Human Rights Law Centre


Students take four modules, one at a time. Each lasts for eight weeks.

The modules are:

The UN Human Rights System is taken first and is the only compulsory module. Students then choose three other modules in any order. For example, students may take International Refugee Law as module 2, 3 or 4. From the date of enrolment, students have one year to complete the module(s).

The UN Human Rights System

This is a compulsory module which studies in depth UN human rights standards and the UN procedures for monitoring compliance with them.

It begins by considering certain basic international law and human rights concepts and issues, including the elements of the law of treaties, the universality and categories of human rights and cultural relativity. It then examines the rights guaranteed in the key UN human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which protects such rights as the right to life, freedom from torture, the right to a fair trial, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are also considered.

Cases decided under these treaties by the Human Rights Committee and other treaty monitoring bodies are critiqued. The role of the UN Human Rights Council is examined, particularly its role in operating the new Universal Periodic Review procedure and its Special Procedures.

Regional Human Rights Systems

This module examines and compares the African, European and Inter-American regional human rights systems that complement the UN system. It analyses the rights that they guarantee and the remedies they provide.

The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights has the most comprehensive guarantee, extending to civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights and third generation human rights.

The American Convention on Human Rights is exclusively concerned with this 'first generation' of human rights.

The module critiques the jurisprudence of the regional courts and other bodies established to decide on claims alleging breaches of these treaties. Particular attention is paid to the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, whose jurisprudence is the most developed. Emphasis is placed upon the effectiveness of the remedies that these treaties provide.

Economic, Social and Cultural Rights

This module studies in depth the standards of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, focusing particularly on social rights such as the rights to social security, food, water, housing, health and education.

Economic rights such as the right to work, to fair remuneration, and to collective action by trades unions are also considered. The role of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in implementing the Covenant, including its role under the 2010 Protocol providing for a right of individual petition claiming a breach of Covenant rights, is also studied.

Leading South African and other national court cases demonstrating the justiciability of social rights are reviewed, as is the need for international cooperation and assistance among states and the role of the World Bank and other financial institutions in this regard.

International Criminal Justice

This module studies the international crimes that may be committed in situations such as Bosnia and Rwanda, and the elements of criminal responsibility for such crimes. The provision that is made for the prosecution at the international and national levels of those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity is examined.

Particular emphasis is placed on the role and practice of the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and internationalised courts such as those in Sierra Leone and Lebanon are also considered.

The role of the Security Council in initiating prosecutions, such as that of the President of Sudan, is examined, as is the outcome of the 2010 review conference in Uganda, including its adoption of a definition of the crime of aggression.

International Refugee Law

This module examines the regime for the protection of refugees in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. The module also extends to the law concerning internally displaced persons, whose numbers and needs have greatly increased in importance.

Matters studied are the definition of a refugee, and the rights of refugees, including the right to asylum. The work of the High Commissioner for Refugees is also considered.

Much attention is given to the decisions of the national immigration and other authorities and national courts in applying refugee law, given the important role that such national institutions play in the implementation of the Refugee Convention, particularly in the absence of international procedures.

The difficulties in enforcing refugee law in practice and the need to strengthen that law is a constant theme in the module.

Current Human Rights Issues

This module examines human rights issues that are currently the subject of interest and debate. The topics are:

  • Counter-terrorism and Human Rights
  • Cultural Relativity
  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Human Rights
  • The Rights of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples
  • The Right to Development
  • Amnesties and Human Rights
  • Transnational Corporations and Human Rights
  • The Extraterritorial Application of International Human Rights Obligations.

International Humanitarian Law

This module examines international humanitarian law (IHL), the law that aims to mitigate human suffering in times of armed conflict. IHL does so by granting immunity from the effects of hostilities to civilians and persons hors de combat, ie the wounded and sick, and those who have surrendered.

The module analyses the scope of application of IHL which is limited to international and non-international armed conflicts. It devotes separate sessions to the protection of combatants/persons directly participating in hostilities, to the protection of civilians and to rules governing the means and methods of warfare, in particular the making of military-target decisions.

Special emphasis is placed on recent developments in two areas of IHL: its parallel application with international human rights law; and the obligations of non-state armed groups.

Throughout, the module engages with the challenges of applying and enforcing IHL in contemporary armed conflicts which differ in many aspects from those conflicts that the first Geneva Convention of 1864 was meant regulate.

Women's Rights

This module examines the protection of women’s rights within the framework of international law. The international human rights system has adopted both general human rights standards and specific human rights norms to eliminate discrimination against women and to guarantee their substantive rights. The module provides an overview of general standards prohibiting discrimination against women before examining in depth the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1979 and widely referred to as an international bill of rights for women.

The module considers the structure of the Women’s Convention and the rights it guarantees, with particular focus on reproductive rights, violence against women and women and the family. It also explores the impact of reservations to the Convention, enforcement mechanisms under the Convention's Optional Protocol and the work of the CEDAW Committee in interpreting and implementing the Convention.

The Rights of the Child

This module offers an introduction to the substantive rights of the child in international law and examines what progress has been and in being made in transforming those rights into tangible realities. The international community is very active in this area and many of the rights to be considered by the module are the subject of dynamic and on-going campaigns and initiatives.

The module comprises eight topics: The Construction of Childhood and The Child; An Introduction to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 and its Optional Protocols; The Rights and Interests of the Child; Children and Work; The Right to Education in International Law; Child Soldiers; Gender and Children’s Rights; and The Protection of the Right to Family Life of Immigrant Children by the European Court of Human Rights. Throughout the module a critical approach is adopted and encouraged.


The above is a sample of the typical modules that we offer but is not intended to be construed and/or relied upon as a definitive list of the modules that will be available in any given year. This course page may be updated over the duration of the course, as modules may change due to developments in the curriculum or in the research interests of staff.

Human Rights Law Centre

School of Law
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 8506