Theory and Practice of Human Rights

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Course overview
(MA) Master of Arts
Theory and Practice of Human Rights
University of Essex
University of Essex
Human Rights Centre
Colchester Campus
Full-time or part-time


Professional accreditation


Admission criteria

A 2:2 honours degree, or international equivalent, in a Social Science, Law or any Humanities subject.

While prior academic study or professional experience of law is desirable, it is not a requirement for admission. LLM students who have not previously studied Public International Law will take a one-term module on this topic.

IELTS (International English Language Testing System) code

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

Additional Notes

The University uses academic selection criteria to determine an applicant’s ability to successfully complete a course at the University of Essex. Where appropriate, we may ask for specific information relating to previous modules studied or work experience.

Course qualifiers


Rules of assessment

Rules of assessment are the rules, principles and frameworks which the University uses to calculate your course progression and final results.

Additional notes


External examiners

Staff photo
Dr Thomas Pegram

Associate Professor

University College London

External Examiners provide an independent overview of our courses, offering their expertise and help towards our continual improvement of course content, teaching, learning, and assessment. External Examiners are normally academics from other higher education institutions, but may be from the industry, business or the profession as appropriate for the course. They comment on how well courses align with national standards, and on how well the teaching, learning and assessment methods allow students to develop and demonstrate the relevant knowledge and skills needed to achieve their awards. External Examiners who are responsible for awards are key members of Boards of Examiners. These boards make decisions about student progression within their course and about whether students can receive their final award.

eNROL, the module enrolment system, is now open until Monday 25 October 2021 8:59AM, for students wishing to make changes to their module options.


Core You must take this module.
You must pass this module. No failure can be permitted.
Core with Options You can choose which module to study.
You must pass this module. No failure can be permitted.
Compulsory You must take this module.
There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the degree if you fail.
Compulsory with Options You can choose which module to study.
There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the degree if you fail.
Optional You can choose which module to study.
There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the degree if you fail.

Year 1 - 2021/22

Exit Award Status
Component Number Module Code Module Title Status Credits PG Diploma PG Certificate
01 LW900-7-FY Dissertation Core 60
02 HU901-7-FY Human Rights: Theories and Applications Core 30 Core Core
03 HU930-7-AU or HU928-7-SP or HU931-7-SP Core with Options 15 Core with Options Core with Options
04 Human Rights option(s) from list Compulsory with Options 65 Compulsory with Options Compulsory with Options
05 Human Rights option from list Compulsory with Options 20 Compulsory with Options Compulsory with Options

Exit awards

A module is given one of the following statuses: 'core' – meaning it must be taken and passed; 'compulsory' – meaning it must be taken; or 'optional' – meaning that students can choose the module from a designated list. The rules of assessment may allow for limited condonement of fails in 'compulsory' or 'optional' modules, but 'core' modules cannot be failed. The status of the module may be different in any exit awards which are available for the course. Exam Boards will consider students' eligibility for an exit award if they fail the main award or do not complete their studies.

Programme aims

1. Give students the opportunities to study current theoretical and practical problems in the recognition and protection of human rights.
These problems are legal, social, political and philosophical, and the programme reflects this in its multidisciplinary approach.
2. Prepare students for such careers as e.g. officials in the United Nations system, activists in humanitarian and policy-making non-governmental bodies in the UK and abroad, as journalists, or trade unionists aims to prepare students for further independent research in the field of Human Rights

Learning outcomes and learning, teaching and assessment methods

On successful completion of the programme a graduate should demonstrate knowledge and skills as follows:

A: Knowledge and understanding

A1: current and recent political conflict situations in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas

A2: long established and newly established human rights institutions, both regional and global

A3: the main international legal instruments governing human rights

A4: relations between the responsibilities of governments for human rights and responsibilities of non-state actors

A5: the evolution of so-called 3rd generation human rights -women's rights, children's rights, rights of indigenous peoples etc.

A6: current controversies in different academic disciplines over the universalism and cultural relativism of rights

A7: recent developments in regional and national human rights jurisprudence

A8: current practical problems in the procedures for human rights promotion, monitoring, reporting and enforcement

Learning methods

A1-8 are introduced through formal and weekly two-hour lectures.

Some of these lectures are presented by world-renowned specialists.

Presentations by specialists, sometimes.

Each lecture is accompanied by one-hour classes, which led by the Scheme Director.
Classes comprise different formats over the academic year, including problem-solving exercises, individual and group-based student presentations and adversarial debates.

Knowledge of A1-8 is reinforced in all core courses, though not all are covered in equal depth.

One or more of A1-8 is gone into in depth in different core courses and in the optional courses.

Within the MA students are introduced to the use of data bases and other IT resources necessary for up-to-date human rights research.

Students are asked to submit a dissertation of around 16000 words.

Completion of the dissertation is an important element of the MA.

Assessment methods

Knowledge of A1-8 is formally assessed in all core courses, including the Colloquium.

A number of methods of assessment are used: essays, including extended essays, formal term-end or year-end 3-hr examinations, class presentations, and a dissertation.

B: Intellectual and cognitive skills

B1: deal constructively and in an orderly way with politically and legally complex issues, even when information is incomplete

B2: communicate their conclusions clearly

B3: demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems, and in collecting and commenting on complex information

B4: indicating ways of extending human rights practice and apply human rights theory to quickly evolving situations

Learning methods

Skills 1 and 2 are formally assessed through essays especially in the Colloquium and Government and Law core courses by means of eg discussion of different country case studies, or discussions of draft clauses of human rights documents or declarations for some of the 3rd generation rights.

Skill 2 is developed in all core courses and in the MA Colloquium by means of seminar discussion, role-play exercises, assigned oral presentations or all three.

Skills 3 and 4 are developed through the exercise of selecting and pursuing a dissertation topic that addresses both the theoretical and practical aspects of human rights in a particular country or region, or in a particular sector of human rights activity, such as election monitoring or peace-keeping.

The Scheme Director is present during all of the Colloquium classes and most of the remaining courses include class and discussion groups overseen by the relevant tutors.

Class and seminar discussions are facilitated by these means.

Assessment methods

Skills 1 and 2 are formally assessed through essay and dissertation marking.

Skills 3 and 4 are formally assessed through the marking of dissertations, and informally assessed in supervisory sessions during the preparation of dissertations.

C: Practical skills

C1: retrieve, evaluate and select for relevance and credibility, information from a range of international sources.

C2: plan, undertake and report a bibliographically based piece of research

C3: develop techniques for assessing theoretical proposals as well as practical procedures, whether legal or customary

Learning methods

All graduates receive training from a trained Subject Librarian in the use of legal and other databases relevant to human rights, as well as the resources of a research library.

All graduates learn how to use these databases unaided, and how to incorporate results in essay and dissertation material.

Sessions are held in the Colloquium during the Spring and Summer terms devoted to training in the preparation of dissertations in the core course disciplines and criteria for the selection of dissertation topics.

Some sessions of the Colloquium allow students to present their ideas for dissertations to the others taking the MA.

Skills 1, 2, and 3 are developed through formal supervision and marking of dissertations, as well as comments and marking of coursework essays

Assessment methods

Assessment consists of essay and dissertation marking.

D: Key skills

D1: communicate effectively at the appropriate level with appropriate audiences

D4: (i) apply the techniques of several different bodies of theory and practice to the same cases and practical situations and (ii) recognise some of the marks of successful and failed decision-making in complex conflict situations

D6: exercise initiative and learn independently.

Learning methods

Skill 1: All courses require students to participate actively in discussion, and to co-operate with colleagues in arriving at shared results on exercises.

All core courses require students to work independently on essays, and there is a dissertation component.

Skill 4: Students cannot graduate from the MA in only a single discipline.

The exposure to more than one discipline, and sometimes three, enables them to enter into different systematic approaches to a single problem.

Skill 4 (i) There is an emphasis in the Colloquium and in most of the core courses on case studies that illustrate the practical and political realities of human rights work.

Skill 4 (ii): The course work and marking scheme ensure that only independent researchers are able to pass.

The dissertation requirements are valuable preparation for doctoral work.

Skill 6 is developed through research on essays and dissertations.

Assessment methods

Skills 1 and 4 are assessed through class-based work and discussion.

Skill 6 is assessed through course work and dissertation marking, and in feedback on class-based work in the Colloquium.


The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its programme specification is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include a change of law or regulatory requirements, industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key personnel, change in government policy, or withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.


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