University of London
M.A. in Understanding and Securing Human Rights
The three papers offered
are as follows:
1. Understanding Human Rights
2. Securing Human Rights: Practicalities
3. International Law and Newer Trends in Human Rights
Students are examined through a combination of coursework and examinations. For each of the papers students complete two coursework essays which count for 40% of the final mark. In papers 1 & 3 the written examinations count for the remaining 60%, while in paper 2 students prepare a report on a non-governmental organisation, usually the one with which they were placed.
Each of the three papers is covered in each semester in weekly seminars and lectures over two terms of twelve weeks. Teaching days are on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings (full-time), and Tuesday and Wednesday mornings (part-time). Students also receive instruction, outside these seminars, on the use of documentary sources and on essay and dissertation writing.
Each student has an academic guidance tutor, whom they see regularly.
The MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights is open to part-time students who take the degree over a two-year period. They take two papers in year one (Tuesday and Wednesday mornings), and take the third paper (Thursday mornings) and write a dissertation in year two. Overseas students can now take the course part-time.
The subject matter to be covered in the three papers is summarised below.
Paper 1 - Understanding Human Rights
Paper One includes a broad range of approaches from the social sciences and humanities to the subject of human rights. It consists of four modules. Module 1 is entitled 'Ideas of Rights' and is designed to address such questions as: what are rights? where do they come from? Topics covered include classical theories of rights, contemporary philosophical debates, universalism versus cultural relativism, east Asian and Islamic critiques, and the politics of human rights. Module 2, 'Contexts of Rights', looks at the structures and processes which provide both a backdrop to many current human rights concerns and are themselves increasingly seen as human rights issues. Such contexts include structural adjustment and debt, globalisation, complex emergencies, humanitarian intervention and foreign policy.
The second term begins with Module 3, 'Contemporary Rights Debates', which focuses specifically on genocide, ethnic cleansing and political transition and democratisation. Within these broad themes, presentations look in detail at the legal and political importance of definitions (when, for example, is an event defined as genocide?), rape in the context of ethnic cleansing, the media and contemporary conflict, the centrality of civil society and Truth Commissions to political transitions and democratisation, and partition as a human rights issue. The final module, 'Futures of Rights' analyses the implications of rights proliferation and what is to be gained by tackling new subject areas using a rights framework. Among such new subject areas and future directions for human rights are the environment, HIV/Aids, race/ethnicity and bio-technology.
Paper 2 - Securing Human Rights: Practicalities
A study of practical details of human rights work can yield insight into the pursuit of ideals examined in Paper 1. At the same time, an understanding of broad philosophical, legal, and other issues can provide useful guidance about strategic priorities to those immersed in practical human rights work.
This section exposes students to the practical work of various human rights agencies and the strategies and techniques that they use. Different areas of work are considered, including data collection and documentation, the development of campaigning strategies and the mobilisation of public opinion, media work, networking by organisations, the role of non-governmental organisations in relation to the UN human rights machinery, and human rights education. Some of these sessions are led by professionals from human rights organisations, who will talk about their specific fields of work including.country or regional specialisms and the practical problems which arise in particular contexts. In previous years speakers have come from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Minority Rights Group, Oxfam, Article 19, Interights and UNICEF.
Paper 3 - International Law and Newer Trends in Human Rights.
The first semester addresses international law and the global human rights order. An introduction to the international legal order and the UN's Human Rights Charter-based and treaty mechanisms in the opening weeks is followed by a detailed study of regional protection mechanisms. The semester concludes with a study of the problems of implementation including derogations and reservations and also an examination of the methods employed to give effect to international standards on a domestic level, including incorporation of treaties and the setting up of national human rights commissions.
The second semester examines newer trends in human rights law. It begins with a study of some of some substantive issues in the protection of human rights on an international level, including the right to life, the prohibition on torture and the protection of free expression. In addition we examine the recent blurring of the public/private divide in human rights law.
The course progresses to examine the newer trends toward group specific and issue specific protection and will include consideration of the rights of specific categories including minorities, women, children, refugees, and other vulnerable groups who have become the focus of specific treaties or similar mechanisms on a universal and regional level.
The course concludes with an examination of the interplay between Human Rights and Criminal Justice. We provide a brief overview of international humanitarian law and the international criminal court.
Course Direction and Teaching
The direction of the degree programme will be the responsibility of Dr Nazila Ghanea-Hercock, the course convenor of the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights and Professor Tim Shaw, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.
Paper 1 will be overseen by Dr Paul Gready, lecturer in Human Rights.
Paper 2 will be convened by Dr Nazila Ghanea-Hercock. London based human right professionals from international NGOs will lead seminars focused on practical aspects of their work.
Paper 3 will be taught by Dr Nazila Ghanea-Hercock, course convenor of the MA Programme and lecturer in International Law and Human Rights.
For further information on the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights contact Christie Goodall, Graduate Student Officer. .
Most students taking the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights want to become human rights activists. A few have gone on to do further academic study. Former students have secured paid employment with organisations including African Rights, Amnesty International, Anti-Slavery International, the OSCE, the Minority Rights Group, Oxfam, Rights and Humanity, and UNICEF. On several occasions employment opportunities have arisen as the result of the student placement.
Many overseas students are seconded to do the course and after completing the MA return to their jobs in government or the non-governmental sector.
A University of London Careers' Officer comes to talk to students, who can also make individual appointments at the Careers Office.
Institute of Commonwealth Studies
School of Advanced Study, University of London,
28 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DS, United Kingdom
Tel. +44 (0) 20 7862 8844 Fax. +44 (0) 20 7862 8820