Studying Law at Roma Tre

Academic Year 2019-2020

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Spring Semester (March 1 - May 31, 2020)


International Human Rights Law 2020

Prof. Giuseppe Palmisano

Learning Objectives

The course is aimed at familiarising participants with the legal issues relating to the protection of human rights at the international (universal and regional) level, and enabling them to acquire and/or develop the skills of identifying, evaluating and using international human rights law material, so as to employ this competence within international (governmental or non-governmental) organisations, national ministries and other institutions, national and international courts and tribunals, and the practice of domestic and international law.
The approach taken will be to provide information about the essential elements of international human rights law – conceptual, institutional and substantive – in an interactive and flexible manner. Specifically, students will be directed to: recognise and interpret the main sources of substantive human rights law; examine the nature and scope of human rights obligations; identify the main international institutions for the protection of human rights and evaluate their performance; and critically consider current issues facing the protection of human rights internationally.

Course description and syllabus

The following topics will progressively be covered during the course:
1) Introduction and Historical Overview of the Development of International Human Rights Law.
2) Human Rights as Part of International Law. The Sources of International Human Rights Law:
- human rights as customary international law; human rights as general principles of international law; human rights and jus cogens; human rights and international soft law.
- human rights as treaty law. Limitations, derogations and reservations to human rights treaty obligations: generalities. The interpretation of human rights treaties.
3) An overview of the substantive content of human rights in international law: what rights are “human rights” in international law? “Generations” of human rights and the distinction between civil/political rights and economic/social rights. Are human rights really indivisible, interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing?
4) Nature and typologies of State obligations under human rights treaties. The tri-partite typology of ‘respect, protect and fulfil’. Immediately prescriptive obligations and obligations of progressive realization.
5) International oversight and protection of human rights: universal and regional systems and bodies.
6) The UN system: the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the UN treaty bodies and individual communications. The UN Human Rights Council, the Universal Periodic Review,  and other UN mechanisms.
7) The Inter-American system: the American Convention on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court and Commission on Human Rights.
8) The European system: the Council of Europe; the European Convention of Human Rights and the Strasbourg Court; the European Social Charter and the European Committee of Social Rights.
9) Insights on the European mechanisms for the protection of human rights: Lodging an application with the European Court of Human Rights; The collective complaints procedure provided for by the European Social Charter.
10) Human rights and international criminal responsibility of individuals: the role of international criminal courts and tribunals in prosecuting crimes against human rights.
11) Human rights and State responsibility for internationally wrongful acts: content and implementation of the responsibility of the State for the violation of human rights obligations under general international law. Use of force and protection of human rights. The “responsibility to protect” doctrine.
12) Domestic implementation of, and compliance with, international human rights obligations: the respective role of national legislator and domestic courts, including constitutional courts.

Course Learning Activities

Lectures, also from Italian and foreign experts. Texts, relevant documentation and case-law will be presented during the course, and students will engage in class discussions/debate.

Assessment tools

Student evaluation will be based on class work, class participation, a short essay, and a final exam.

Attendance policy

Class attendance is compulsory

Course textbook and readings

The recommended textbook for this course is
D. Shelton, Advanced Introduction To International Human Rights Law. Cheltenham - UK: E. Elgar, 2014.

Other texts that may prove useful include:
A. Clapham, Human Rights: A Very Short Introduction (2nd end, OUP, 2015)
Ph. Alston and R. Goodman (eds), International Human Rights (2nd edn, OUP, 2013)
R. Smith, International Human Rights (7th edn, OUP, 2015) (the 8th edition is due to be published in December 2017)
O. de Schutter, International Human Rights Law (2nd edn, CUP, 2014)

Further readings (including selected articles and excerpts from relevant literature) will be suggested during the course.


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