MA International Relations (Standard)

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Human Rights in World Politics

Course unit fact file
Unit code POLI70492
Credit rating 15
Unit level FHEQ level 7 – master's degree or fourth year of an integrated master's degree
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This module is designed to provide an advanced introduction to questions of the theory and practice of human rights in world politics. The teaching programme revolves around two key areas: (1) the foundations of human rights and (2) the tensions that shape current implementation and enforcement of the human rights regime in world politics.


The course introduces students to the theory and practice of human rights in world politics. It focuses on a key issue: how are we to implement and to achieve human rights in world politics? Thus, a central aim is to assess the suitability of the current and potential agents, mechanisms, and institutions of human rights. To achieve this aim, the course first considers the current mechanisms and agents of implementing human rights, including the right to protect and economic sanctions. Second, the course considers questions and challenges to the notions of human rights, including their purported universality. More generally, the course aims include the development of oral skills through general discussion, team-work skills through group presentation, written skills through the assessed essay, and research skills from the use and assessment of large amounts of complex material. In doing so, it also aims to improve students’ critical and analytic skills.

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course, students should be able to identify, to outline, to analyse, and to critically assess specific theories of human rights and how they inform specific practices. They should also have a sound grasp of the complex dynamics in world politics that can frustrate the protection of human rights around the globe, as well as the adequacy of the international community’s mechanisms for the enforcement of human rights. They should be able to express their own views with recourse to (and sometimes rejection of) the literature covered in the module. They should also be able to provide a well-structured and coherent presentation with the use of visual aids and answer questions about the presentation confidently.

Teaching and learning methods

The course consists of ten weekly two-hour seminars. The course makes extensive use of enquiry-based learning and students will be expected to have both read extensively in advance of the seminars and participate fully in the learning experience.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Other 20%
Written assignment (inc essay) 80%

Essay of 3,000 words (80%); 

Blended Online/Real Life Presentation (20%)

Recommended reading

  • Brown, Chris (2002). Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today (Cambridge: Polity Press).
  • Donnelly, Jack (2003). Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice, Second Edition (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press).
  • Dunne, Timothy and Nicholas Wheeler (eds) (1999). Human Rights in Global Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Forsythe, David (2006). Human Rights in International Relations, Second Edition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
  • Goodhart, Michael (ed.) (2009). Human Rights: Politics and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press)
  • Haas, Michael (2008). International Human Rights: A Comprehensive Introduction (New York: Routledge).
  • Mertus, Julie A. (2005). The United Nations and Human Rights: A Guide for a New Era, First Edition (London: Routledge).
  • Nickel, James W. (1987). Making Sense of Human Rights: Philosophical Reflections on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Berkeley & London: University of California Press).
  • Steiner, Henry J., Philip Alston, and Ryan Goodman (eds) (2008). International Human Rights in Context, Third Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Smith, Rhoda (2010). Textbook on International Human Rights, Fourth Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
  • Weiss, Thomas (2012). What’s Wrong with the United Nations and How to Fix it, Second Edition (Cambridge: Polity).


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 20
Independent study hours
Independent study 130

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Kavan Bhatia Unit coordinator

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