Modules and courses

The M.A. Human Rights addresses the growing importance of human rights in all areas of society and academia. The course programme covers fundamental challenges as well as current issues. It pursues an interdisciplinary approach by considering the political, philosophical and legal dimensions of human rights.

We have recently made some changes to the programme structure that will come into effect for students beginning the programme in the winter semester of 2023/24 or later. You can find the new structure below:


Module Overview


1st Semester: Foundations (30 ECTS credits)

Human Rights Philosophy (5 ECTS)

The lecture deals with the basic principles underlying human rights: normative universalism, human dignity, the inalienability of certain rights, the relationship between freedom and equality, claims of social inclusion, the secular nature of modern law, and the sometimes tense interplay between human rights and democracy. These and other principles will be developed historically as well as systematically. This inter alia implies criticism of cultural essentialist (i.e. Euro-centric) monopolizations of human rights.
After examining some ‘classical’ European approaches to justifying human rights (e.g. Locke, Kant and Mill), discussions will focus on diverse contemporary readings of human rights, including those by Rawls, Habermas, Rorty, Martha Nussbaum, Jau-hwa Chen and others. Another important question is how to cope with different forms of objections to human rights, as they have been raised in the context of feminism, postcolonial studies and different social movements.

Human Rights Politics (5 ECTS)

This lecture explores human rights claims as a political phenomenon. Who invokes human rights today? Why might actors choose to not invoke human rights language in political struggles? Why are human rights contested, and what are different forms of contestation? The lecture also covers transnational human rights advocacy and the role that different actors have played in shaping human rights regimes. Furthermore, it asks why states ratify human rights treaties, and why states do or do not comply with treaty obligations. Drawing on social science literature and taking a critical look at the empirical data that informs this literature, the lecture investigates where and why human rights violations occur.

Human Rights Law (5 ECTS)

The lecture provides an overview of the legal and institutional foundations of international human rights law. It focuses on the International Bill of Rights and the institutional system (Charter and Treaty Body Systems), including their historical development and political embedding. Key aspects of human rights doctrine (system of state duties, territorial scope and obligations of non-state actors) will also be discussed. The lecture also addresses selected specific human rights. In addition, the procedures of the regional human rights courts, the treaty committees and the UN will be assessed.

Human Rights Research Methods (5 ECTS)

The seminar familiarises students with academic research methods in the field of human rights, covering legal, political and philosophical approaches. Students practice these methods in exercises during the tutorials.

Actors in Human Rights Politics (5 ECTS)

Students will be familiarised with the political system and the different actors within the EU. The seminar will then focus on human rights issues in various political areas within the European Union, including foreign and humanitarian policy.

Cases in Human Rights Law (5 ECTS)

The seminar deepens topics of substantive and procedural human rights law based on in-depth critical analysis of leading decisions of the regional human rights courts and treaty bodies. The cases will be prepared by the students in small groups and then presented and discussed.


2nd Semester: Specialised Courses (30 ECTS credits)

Interdisciplinary Approach to Non-Discrimination (5 ECTS)

The seminar addresses the foundations of the principle of non-discrimination, i.e. the equal dignity of all human beings, as well as the openness of the principle of non-discrimination for the articulation of new experiences of injustice. It furthermore gives a historical overview of the gradual expansion of the characteristics of prohibited discrimination and insights into the specific problems of multiple and intersectional discrimination, different degrees and different forms of (direct, indirect, structural etc.) discrimination. In this context, specific forms of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, age or other grounds will be discussed. This finally leads to discussing relevant international and national instruments to overcome discrimination.

Key Skills (5 ECTS)

The course is comprised of a series of workshops on various key skills such as, for example, career planning, report writing, speaking and managing stress and mental health. They will be combined with regular sessions to discuss the learnings from the workshops for human rights professionals.

Specialised Aspects of Human Rights Protection I—IV (5 ECTS each)

Four specialisation seminars are to be chosen from the list of offered seminars. In 2024, the following seminars are offered:
– Business and Human Rights
– Gender and Human Rights
– Human Rights and Technology
– Human Rights in Africa
– International Criminal Law
– Radical New Imaginations for Our Shared Futures: A Course on Universal Social Rights
– Transitional Justice


3rd Semester:


A: Master’s Thesis (30 ECTS)


B1: Master’s Thesis (15 ECTS)
B2: Internship (15 ECTS)

Students will be counselled on their choice for the final module at the end of the second semester.

Students are required to register their thesis in time with the programme secretary. The completed and signed registration form needs to be submitted at the beginning of the thesis process.

We also have a thesis guide that includes instructions and guidelines which need to be followed.