Human Rights, Development and the Environment

The details
Essex Law School
Colchester Campus
Postgraduate: Level 7
Thursday 05 October 2023
Friday 15 December 2023
20 October 2023


Requisites for this module



Key module for


Module description

This module explores the connections between human rights and development within global contexts of poverty, inequality, environmental crisis, injustice and the legacies of colonialism.

Over 900 million people, concentrated in the global South, and particularly from marginalized groups, live in extreme poverty. Global inequality is growing. Prevailing approaches to development, centred around the economy, reliance on the markets, and consumption, have often neglected and undermined rights of groups including women, indigenous peoples, minorities as well as people living in poverty.

The environmental toll of development raises questions for sustainability and has diverse human rights implications. To what extent, and how, do international human rights law and institutions, and the human rights community, address these challenges? What are the obstacles and successes? What can human rights contribute to reducing poverty and to sustainable development? What actions are needed to ensure development is consistent with human rights? Is the human rights movement part of the problem or the solution? These are the central cross-cutting questions that are addressed in this module.

Throughout the module, the theory, institutions and practice of development are interrogated primarily from the perspective of human rights, including international human rights law and inter-disciplinary approaches to human rights. However, at the outset, we critically examine what is meant by, the history of and different critiques of international development. The module proceeds by exploring the different ways in which human rights and development have become linked conceptually and in practice, through critically examining: the 'right to development'; the 'human rights-based approach to development'; and in global development agendas, particularly the Sustainable Development Goals.

The module next examines the debate on the role of the market and the State in development, including neoliberal and welfare state approaches, and critically assesses if, and how, international human rights law standards and human rights actors address these approaches.

The module examines key international development actors, including the International Financial Institutions, UN agencies and donors; their impact on human rights; and what (if any) obligations have accrued to them under international human rights law. Why and how is international human rights law being used to address environmental harms, including climate change? Should environmental protection trump development and human rights? During the module, particular attention will be given to the human rights of people living in poverty, women and indigenous groups and other groups often marginalized in development.

The module also takes a practical and a critical approach. Thus, we not only consider positive examples of how to protect human rights, but also the limitations of the law and approaches of human rights actors in development. Are human rights part of the solution or part of the problem of international development? Have rights been transformative or do their limitations, and the way they have been used, entrench existing power imbalances, inequalities and undermine genuine transformation? What needs to change?

Module aims

The module strives to provide students with an understanding of the linkages between development and human rights in theory and in practice. During the module, students will be encouraged to think critically about the concept of development from the point of view of human rights; the value-added and limitations of human rights in development; and about the approach of some key development institutions when it comes to human rights.

Human rights are increasingly mainstreamed in development or other related policies of governments, international organisations and civil society, as well as global development agendas: students will develop an understanding of the relevant international human rights legal framework, including its strengths and weaknesses. This will provide a strong foundation for those wishing to work with human rights in the development field; with development in the human rights field; or to undertake further studies in the area.

Module learning outcomes

Students will gain an understanding of (i) in brief, the history and key approaches to development, and their bearing on human rights (ii) the right to development and the human rights-based approach to development (iii) the approach to human rights of key development actors, particularly the State; donors, the World Bank and the IMF; (iv) the Sustainable Development Goals and human rights; the relationship of human rights with austerity and neoliberalism; (v) the environment; development and rights; (vi) human rights of key groups in development, including persons living in poverty; persons with disabilities, indigenous persons and women.

It should be noted that development is shaped by a range of institutions and policies. This module is focused particularly on the following actors: the State; donors; and international institutions including the UN and International Financial Institutions. While the module touches briefly on the role of the private sector, module LW922 covers this much more extensively.

Module information

Indicative Syllabus

1. Key issues and concepts of development and human rights
2. The human right to development
3. The human rights-based approach to development
4. The Sustainable Development Goals and Human Rights, with a focus on gender
5. Indigenous peoples, natural resources and the environment
6. Climate change and human rights
7. The rights of nature
8. The World Bank, the IMF and human rights
9. Critiquing human rights in development: looking to the future

Learning and teaching methods

This module will be taught via weekly 2-hour seminars. The module teaching team will upload all relevant teaching materials on Moodle. You will find reading lists, the textbook, weekly handouts or PPS notes on Moodle. The materials in question are designed both to help you navigate the material to be covered in the seminars and to equip you to analyse the required readings. You will be expected to have completed the required readings in advance of your seminars.


The above list is indicative of the essential reading for the course.
The library makes provision for all reading list items, with digital provision where possible, and these resources are shared between students.
Further reading can be obtained from this module's reading list.

Assessment items, weightings and deadlines

Coursework / exam Description Deadline Coursework weighting
Coursework   Essay (LW915 Human Rights, Development and Environment)    100% 

Exam format definitions

  • Remote, open book: Your exam will take place remotely via an online learning platform. You may refer to any physical or electronic materials during the exam.
  • In-person, open book: Your exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer to any physical materials such as paper study notes or a textbook during the exam. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, open book (restricted): The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may refer only to specific physical materials such as a named textbook during the exam. Permitted materials will be specified by your department. Electronic devices may not be used in the exam.
  • In-person, closed book: The exam will take place on campus under invigilation. You may not refer to any physical materials or electronic devices during the exam. There may be times when a paper dictionary, for example, may be permitted in an otherwise closed book exam. Any exceptions will be specified by your department.

Your department will provide further guidance before your exams.

Overall assessment

Coursework Exam
100% 0%


Coursework Exam
100% 0%
Module supervisor and teaching staff
Ms Judith Bueno De Mesquita, email: jrbuen@essex.ac.uk.
Law Education Office, pgtlawqueries@essex.ac.uk



External examiner

Dr Titilayo Adebola
University of Aberdeen
Lecturer in Law
Dr Avidan Kent
University of East Anglia
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), module, or event type.


Further information
Essex Law School

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