The Morality and Politics of International Human Rights

The details
Human Rights Centre
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Sunday 17 January 2021
Friday 26 March 2021
28 January 2020


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

Until very recently, it was frequently claimed that human rights were the dominant idiom for regulating global politics and law. Indeed, many went so far as to claim that we were living in an age of human rights. Is this still true today?

Human rights are increasingly challenged from a variety of perspectives. Some are even heralding a crisis, if not an end to human rights. Within the global human rights community, some are undoubtedly experiencing a loss of confidence in the moral and political authority of human rights. This module addresses this crucial moment in the development of human rights. We will situate the theory and the practice of human rights within the broader moral and political contexts within which contemporary human rights unfolds. The module aims to provide students with a means for understanding the challenges which human rights presently face.

Module aims

The module aims to provide students with a means for understanding the challenges which human rights presently face.

Module learning outcomes

On successfully completing this module, students should be able to:

* Identify and evaluate the core normative foundations of human rights
* Understand the relationship between key moral traditions and human rights law
* Understand the role of politics within the theory and practice of human rights
* Understand the role of core ideals (eg. freedom, equality and dignity) as the basis and scope of human rights mechanisms and instruments
* Critically analyse the relationship between concepts such as democracy justice and human rights
* Critically analyse the role of identity in the theory and practice of human rights
* Understand psychosocial perspectives upon the causes of human rights violations
* Acquire an understanding of key critiques of and critical perspectives upon contemporary human rights law and institutions

Module information

The module will address a number of key issues and challenges, including;

How do morality and politics specifically affect the basis and application of human rights law?
Human rights are typically thought to be based upon core ideals such as equality and individual liberty, but these ideals are themselves conceptually and practically contested. How does this affect our understanding and application of human rights law?
It has often been said and more often simply assumed that human rights and democracy are mutually supportable and indivisible. What, then, are the implications of the emergence of "populism" within many liberal democracies for human rights within those societies? Can "democracy" destroy human rights?
Human rights are typically assumed to comply with key tenets of our notions of justice. Do they?
Harm plays a vital role in identifying what constitutes a human rights violation. What is harm? How do differing approaches to particularly social harm affect areas of human rights practice such as transitional justice and cultural diversity?
Identity is increasingly important within a growing number of communities' and individuals' claims to human rights. Is identity politics ultimately compatible with human rights?
We often make generalised assumptions about the psychology and motivations of human rights violators? Are these assumptions valid and are they useful to the defence of human rights?
A growing body of literature is critical of human rights. How should the human rights community understand and respond to these challenges?

Learning and teaching methods

This module is taught by means of a weekly two-hour graduate lecture/seminar throughout the spring term.


This module does not appear to have a published bibliography.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Weighting
Coursework   Summative Essay     

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Dr Andrew Fagan, email:
Dr Andrew Fagan
School of Law, University of Essex, Telephone 01206 873069, email



External examiner

Dr Thomas Pegram
University College London
Associate Professor
Available via Moodle
Of 18 hours, 18 (100%) hours available to students:
0 hours not recorded due to service coverage or fault;
0 hours not recorded due to opt-out by lecturer(s).


Further information
Human Rights Centre

* Please note: due to differing publication schedules, items marked with an asterisk (*) base their information upon the previous academic year.

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