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PPR.341: Contemporary Issues in Human Rights

Tutors: Dr Karolina Follis

Terms: Michaelmas

Course Description

This module introduces students to human rights as a political and legal concept.  It provides a critical overview of contemporary debates in the field, without losing sight of key theoretical questions.  What are human rights?  What is their source?  In what sense are they ‘universal’ and ‘inalienable’?  Following a discussion of philosophical and historical foundations the module will examine the post-World War II international legal regime for the protection of human rights.  It will explore the political implications of enshrining human rights at the international level, and engage with questions of culture and diversity, development and globalization, poverty and health.  Students will have the opportunity to research and discuss such issues as gender-based violence, torture in the ‘war on terror’, treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and HIV/AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.  These empirical case studies of recent human rights struggles and controversies, will shed light on the complexity of global human rights politics in the early 21st century.

Learning Outcomes: 

On successful completion of this module students will be able to:

  • Demonstrate a clear understanding of the key concepts in the field of human rights law and politics.
  • Show a grounded understanding of the major contemporary issues and debates relating to human rights.
  • Knowledgably discuss the intersection between theories of human rights and the application of human rights standards in particular human rights situations.
  • Show an understanding of the major critiques of the human rights paradigm and their implications for human rights practice.


40% coursework and 60% exam.


1 essay of 3000 words.  Exam: 2 hours. 

Teaching Method: 

Lecture (1.5 hours) and seminar (1 hour) weekly.

The core text for the module is:
Donnelly, J.                                             Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, 3rd ed., Cornell University Press, 2013

Other readings include:
Alston P. & Goodman, R.               International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals, 4th ed., Oxford University Press, 2012
Clapham, A.                                             Human Rights.  A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2007
Ignatieff, M.                                            Human Rights as Politics and Idolatry, Princeton University Press, 2001
Morris, L. (ed.)                                      Rights.  Sociological Perspectives, Routledge, 2006.



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