MA International Relations (Standard) / Course details

Year of entry: 2021

Coronavirus information for applicants and offer-holders

We understand that prospective students and offer-holders may have concerns about the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. The University is following the advice from Universities UK, Public Health England and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Read our latest coronavirus information

Course unit details:
Human Rights in World Politics

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
Offered by Politics
Available as a free choice unit? No


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? What makes the implementation of rights so problematic? To achieve this aim, the course first considers the philosophical underpinnings of human rights, including the universality of human rights. It then assesses the current mechanisms and agents of implementing human rights, including states, the UN, and international criminal tribunals, and highlights some of the tensions that shapes how human rights are interpreted. More generally, the course aims include the development of oral skills through general discussion, team-work skills through a group presentation, written skills through the assessed essay, and research skills. 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 10%
Written assignment (inc essay) 75%
Oral assessment/presentation 15%

Essay 3000 75%.         

Group presentation (maybe online) 15%

Participation or other coursework 10%

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
James Pattison Unit coordinator

Additional notes


Thursday 10-12


Thursday 2-4

Please note that students must only attend one of the above listed seminar slots per week


Return to course details