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Unit information: Human Rights in Law, Politics and Society in 2018/19

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Unit name Human Rights in Law, Politics and Society
Unit code LAWDM0089
Credit points 30
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 4 (weeks 1-24)
Unit director Professor. Greer
Open unit status Not open




School/department University of Bristol Law School
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit covers the following topics and themes: the history of the human rights ideal and its contested status in western debates about law, politics and society; the internationalization and globalization of human rights; arguments about the universality and cultural limits of human rights particularly with respect to Islam, Asia, China, and multicultural societies; attempts to sanction human rights violations through judicial processes, especially by the European Court of Human Rights and the International Criminal Court; and some sharp contemporary debates, including about the profile of human rights in processes of democratization, in relation to global poverty and economic development, in response to terrorism, and in armed conflict.

Intended learning outcomes

The unit is designed to cultivate and encourage reflective and creative engagement with the issues rather than simply knowledge acquisition and transfer. By the end of the unit a successful student will be able to:

  • Explain the nature of human rights
  • And their contested status in debates, in, and between, western and non-western ideologies, and about globalization, international law and international relations.
  • Identify and discuss some core human rights - related debates, eg transitional justice, counter-terrorism, multiculturalism.

Students should be able to state the various arguments and positions in key debates accurately, to assess them critically and to come to reasoned provisional conclusions about how challenging issues might best be understood and problems resolved.

This unit is also intended to improve the following benchmark skills – critical analysis of written texts and written argumentation.

Teaching details

The contact hours for this unit will be 30 hours. This will usually take the form of: 8 lectures, 10 two-hour seminars and 2 assessment preparation and feedback sessions.

Assessment Details

Summative: a 2000 word essay (33%) and a 3 hour written examination (67%). Both assessments will assess all of the Intended Learning Outcomes for this unit in the context of topics selected by the examiners.

Formative: students may do 1 x 1500 word essay as formative assessment.

Reading and References

  • J. Donnelly, Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (Cornell University Press, 3rd edn., 2013)
  • J. Donnelly and D. Whelan, International Human Rights: Dilemmas in World Politics, (Westview Press, 5th edn., 2017).
  • M. Freeman, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Polity, 3rd edn., 2017)
  • M. Goodhart, Human Rights: Politics and Practice (Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2016).
  • C. Tomuschat, Human Rights: Between Idealism and Realism (Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2014)
  • D. Moeckli et al (eds), International Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 3rd edn., 2017).
  • R. Cruft et al (eds), Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (Oxford University Press, 2015).