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Study information

International Human Rights Law: United Nations System

Module titleInternational Human Rights Law: United Nations System
Module codeLAWM157
Academic year2023/4
Module staff

Dr Christine Bicknell (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

On this module, you will identify and critically examine the manner and ways in which international law has embraced human rights protections. The predominant focus will be on the United Nations system, as developed since 1945. You will explore and critically analyse the sources of international human rights law, and the role of the United Nations and its members (i.e. States) in conceptualising, drafting, implementing and monitoring human rights standards. You will also learn about and critique the role of other key actors, including non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and national human rights institutions (NHRIs), particularly in respect to the monitoring and implementation of human rights standards.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The overarching aim of the module is to provide you with the opportunity to learn about and critically assess the major substantive and procedural aspects of international human rights law viewed through the predominant lens of the United Nations system. It intends to support you to acquire an in-depth knowledge of the rules, institutions, and processes of international human rights law, as well as the ability to identify the gaps, opportunities, and challenges present in the contemporary international human rights system. The module is especially well-suited to anyone interested in working internationally, in careers such as international legal practice, human rights advocacy (for example, for NGOs), international politics, peacebuilding and diplomacy.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. demonstrate in-depth, systematic knowledge and understanding of international human rights law through the predominant lens of the United Nations system;
  • 2. demonstrate deep and critical understanding of the procedural and substantive law of the relevant international bodies responsible for the supervision of States' obligations; and
  • 3. undertake complex critical evaluation of the major contemporary issues in the field of human rights protection at the international level, using specialist literature and current research.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. demonstrate flexible and innovative capacity to critically analyse complex legal issues, identify the relative significance of applicable rules and principles, and select and use appropriate methods for investigation and evaluation; and
  • 5. demonstrate detailed and comprehensive knowledge and understanding of legal concepts relevant to human rights, and critical awareness of their social and political implications.

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 6. present, explain and critically evaluate a range of substantive and theoretical arguments;
  • 7. identify, retrieve and use a full range of available resources efficiently and autonomously; and
  • 8. work independently and effectively, managing time efficiently, in preparing for scheduled learning activities and assessments.

Syllabus plan

Whilst the precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover all or some of the following topics:


  • The nature and development of human rights in international law.
  • Global human rights standard-setting and implementation.
  • Legal and political accountability for human rights – UN Charter mechanisms and human rights treaty bodies.
  • The role of non-State actors.
  • Emerging challenges, limitations and future developments.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching1510 x 1.5-hour seminars
Guided Independent Study90Preparation for scheduled learning and teaching activities
Guided Independent Study45Preparation of assessments

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay plan750 words1-8Individual written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay1002000 words1-8Individual written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay (2000 words)Essay (2000 words)1-8Referral/Deferral period

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Daniel Moeckli, Sangeeta Shah, Sandesh Sivakumaran, and David Harris (eds), International Human Rights Law (4th edn, Oxford University Press 2022)
  • Rhona Smith, International Human Rights Law (10th edn, Oxford University Press 2021)
  • Walter Kälin and Jörg Künzli, The Law of International Human Rights Protection (2nd edn, Oxford University Press 2019)
  • David P Forsythe, Human Rights in International Relations (4th edn, Cambridge University Press 2018)

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights (adopted 10 December 1948) UNGA Res 217 A(III)
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 23 March 1976) 999 UNTS 171
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (adopted 16 December 1966, entered into force 3 January 1976) 993 UNTS 3
  • UN General Assembly, ‘National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Annex: Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions’ (20 December 1993) UN Doc A/RES/48/134 (The Paris Principles)

Key words search

Human rights, international law, United Nations, global governance

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date