Wrap Up

      Here you will find a repeat poll, a list of references, and a summary of the week.

  • Week 3

    Universality of Human Rights

    • Universality Claims

      Here you will investigate the claims of universality, having already ascertained the Western origins of human rights law.

    • Antecedents to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

      Here you will examine the immediate international developments leading to the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and get a sense of its Euro-American origins.

    • The Establishment of the UN and the Place of Human Rights

      Here you will be introduced to the United Nations and its concern for the protection of human rights.

    • Sovereignty and International Human Rights Law

      Here you will investigate the tension between the notion of state sovereignty which is a fundamental principle of international law, and the obligations imposed by international human rights law.

    • Wrap Up

      Here you will find a repeat poll, a list of resources, and a summary of the week.

  • Week 4

    Norms, Institutions and Systems

    • UN Human Rights Standards

      Here you will consider the UN’s commitment to human rights.

    • UN Human Rights Treaties

      Here you will hear about the nine core UN human rights treaties and their supervisory bodies.

    • UN Commission on Human Rights to the UN Human Rights Council

      Here you will learn about the former Commission, the reasons for its demise, and its replacement by the UN Human Rights Council. You will consider if this has resulted in improvement in the UN’s work to protect human rights.

    • Regional Systems and Norms

      Here you will be introduced to some of the regional instruments and institutions. The instruments and judgments of the regional courts all form part of the corpus of international human rights law.

    • Wrap Up

      Here you will find a test, so you can see how much you have learned so far. You will also find a list of resources, a repeat poll and a summary of the week.

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Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of what constitutes international human rights law, its norms, systems and institutions
  • Explore the history of international human rights law
  • Debate arguments concerning the claims of universality of human rights

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone working for national and international governmental and non-governmental organisations, as well as lawyers looking to deepen their knowledge base.

Who will you learn with?

I am Senior Lecturer in Law at Kent Law School, University of Kent. I specialise in International Human Rights Law and International Migration Law.

Who developed the course?

The University of Kent

The University of Kent, the UK’s European university, is one of the country’s most dynamic universities. Established in 1965, it now has 19,850 students studying at its various campuses.

About this ExpertTrack

Explore human rights across the globe, how the law helps or hinders marginalised groups, and how we can protect human rights.

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