Wintersemester 2022/23

International Human Rights Law

Lecturer: Dr Mateja Steinbrück Platise, M.Jur (Oxford)

Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law, Heidelberg

Time and Venue 
9.12.202214:00-18:00RuW 3.102
16.12.202214:00-18:00RuW 3.102
13.01.202314:00-18:00RuW 3.102
27.01.202314:00-18:00RuW 3.102
17.02.202314:00-18:00RuW 3.102

Language of Instruction: English

The Aim of the Course

Human rights are one of the central issues of global governance. This course introduces students to the history, development, structure and multilevel functioning of international human rights law. The course shows how and why human rights standards have emerged and how they change over time. It reviews competing conceptions of human rights, unravels their notions of universality and inalienability, and examines different types of human rights. Drawing on historical and contemporary cases from around the world, the course also surveys different state and non-state actors involved in the promotion of human rights and address obstacles to such promotion. Special attention is given to the legal framework of the United Nations and regional systems for institutional protection of human rights, their relationship and the specific remedies that exist for violations of human rights law in these various systems, illustrated with practical case studies where relevant. On the basis of these insights, the course explores several topical debates in the field, including the responsibility to protect and the use of humanitarian intervention, universal jurisdiction and the impact of non-state actors on human rights, in particular international organisations and transnational corporations.

Learning Outcomes

On completion of the course the students will be able to:

  • Identify relevant sources in the field of human rights
  • Analyse the role of the state in realization of human rights, understand the relation between human rights and democracy, and explain the role of human rights in the development of state sovereignty;
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the relationship between international and national human rights law,
  • Compare and evaluate different global and regional mechanisms and procedures for human rights law enforcement;
  • Critically assess specific contemporary challenges to the protection of human rights with reference to relevant legal instruments and court's jurisprudence;
  • Draft a legal document in the form of a submission or reasoned opinion concerning a particular human right issue and orally defend the written position
  • Acquire basic competencies in legal research

Course overview

1. The concept of human rights

International Human Rights Law - Slides No. 1

1.1. Historical and philosophical foundations

1.2. The sources of human rights law

1.3. Generations of human rights

1.4. The State as the primary duty holder

2. Restrictions of human rights

International Human Rights Law - Slides No. 2

2.1. The absolute prohibition of torture and ill-treatment

2.2. Limitations to human rights: legitimacy, legality, necessity

2.3. Situations of emergency and derogations

3. Protection of human rights at the domestic level

International Human Rights Law - Slides No. 3

3.1. The notion of state jurisdiction

3.2. The typology of state obligations: respect – protect – fulfill

3.3. The right to an effective remedy

4. Protection of human rights at the international level

International Human Rights Law - Slides No. 4

4.1. The United Nations Human Rights System

4.1.1. The legal foundations: The UN Charter

4.1.2. The normative foundations and beyond: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

4.1.3. The International Bill of Rights: ICCCPR and ICESCR

4.1.4. Other UN human rights treaties and their monitoring bodies

4.1.5. The UN Security Council and the responsibility to protect

4.1.6. The UN General Assembly: from resolutions to general legal principles?

4.1.7. Human rights protection under the UN Specialised Agencies: UNESCO and ILO

4.2. The European system (CoE and EU)

4.3. The Inter-American system

4.4. The African system

4.5. Fragmentation, complementarity or conflict between different human rights instruments?

5. Non-state actors and human rights

5.1. International organisations

5.2. Transnational corporations

5.3. The changing role of the State