Postgraduate Course

MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights

MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights


The details
Theory and Practice of Human Rights
October 2024
1 year
Colchester Campus
Essex Law School

Our Human Rights Centre is one of the world's oldest and most highly-respected environments for the multi-disciplinary study of human rights. Studying human rights at Essex will enable you to become a member of one of the world's largest, most culturally diverse and professionally successful community of human rights students, practitioners and academics.

Our interdisciplinary course, MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights, examines the history, theoretical development and implementation of human rights. Beyond the practical problems of human rights lie many unresolved theoretical and philosophical issues. These form the basis of this course, which provides you with a solid grounding in fundamental human rights matters within:

  • Law
  • Politics
  • Philosophy
  • Sociology

You do not need a Law or Human Rights based undergraduate degree to apply for this MA. We consider applicants for entry to this course with an undergraduate degree in Humanities or Social Sciences. Studying this course will enable you to undertake practical or legal work for human rights organisations.

Our students now have the opportunity to opt for one of four distinct pathways. This includes a generic pathway in which students can choose optional modules spanning across many academic disciplines.

For those students who have a more specific interest in specialising in a distinct area of human rights, we have created the following pathways:

  • Human rights, global diversity and global challenges
  • Human rights, social justice and social change
  • Human rights, gender, race and identity.
  • Human rights and the arts - we offer the only MA in the UK that combines arts and human rights, that doesn't require a Law undergraduate degree

To learn more about our pathways, visit the structure tab, or read a blog by Dr Andrew Fagan, Director of the Human Rights Centre.

Our interdisciplinary Human Rights Centre is the UK's leading centre for the study of the theory and practice of international human rights, and has a worldwide reputation for research, teaching and practice. In February 2010, we were awarded the Queen's Anniversary Prize in recognition of our work in advancing human rights across the globe.

At Essex, we specialise in business law, public law, criminal justice, health law, law and technology, socio-legal studies and human rights law.

We are ranked 49th for Law in THE World University Rankings by subject 2024, which is 9th in the UK, and we are 3rd in the UK for research power in law (THE research power measure, REF2021).

This course is also available on a part-time basis.

Why we're great.
  • Work for professional practical or legal human right organisations after graduation
  • We offer 4 distinct pathways allowing you to specialise depending on your human rights interests
  • We are 3rd in the UK for research power in law (THE research power measure, REF2021)

Our expert staff

Our work has always been informed by human rights practice and our senior staff have held - and continue to occupy - key positions in the United Nations human rights and development fields. We have also conducted numerous cases in Strasbourg, establishing far-reaching precedents that have shaped the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights.

At Essex, our objective is to ensure you receive a rigorous academic education that also prepares you for working as a human rights advocate. Every member of our teaching team is a leading human rights academic, as well as a practitioner in the field.

Our team includes former UN Special Rapporteurs, members of UN treaty bodies, the UK member of the UN Human Rights Committee, a member of the Government's new Advisory Group on Human Rights. We are also advisers to a range of international organisations (like the OHCHR, UNHCR and WHO), as well as to NGOs around the world, and litigators before national courts, regional human rights commissions and courts, international courts and tribunals, and the UN treaty bodies.

Specialist facilities

  • Participate in various legal competitions to hone your debating, mediation and negotiation skills
  • Work on key human rights projects at our Human Rights Clinic
  • Network at our student-run Law Society, Human Rights Society, and Bar Society, which provides legal advice to the Commonwealth Students' Association (CSA)
  • Volunteer at the Essex Law Clinic where you can work alongside practicing solicitors to offer legal advice to clients
  • Gain commercial awareness at our Business and Legal Advice Clinic
  • Join our Model United Nations society, which can improve your skills of argumentation, oral presentation and research
  • Take advantage of networking opportunities throughout the year with visiting law firms

We also offer a range of opportunities for working with projects associated with our Human Rights Centre:

Your future

Graduates of the MA courses within our Human Rights Centre go on to a variety of careers in the governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental sectors, and undertake further research.

Recent graduates of our MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights have found employment as:

  • Director of investigations for Malawi Human Rights Commission
  • A human rights officer for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • An experimental learning director for CIEE
  • A web writer for the British Red Cross
  • Grants Manger for the American Councils for International Education
  • A project officer for Relief International
  • Women and housing rights programme officer for the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE)

Other graduates now work for the Council of Europe, the United Nations, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Save the Children, Shelter, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.

We are first university in the UK to sign a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). This creates internship and research opportunities for our postgraduate students and is based on our long-established expertise in international humanitarian law.

During the year, we hold a careers session for our students in which we reflect upon our own careers and how they have been built as well as those from former students. We are always available to discuss career options and if you are interested in a particular area of human rights, we can link you up with the relevant alumni to offer advice.

We also work with the university's Careers Services to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities. Take a look at our dedicated careers pages for Law and Human Rights.

Entry requirements

UK entry requirements

A 2:2 degree in Law, or a 2:2 joint honours degree that includes at least one of the following subjects:

  • Criminology
  • International Relations
  • Law
  • Politics
  • Political Science
  • Sociology

We will also consider applicants with any other 2:2 degree or above.

International & EU entry requirements

We accept a wide range of qualifications from applicants studying in the EU and other countries. Get in touch with any questions you may have about the qualifications we accept. Remember to tell us about the qualifications you have already completed or are currently taking.

Sorry, the entry requirements for the country that you have selected are not available here. Please contact our Graduate Admissions team at to request the entry requirements for this country.

English language requirements

If English is not your first language, we require IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 6.0 in writing and 5.5 in all other components.

If you do not meet our IELTS requirements then you may be able to complete a pre-sessional English pathway that enables you to start your course without retaking IELTS.

Additional Notes

The University uses academic selection criteria to determine an applicant’s ability to successfully complete a course at the University of Essex. Where appropriate, we may ask for specific information relating to previous modules studied or work experience.


Course structure

Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field. The following modules are based on the current course structure and may change in response to new curriculum developments and innovation.

Our students now have the opportunity to opt for one of four distinct pathways. This includes a generic pathway in which students can choose optional modules spanning across many academic disciplines. For those students who have a more specific interest in specialising in a distinct area of human rights, we have created the following pathways: human rights, global diversity and global challenges; human rights, social justice and social change; and finally, human rights, gender, race and identity.

1. Generic pathway

This pathway allows our students the opportunity to acquire a broad, generalist education in human rights without specialising on a specific set of themes and issues. The content of the generic pathway encompasses the vast range of optional modules available across all of the other MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights pathways.

2. Human Rights, Global Diversity and Global Challenges

This pathway offers students the opportunity to engage with a comprehensive set of normative and institutional challenges surrounding the complex relationship between the promotion of universal human rights and respecting regional, national and cultural differences. It also offers an opportunity to engage with principal regional approaches to international human rights law and to contextualise these within a global framework which continues to be deeply influenced by a variety of complex power relationships between, for example, the Global North and Global South. This pathway is great for students who wish to develop human rights careers in a changing global landscape, in which new challenges are emerging.

3. Human Rights, Social Justice & Social Change

Human rights are widely perceived as an integral component of wider attempts to promote social justice. To this extent, the complex relationship between normative theories of justice and key political, legal, social and economic institutions ought to be a core focal point for the study of human rights. Similarly, there are many sources of and factors within a broad array of forms of continuing injustice. It is essential that these factors are effectively understood and engaged with. Finally, all political, social legal and economic forms of life are subject to significant forms of change and alteration, which often have a profound impact upon our understanding and application of human rights. This pathway provides an opportunity for students to engage with this crucial area of academic and practical interest. This pathway is for students who are interested in political/social theory, focused upon combatting socio-economic injustices and inequalities, and those with more overtly practical motivations towards learning how to deploy human rights in the current global order.

4. Human Rights, Gender, Race & Identity

This pathway will examine the role of human rights in recognising, protecting and advocating for marginalised groups or identities – those at the social fringes who find it difficult access sites of power - the economy, politics, the enjoyment of rights & social capital on account of group membership. Linking to theories of social justice and social change, the pathway will introduce students to different paradigms from a range of disciplines to enable them to conceptualise ways (both theoretical and practical) to redress social imbalances between dominant and marginal groups (for example, how to address structural and institutional racism, how to address the economic, social, institutional and cultural effects of patriarchy, or how to address extreme income and wealth inequalities between groups), leading to fairer and more equitable societies.

5. Human Rights and the Arts

We offer the only MA in the UK that combines arts and human rights, that doesn't require a Law undergraduate degree

This pathway will provide students with an interdisciplinary introduction to and engagement with the relationship between human rights and the arts. Separate sessions will focus upon the specific contributions which a carefully selected range of artistic forms and genres have engaged with and contributed to the global defence of human rights. The pathway is taught by and will draw upon the expertise of colleagues in the areas of contemporary art, cultural studies, dance, literature, mass media and photography. It will enable students to situate key debates surrounding the significance and importance of art within wider human rights challenges. Key topics will include, photography and human rights, the art of protest movements and Holocaust and art restitution.

We understand that deciding where and what to study is a very important decision for you. We'll make all reasonable efforts to provide you with the courses, services and facilities as described on our website and in line with your contract with us. However, if we need to make material changes, for example due to significant disruption, we'll let our applicants and students know as soon as possible.

Components and modules explained


Components are the blocks of study that make up your course. A component may have a set module which you must study, or a number of modules from which you can choose.

Each component has a status and carries a certain number of credits towards your qualification.

Status What this means
You must take the set module for this component and you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
Core with Options
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component but you must pass. No failure can be permitted.
You must take the set module for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
Compulsory with Options
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.
You can choose which module to study from the available options for this component. There may be limited opportunities to continue on the course/be eligible for the qualification if you fail.

The modules that are available for you to choose for each component will depend on several factors, including which modules you have chosen for other components, which modules you have completed in previous years of your course, and which term the module is taught in.


Modules are the individual units of study for your course. Each module has its own set of learning outcomes and assessment criteria and also carries a certain number of credits.

In most cases you will study one module per component, but in some cases you may need to study more than one module. For example, a 30-credit component may comprise of either one 30-credit module, or two 15-credit modules, depending on the options available.

Modules may be taught at different times of the year and by a different department or school to the one your course is primarily based in. You can find this information from the module code. For example, the module code HR100-4-FY means:

HR 100  4  FY

The department or school the module will be taught by.

In this example, the module would be taught by the Department of History.

The module number. 

The UK academic level of the module.

A standard undergraduate course will comprise of level 4, 5 and 6 modules - increasing as you progress through the course.

A standard postgraduate taught course will comprise of level 7 modules.

A postgraduate research degree is a level 8 qualification.

The term the module will be taught in.

  • AU: Autumn term
  • SP: Spring term
  • SU: Summer term
  • FY: Full year 
  • AP: Autumn and Spring terms
  • PS: Spring and Summer terms
  • AS: Autumn and Summer terms



You’ll undertake a dissertation of between 15,000-20,000 words in length for your LLM International Human Rights Law course. This is a compulsory element of the course.

View Dissertation on our Module Directory


Human Rights: Theories and Applications

What are the founding principles of human rights? What perspectives and methodologies can you apply to human rights? And what are the important contemporary debates in the theory and practice of human rights? Gain answers to these questions, while acquiring methodological skills for future independent research.

View Human Rights: Theories and Applications on our Module Directory


HU930-7-AU or HU928-7-SP or HU931-7-SP or HU932-7-SP


Human Rights option(s) from list


Option from list


Foundation Essay

The Foundation Essay is a diagnostic essay intended to provide an early opportunity to engage in academic analysis and writing. It is designed to provide students with an opportunity to learn and demonstrate independent learning, academic writing, research, methodologies and analysis, necessary for postgraduate study. The Foundation Essay is also a formative exercise for modules in the MA Theory and Practice of Human Rights courses. The mark for the essay does not count towards the final assessment of the degree, but it is a compulsory piece of work.

View Foundation Essay on our Module Directory


Postgraduate students in Essex Law School usually attend two-hour workshops, or a one-hour lecture and one-hour seminar for each module each week.

  • You will be taught and supervised by our staff who are world leaders and experts in the field
  • Your MA will include five taught modules and a dissertation
  • We run activities including tours to European institutions, trips to Kosovo, Right Skills for Rights workshops, a seminar series and a celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights


  • All modules on our courses take the form of take-home exams and essays
  • Modules from our Department of Government offer a formal sit-down examination


  • Your dissertation is of 15,000 to 20,000 words, and you are allocated a supervisor to cover a range of human rights topics

Fees and funding

Home/UK fee


International fee


What's next

Open Days

We hold Open Days for all our applicants throughout the year. Our Colchester Campus events are a great way to find out more about studying at Essex, and give you the chance to:

  • tour our campus and accommodation
  • find out answers to your questions about our courses, student finance, graduate employability, student support and more
  • meet our students and staff

If the dates of our organised events aren’t suitable for you, feel free to get in touch by emailing and we’ll arrange an individual campus tour for you.

2024 Open Days (Colchester Campus)

  • Saturday 15 June 2024 - June Open Day
  • Saturday 21 September 2024 - September Open Day
  • Saturday 26 October 2024 - October Open Day


You can apply for our postgraduate courses online. You'll need to provide us with your academic qualifications, as well as supporting documents such as transcripts, English language qualifications and certificates. You can find a list of necessary documents online, but please note we won't be able to process your application until we have everything we need.

There is no application deadline but we recommend that you apply before 1 July for our taught courses starting in October. We aim to respond to applications within two weeks. If we are able to offer you a place, you will be contacted via email.

If you are applying to one of our taught courses in the Human Rights, you will need to provide a copy of your CV with your application.

A sunny day with banners flying on Colchester Campus Square 4.

Visit Colchester Campus

Set within 200 acres of award-winning parkland - Wivenhoe Park and located two miles from the historic city centre of Colchester – England's oldest recorded development. Our Colchester Campus is also easily reached from London and Stansted Airport in under one hour.

View from Square 2 outside the Rab Butler Building looking towards Square 3

Virtual tours

If you live too far away to come to Essex (or have a busy lifestyle), no problem. Our 360 degree virtual tour allows you to explore the Colchester Campus from the comfort of your home. Check out our accommodation options, facilities and social spaces.

At Essex we pride ourselves on being a welcoming and inclusive student community. We offer a wide range of support to individuals and groups of student members who may have specific requirements, interests or responsibilities.

Find out more

The University makes every effort to ensure that this information on its programme specification is accurate and up-to-date. Exceptionally it can be necessary to make changes, for example to courses, facilities or fees. Examples of such reasons might include, but are not limited to: strikes, other industrial action, staff illness, severe weather, fire, civil commotion, riot, invasion, terrorist attack or threat of terrorist attack (whether declared or not), natural disaster, restrictions imposed by government or public authorities, epidemic or pandemic disease, failure of public utilities or transport systems or the withdrawal/reduction of funding. Changes to courses may for example consist of variations to the content and method of delivery of programmes, courses and other services, to discontinue programmes, courses and other services and to merge or combine programmes or courses. The University will endeavour to keep such changes to a minimum, and will also keep students informed appropriately by updating our programme specifications. The University would inform and engage with you if your course was to be discontinued, and would provide you with options, where appropriate, in line with our Compensation and Refund Policy.

The full Procedures, Rules and Regulations of the University governing how it operates are set out in the Charter, Statutes and Ordinances and in the University Regulations, Policy and Procedures.

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