UCL Faculty of Laws


Comparative Human Rights Law (LAWS0270)

The course will give the students a comparative overview of the legal protection of human rights in some of the leading jurisdictions in the world.

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From the USA and UK to Germany, India, South Africa, Brazil and France, students will also gain an understanding of influence on these jurisdictions of international human rights instruments. 

Students will be introduced to the main issues relating to the protection of human rights, including the role of the courts, the constitutional status of human rights provisions, and the ways in which first, second and third generation rights are protected. 

The course will enable students to apply the comparative method to the study of human rights law in a range of different jurisdictions, and to draw out core principles and lessons of general application from the material. This is not an international human rights course, although reference will be made to the ECHR and UN mechanisms as appropriate. 

Module Syllabus

Part I: Introduction 

  • The history of human rights protections in national constitutions; the ideology and theory of human rights; cultural interpretations of human rights; the form and substance of international human rights instruments and their influence on domestic constitutional provisions. 

Part II: The Constitutional Status of Human Rights Protection and the Role of the Judiciary 

  • The US Bill of Rights model and the case-law of the US Supreme Court; The US model exported – Germany, Ireland, Japan
  • Human rights protection in Westminster-style systems; the UK Human Rights Act; Commonwealth constitutions, including Canada, India and Australia
  • The protection of human rights in European legal systems. 

Part III: The Scope of the Legal Protection of Human Rights 

  • Judicial protection of socio-economic, minority and cultural rights; Indian public interest litigation; the South African experience
  • Methods of constitutional interpretation; the horizontal/vertical effect of constitutional rights provisions; the “drittwirkung” jurisprudence of the German Constitutional Court. 

Part IV: The Substantive Protection of Rights 

This section will examine from a comparative perspective the protection of some of the following substantive rights in national jurisdictions: 

  • The right to life and bodily integrity; various national definitions of “cruel and unusual punishment”; abortion in countries such as Ireland, the US, Germany and Canada
  • The right to free speech; censorship rules, hate speech restraints, internet controls and libel law; the right to privacy; the right to association and freedom of opinion/religious belief 
  • The right to equality and non-discrimination; the nature and content of “equality” as a value; “equal protection”; formal equality v substantial equality; positive discrimination
  • Minority rights, and freedom of religion 

Part V: Emerging Trends 

  • New approaches and priorities in the context of the protection of fundamental rights, including the development of ‘transformative constitutionalism’ in Latin America and Africa, the evolution of constitutional rights protection in East Asia, and the new challenges posed to human rights by populist/authoritarian regimes. 

Recommended Materials

Module reading lists and other module materials will be provided via online module pages, available at the beginning of term once students have enrolled. 

Students should regularly browse journals such as the International Journal of Constitutional Law and the European Human Rights Law Review. 

Preliminary Reading

  • C. Harvey, ‘Talking About Human Rights’ (2004) European Human Rights Law Review 500 
  • S. Moyn, The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History (Belknap, 2010) – especially the Epilogue 

Key information

Module details
Credit value:45 credits (450 learning hours)
Convenor:Berihun Gebeye
Other Teachers:None
Teaching Delivery:20 x 2-hour weekly seminars, Term One and Two
Who may enrol:LLM Students Only
Must not be taken with: 
Qualifying module for:LLM in Comparative Law; 
LLM in Human Rights Law; 
LLM in Public Law 
Practice Assessment:TBD
Final Assessment:3,000 Essay (50%); 2 Hour Online Controlled Condition Exam (50%)