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 2018
1 year
Colchester Campus
Law (School of)

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

Studying this course will enable you to undertake practical or legal work for human rights organisations.

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 commercial law, public law, and human rights law. We are top 20 in the UK for research excellence (REF 2014), and we are ranked among the top 200 departments on the planet according to the QS World [University] Rankings [2017] for law.

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 exciting trips to EU institutions, tours to Kosovo, as well as workshops and a seminar series
  • We are ranked top 20 in the UK for research excellence (REF 2014)

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)
  • Our Essex Street Law project is one of the first of its kind and is the primary pro-bono project provided by our Law Society
  • 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:

  • Essex Transitional Justice Network
  • International Centre on Human Rights and Drug Policy
  • Human Rights in Iran Unit
  • Essex Autonomy Project
  • Detention, Rights and Social Justice Programme

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 Employability and Careers Centre to help you find out about further work experience, internships, placements, and voluntary opportunities.

Entry requirements

UK entry requirements

A degree with an overall high 2:2.

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.

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English language requirements

IELTS 6.5 overall with a minimum component score of 5.5 except for 6.0 in writing

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.


Example structure

Most of our courses combine compulsory and optional modules, giving you freedom to pursue your own interests. All of the modules listed below provide an example of what is on offer from the current academic year. Our Programme Specification provides further details of the course structure for the current academic year.

Our research-led teaching is continually evolving to address the latest challenges and breakthroughs in the field, therefore to ensure your course is as relevant and up-to-date as possible your core module structure may be subject to change.

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

Dissertation: MA Theory and Practice Human Rights

What angle of human rights fascinates you? What do you want to study further, with support and guidance from the expert staff within our Human Rights Centre? The dissertation is your opportunity to build valuable research skills and in depth knowledge on a topic that interests and challenges you.

View Dissertation: MA Theory and Practice Human Rights on our Module Directory

Human Rights Clinic (optional)

Want to work as a human rights professional? Using the UN human rights mechanisms, learn the essential skills to become a human rights practitioner. Apply this knowledge practically through engagement with projects by our Human Rights Centre Clinic.

View Human Rights Clinic (optional) on our Module Directory

Contemporary Issues in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity (optional)

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 Contemporary Issues in Human Rights and Cultural Diversity (optional) on our Module Directory

Religion and Human Rights (optional)

How do Islamic legal traditions impact on international human rights discourse? And on Muslim state practice? Study the debates surrounding Islam and universal human rights. Examine the diversity of perspectives surrounding human rights in Islamic thought and practice. Develop the tools for cross-cultural understanding and engagement.

View Religion and Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

Human Rights, International Relations and Diplomacy (optional)

How does the international system enhance the advancement of human rights? And how does it constrain it? Study the international system and its influence on human rights. Examine the role of foreign policy instruments in promoting human rights. Analyse how human rights can advance foreign policy goals by states.

View Human Rights, International Relations and Diplomacy (optional) on our Module Directory

International Security Studies (optional)

The field of security studies has become increasingly important over the last decade. While old conflicts are reigniting and new ones are emerging, scholars and decision-makers debate about changes to the concepts of security, the redundancy of military force, and the centrality of the state in order to face these ever-important issues.

View International Security Studies (optional) on our Module Directory

From Cradle to Grave: Social Justice in Childhood, Adulthood, and Death (optional)

Theories of justice are still being worked on and developed today. You question contemporary theories of justice through applying them to some of the most controversial issues dominating contemporary politics.

View From Cradle to Grave: Social Justice in Childhood, Adulthood, and Death (optional) on our Module Directory

Race and Class in the United States, South Africa and Britain: Select Topics (optional)

South Africa and the United States are two countries in which racial identity and conflict became peculiarly entwined with class formation and antagonisms. This module explores the complex relationship of race and class in South Africa and the US from the time of slavery through to the rise of racial segregation in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

View Race and Class in the United States, South Africa and Britain: Select Topics (optional) on our Module Directory

Language and Human Rights (optional)

This module articulates empirical, comparative sociolinguistic views of language use and conflicts within speech communities, contextualizing them within a human rights perspective. This module surveys important topics in human rights, focusing on the types of conflicts which occur around language, considering the principles upon which they can be understood and investigated, and examining efforts at solutions, as well as locating attempts to identify and make language rights manifest within a broad context of national and international agreements.

View Language and Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

European Union Law and Human Rights (optional)

What impact does EU law have on human rights? What are the human rights aspects of EU rules for asylum and immigration? Examine the agreement on EU accession to the European Convention on Human Rights. Understand the scope and content of the EU’s own Charter of Fundamental Rights.

View European Union Law and Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

Conflict and the UN: Law Relating to the Use of Force, Peacekeeping, Sanctions & Counter Terrorism (optional)

How does public international law apply to peace and field operations? What about international human rights law? Or the international law of armed conflict? Understand the institutional law of the United Nations. Examine foundational legal aspects of peace operations, as well as key unresolved legal issues.

View Conflict and the UN: Law Relating to the Use of Force, Peacekeeping, Sanctions & Counter Terrorism (optional) on our Module Directory

International Human Rights: Theories and Institutions (optional)

What are the contemporary issues within international human rights law? How does the UN promote and protect human rights? Gain a critical and contextual introduction to international human rights law. Build your analytical skills in relation to the subject. Discuss current issues and events in group work.

View International Human Rights: Theories and Institutions (optional) on our Module Directory

Public International Law (optional)

What does it mean to be an international lawyer? Understand the founding principles of international laws. Apply the tools and techniques of legal reasoning to the international system. Understand how the system of international law works and form your own views through discussion of contemporary issues.

View Public International Law (optional) on our Module Directory

Foundations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (optional)

What are the nature of obligations relating to economic, social and cultural rights? How do it differ from civil and political rights? Understand the past, present and future of economic, social and cultural rights. Examine approaches to implementing these rights. Explore human rights and its impact in this field.

View Foundations of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

The Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in International Law (optional)

What protection does international law offer refugees and internally displaced persons? Examine legal definitions of refugee status. Understand the guarantees provided for such groups by international human rights law. Evaluate the limitations of such laws by states in Europe and North America.

View The Protection of Refugees and Displaced Persons in International Law (optional) on our Module Directory

European Convention on Human Rights I (optional)

What are the achievements of the European Convention on Human Rights? What are the challenges that it now faces? And the constraints? Examine the history of the Convention. Explore how the focus and methodology of the Court is now changing. Address the key states of the litigation of a case.

View European Convention on Human Rights I (optional) on our Module Directory

The Protection of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in International Law (optional)

You’ll look at how minorities and indigenous peoples are protected in international human rights law by considering the rights that have been established, the jurisprudence that has been developed and the mechanisms for implementation. You’ll receive the opportunity to reflect on the contrasting regimes that focus on the individual rights accorded members of minorities and the collective rights recognised for indigenous peoples. You’ll study the contemporary challenges relating to political participation, conflict, development, climate change and other matters that affect minorities and indigenous peoples.

View The Protection of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples in International Law (optional) on our Module Directory

Human Rights and Development (optional)

What does right to development mean? How does it relate to human rights treaties? What is a human rights-based approach to development? Study international human rights law, exploring theoretical and practical implications of linking human rights and development. Analyse specific human rights themes. Evaluate the role of governments and organisations.

View Human Rights and Development (optional) on our Module Directory

International Trade, Investment and Human Rights. (optional)

What are the global standards set by the GATT/World Trade Organisation? And by World Bank policies? Examine relationships between human rights, international trade and foreign investment. Study legal issues, plus ethical, political and economic arguments on current topics. Evaluate cases to see the practical effect of linking trade and rights.

View International Trade, Investment and Human Rights. (optional) on our Module Directory

Human Rights and Women (optional)

You’ll receive an introduction to the protection and promotion of women’s and girls’ human rights under international law. Your focus will be on the universal human rights mechanisms, with some analysis of regional human rights mechanisms, especially relating to violence against women. You’ll consider sexual and reproductive rights, economic, social and cultural rights, administration of justice, women’s rights in conflict and post-conflict, and violence against women. You’ll also look at the persistence of gender stereotyping, theories of equality and discrimination, and the efforts of human rights defenders.

View Human Rights and Women (optional) on our Module Directory

Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Africa (optional)

In this module you’ll critically examine the promotion and protection of human rights from the perspective of African political and human rights institutions. Topics you’ll cover include: human rights in Africa; the Organisation of African Unity and African Union; the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights; other African human rights treaties; African states within the UN; domestic protection of human rights; and women's rights.

View Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Africa (optional) on our Module Directory

The Inter-American System of Human Rights (optional)

In this module you’ll study the work carried out by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court, which are usually referred to as the two bodies of the Inter-American System. In particular you’ll study the rights to life, humane treatment, personal liberty, fair trial, judicial guarantees, indigenous rights, violence against women, non-discrimination and equality, socio-economic rights, and the right to reparation. Films and guest speakers will enhance your understanding of the achievements, challenges and impact of the System.

View The Inter-American System of Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

Business and Human Rights (optional)

What are the human rights responsibilities of private companies? And what about public or private institutions financing projects aimed at world development? Evaluate principles regulating human rights and examine how they contrast with principles regulating multinational commercial interests. Consider real-life cases from both national and international courts.

View Business and Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

Transitional Justice (optional)

Broadly speaking transitional justice refers to the belief that any State where mass atrocities have taken place should engage with a set of judicial and non-judicial processes in order to achieve a successful transition from conflict to peace or repression to democracy. You’ll receive an overview of the history, theory, legal background and dilemmas of transitional justice, followed by in-depth discussions of the four pillars of transitional justice – truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, and of their interrelatedness.

View Transitional Justice (optional) on our Module Directory

Psychoanalysis of Groups and Organisations (optional)

What is the unconscious? And how does it influence the behaviour of groups? Explore how a psychoanalytic approach can illuminate the dynamics of groups and organisations. Understand the classic theories of Freud and Bion, then develop perspectives on how psychoanalytic ideas explain individual and group behaviour.

View Psychoanalysis of Groups and Organisations (optional) on our Module Directory

Psychosocial Perspectives on Human Rights (optional)

What psychological complexities are involved when working with people whose human rights were violated? How do you, as a worker, interact with them? In what way do wider contexts impact on these interactions? Explore the psychosocial parameters of human rights violations. Engage with issues, debates and literature on psychosocial perspectives of human rights.

View Psychosocial Perspectives on Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory

Social Psychology (optional)

Through exploring and addressing a range of theories and research on how people think and behave, you will gain a clear understanding of the topics social psychologists are interested in and their approaches to studying them.

View Social Psychology (optional) on our Module Directory

Context of the Refugee Experience (optional)

What are the relevant contexts of the refugee experience? How can academic disciplines help us understand the refugee experience in a deeper way? How can we grasp the multidimensional aspects of the refugee phenomena? Study the multidisciplinary nature of Refugee Care from a unique combination of both academic and professional perspectives.

View Context of the Refugee Experience (optional) on our Module Directory

Philosophy and Aesthetics (optional)

Undertake an investigation into aesthetic practices, activities and objects, and their history, from artworks to the aesthetic strategies of protest movements. You reflect on the distinctive experiences that are involved in participating in aesthetic practices or perceiving aesthetic performances and objects, and debate why aesthetic practices and experiences play such a central role in continental thought, from Kant and Hegel to Adorno and Rancière.

View Philosophy and Aesthetics (optional) on our Module Directory

Dynamics of Home and Work (optional)

How are work and home life organised differently across the globe? Does gender add to this? Can we challenge our traditional understandings of work and home? As work helps to define your identity, explore the nature of both formal and informal work, using case studies from around the world.

View Dynamics of Home and Work (optional) on our Module Directory

Formative Debates in Criminology (optional)

How do we challenge our conventional understanding of crime? And what can we do about this? Examine the history of criminology and learn about the contemporary debates. Study topics like criminalisation, social deviance, and surveillance and punishment. Look ahead with analysis of new work by leading authors in the field.

View Formative Debates in Criminology (optional) on our Module Directory

Current Controversies in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy (optional)

How do we understand crime in our increasingly globalised world? And what about forms of control and criminal justice policy? Critically examine criminological thought on globalisation, migration, policy convergence, punishment, and crimes against the state.

View Current Controversies in Criminology and Criminal Justice Policy (optional) on our Module Directory

Colonialism, Cultural Diversity and Human Rights (optional)

How has colonialism created human rights problems, now and in the past? And what part did mandates for free markets, industrialism and state sovereignty play? Study thinkers like Cesaire, Fanon, Arendt, Agamben and Taussig. Discuss specific international situations like Palestine, forced removal of Aboriginal children and the war on terror.

View Colonialism, Cultural Diversity and Human Rights (optional) on our Module Directory


  • 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/EU fee


International fee


Fees will increase for each academic year of study.

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.


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.

Colchester Campus

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