Human Rights

Program Office: Institute for the Study of Human Rights; 91 Claremont Avenue, 7th Floor; 212-851-9703;

Departmental Website:

Director of Undergraduate Studies: Prof. Andrew Nathan, 931 International Affairs Building; 212-854-6909; Office hours: Wednesday, 10 a.m.–12 p.m., and by appointment.

Human rights are central to contemporary understandings of justice and equality and have crucial bearing on the ability to assess and respond to emerging technological, economic, social, cultural, and political issues.

The Undergraduate Human Rights Program at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights engages students in this dynamic and evolving field and enhances their knowledge, skills, and commitment to human rights. The program offers a major and a concentration in human rights, provides students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge and explore their interests in human rights outside the classroom, and works to strengthen and support the undergraduate human rights community on campus. More information on academic and extracurricular events, opportunities, and resources for undergraduate human rights students is available on the program's website. For an advising appointment, please e-mail

Departmental Honors

To be eligible for departmental honors, a student must satisfy all the requirements for the major, maintain a 3.6 GPA in the major, maintain an overall GPA of 3.6, and complete a thesis of sufficiently high quality to merit honors. A thesis is required for all students who wish to be considered for honors, but does not guarantee honors. Students who graduate in October, February, or May of a given academic year are eligible for honors consideration in May. Normally no more than 10% of graduating majors receive departmental honors in a given academic year.

Students interested in writing a thesis for honors consideration enroll in the HRTS UN3996 Human Rights Thesis Seminar in the spring semester of their senior year. The course will consist of group sessions, where students will present their work and participate in discussions, as well as individual meetings with their thesis supervisor, who is also the course instructor.

Students are encouraged to write a thesis, but they should not do so solely to be eligible for honors consideration. Rather, students should consider enrolling in the thesis seminar in order to demonstrate their capacity to produce a work of original research and develop more specialized knowledge of a human rights issue.

Guidelines for all Human Rights Majors, Concentrators, and Special Concentrators

Student should also consult the general academic policies of their school.

Planning Forms

Major and concentration planning forms are available on the ISHR undergraduate program website. Prior to each semester, students should submit an on-line course advising form. Students may also e-mail to set up an advising appointment.


No course with a grade of D or lower is credited towards the major or concentration.

One course, with the exception of the three core courses required for the major, can be taken for Pass/D/Fail. The student must receive a grade of P for the course to count toward the requirements of the major or concentration. All other courses must be taken for a letter grade.

All seminar courses must be taken for a letter grade.

Transfer Credit/Study Abroad Credit

Human rights majors may transfer a maximum of three courses from other institutions. Human rights concentrators may transfer a maximum of two courses from other institutions. This includes study abroad credit. No more than one Advanced Placement course can be counted for the major or concentration.  The application of transferred courses to the major or concentration must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the undergraduate adviser.

Students wishing to count transfer courses toward the major or concentration should email with their Transfer Credit Report, the syllabi of the courses they want to count toward departmental requirements, and a statement of how they want to apply the transfer credits to the requirements.


Students may double count major or concentration courses toward the fulfillment of degree requirements in accordance with the academic policies of their school.

Normally, courses for one program of study (i.e. major, concentration, special concentration, etc.) may not be used to satisfy the course requirements for another program of study. Students should consult the academic policies of their school for specific information.

Major in Human Rights

The major in human rights requires 31 points as follows. One of the distributional or specialization courses must be a seminar.

Core Courses
HRTS UN3001Introduction to Human Rights
HRTS UN3190International Human Rights Law
HRTS UN3995Human Rights Senior Seminar
Distributional Requirement *
Students take one course in three of these four categories (three courses), for a minimum of 9 credit points.
Politics and history
Culture and representation
Political theory and philosophy
Social and economic processes
Specialization Requirement **
Students fulfill the specialization requirement by focusing on a particular discipline, taking four courses or a minimum of 12 credit points offered by a single department or institute.

Please see the ISHR undergraduate course list for the current list of courses that fulfill the distributional requirement of the major.


The goal of the specialization requirement is to equip students with the tools of a specific discipline. Students should inform the human rights program of their intended specialization before taking courses to fulfill this requirement. As a general rule, if a free-standing major is offered by a department, it is approved as a specialization. Courses approved for that major are generally approved for the human rights specialization. However, language acquisition and studio courses may not be taken to fulfill the specialization requirement. Students are encouraged to take any core and/or methodology courses required by a program when fulfilling their specialization requirement. Students are also encouraged to take courses within their chosen specialization that focus on human rights issues, but the specialization requirement can be fulfilled by taking any four courses within the same discipline. For example, if a student's specialization is Political Science, he or she can fulfill the specialization requirement by taking any four POLS courses.

Concentration in Human Rights

The concentration in human rights requires a minimum of 25 points as follows:

HRTS UN3001Introduction to Human Rights
Seven additional human rights courses, one of which must be a seminar.

Please see the ISHR undergraduate course list for the current list of courses that fulfill the concentration requirements. 

HRTS UN3001 Introduction to Human Rights. 3 points.

Evolution of the theory and content of human rights; the ideology and impact of human rights movements; national and international human rights law and institutions; their application with attention to universality within states, including the U.S., and internationally.

Fall 2017: HRTS UN3001
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3001 001/69233 M W 2:40pm - 3:55pm
Room TBA
Andrew Nathan 3 130/130

HRTS UN3190 International Human Rights Law. 3 points.

This course will introduce students to the international law of human rights, and give a basic orientation to fundamental issues and controversies. The course has two principal focal points: first, the "nuts and bolts" of how international law functions in the field of human rights, and second, the value and limitations of legal approaches to a variety of human rights issues. Throughout the course, both theoretical and practical questions will be addressed, including who bears legal duties and who can assert legal claims, how these duties might be enforced, and accountability and remedy for violations. Attention will be given to how international law is made, what sorts of assumptions underlie various legal mechanisms, and how the law works in a variety of contexts.

Spring 2017: HRTS UN3190
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3190 001/21487 W 4:10pm - 6:00pm
402 International Affairs Bldg
Dinah Po Kempner 3 21/18
Fall 2017: HRTS UN3190
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3190 001/10120 W 6:10pm - 8:00pm
Room TBA
Belinda Cooper 3 15/20

HRTS UN3995 Human Rights Senior Seminar. 4 points.

The senior seminar is a capstone course required for the human rights major. The seminar provides students the opportunity to discuss human rights from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and to explore various theoretical approaches and research methodologies. Students undertake individual research projects while collectively examining human rights through directed readings and discussion.

Spring 2017: HRTS UN3995
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3995 001/11754 T 12:10pm - 2:00pm
301m Fayerweather
Inga Winkler 4 17/16
Fall 2017: HRTS UN3995
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3995 001/60398 W 12:10pm - 2:00pm
Room TBA
4 13/20

HRTS GU4930 International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. 4 points.

This seminar will cover various issues, debates, and concepts in the international law of armed conflict (known as international humanitarian law), particularly as it relates to the protection of non-combatants (civilians and prisoners of war). In doing so, we will examine how international humanitarian law and human rights law intersect. Both sets of legal norms are designed to protect the lives, well-being, and dignity of individuals.However, the condition of armed conflict provides a much wider set of options for governments and individuals to engage in violent, deadly action against others, including killing, forcibly detaining, and destroying the property of those designated as combatants. At the same time, the means of waging war are not unlimited, but rather are tightly regulated by both treaty and customary law. This course will examine how these regulations operate in theory and practice, focusing on the principles of distinction, proportionality, and military necessity.

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4930
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4930 001/19254 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
1401 International Affairs Bldg
Bruce Cronin 4 10/20

HRTS GU4810 Religion and Human Rights. 3 points.

Priority given to human rights studies M.A. students. Open to 3rd and 4th year undergraduates on first day of term with the instructor's permission.

The resurgence of religion over the past three decades has had a transformative influence globally and within nations. Religious nationalism, fundamentalism, and communalism have arisen to forcefully compete with secular democracy. With the fall of the Soviet bloc and the bilateralism of the Cold War, ethnic particularism, often of a religious character, has emerged as the locus of identity for people on all continents. These rapid changes engendered by a new, often commanding, role for religion challenge the very concept of individual and universal human rights. They raise difficult theoretical and painfully practical questions as to the preservation of individual human rights, and the relationship of democracy to religion. At the same time, recent currents such as economic globalization, the triumph of the free market, and the communications revolution promote individual autonomy, a cornerstone of human rights. There can be no doubt that religion will occupy an increasingly salient role in the social and political life of nations during the course of the 21st century. The relevance of religion to human rights in our time cannot be undervalued. The course examines the relationship of religion to human rights from several standpoints, including religion's role in abetting intolerance, religious minorities as victims of human rights violations, and religion as a framer of human rights ideals which inspire action.

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4810
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4810 001/15669 Th 6:10pm - 8:00pm
402 International Affairs Bldg
Joseph Chuman 3 12/20

HRTS G4210 Equality, Identity and Rights. 3 points.

Priority given to human rights studies M.A. students. Open to 3rd & 4th year undergraduates on first day of term.

This course examines one of the main dilemmas in human rights theory and practice: the balance between equality and identity. Such balance is studied in three different stages: the foundation for human rights, the content of human rights, and the goals sought in drafting a body of human rights' norms. In order to debate different concepts of equality and their connection to identity and difference, some core questions are explored: What type of equality are we looking for: complete equality of results, complete equality of opportunities, equal treatment, equality of respect, equal consideration of preferences, equality of resources, equality based on needs, equality of agency, equality of freedom? Is it equality for whom? Finally, the course discusses the rights of differently situated groups: national minorities, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, women, LGBT, persons with disabilities, children, and religious groups.

HRTS GU4215 NGOs and the Human Rights Movement: Strategies, Successes and Challenges. 3 points.

This class takes a social movement perspective to analyze and understand the international human rights movement. The course will address the evolution of the international human rights movement and focus on the NGOs that drive the movement on the international, regional and domestic levels. Sessions will highlight the experiences of major human rights NGOs and will address topics including strategy development, institutional representation, research methodologies, partnerships, networks, venues of engagement, campaigning, fundraising and, perhaps most importantly, the fraught and complex debates about adaptation to changing global circumstances, starting with the pre-Cold War period and including some of the most up-to-date issues and questions going on in this field today.

Fall 2017: HRTS GU4215
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4215 001/28216 Th 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Room TBA
Louis Bickford 3 9/20

HRTS G4320 Human Rights and Foreign Policy. 3 points.


Human rights play a distinctive role as "the political utopia" in contemporary international life. Still, human rights violations remain widespread and human rights norms are still the focus of numerous controversies, from their definition to their protection and promotion by various international actors with different moral and strategic agendas. This course will examine the place of human rights in the foreign policies of the US and a number of other countries around the globe. The course explores the social construction of human rights and national interests as well as the context, instruments, and tradeoffs in the formulation and implementation human rights foreign policies. Some of the questions this class will consider include: What are human rights and how is their protection best assessed? How have different states promoted and contributed to the violation of human rights abroad? How does human rights promotion strengthen and undermine other foreign policy goals? What's the role of non-state actors in the promotion and violation of human rights across the globe? When has the impact of the human rights norms and regimes been the greatest and when have the efforts of state and non-state actors to promote human rights at home and abroad made the most difference?

HRTS GU4915 Human Rights and Urban Public Space. 3 points.

Priority for 3rd & 4th yr CC/GS HUMR studs & to HRSMA studs

The course will explore the often-contested terrain of urban contexts, looking at cities fron architectural, sociological, historical, and political positions. What do rights have to do with the city? Can the ancient idea of a "right to the city" tell us something fundamental about both rights and cities? Our notion of citizenship is based in the understanding of a city as a community, and yet today why do millions of people live in cities without citizenship? The course will be organized thematically in order to discuss such issues as the consequences of cities' developments in relation to their peripheries beginning with the normative idea of urban boundaries deriving from fortifying walls, debates around the public sphere, nomadic architecture and urbanism, informal settlements such as slums and shantytowns, surveillance and control in urban centers, refugees and the places they live, catastrophes natural and man-made and reconstruction, and sovereign areas within cities the United Nations, War Crimes Tribunals. At the heart of our inquiry will be an investigation of the ways in which rights within urban contexts are either granted or withheld.

Fall 2017: HRTS GU4915
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4915 001/17839 W 10:10am - 12:00pm
Room TBA
Noah Chasin 3 6/20


The course provides an overview of economic and social rights, both in international human rights law and in a comparative law perspective. We will discuss developments on socioeconomic rights at the United Nations and examine their relevance in the United States as well as selected other countries, particularly those with progressive legislation and jurisprudence.

Neglected for many years, are socio-economic rights emerging from the margins into the mainstream of human rights? What objections do socio-economic rights face and how can these be critically assessed? What is the meaning and scope of individual ESC rights, such as

the rights to health, housing, food, water and sanitation? What is the impact of discrimination and inequalities on the enjoyment of socio-economic rights? What machinery is there at the international level to ensure that the rights are protected, respected and fulfilled? How can this machinery be enhanced? How can judicial, quasijudicial, administrative and political mechanisms be used at the domestic level?

HRTS UN3996 Human Rights Thesis Seminar. 3 points.

Priority given to human rights majors/concentrators.

Prerequisites: HRTS W3995 Human Rights Senior Seminar. Additional information available at:

This course is designed for human rights students who wish to write a honors-eligible thesis. The course will consist of group sessions, during which time students will present their work and participate in discussions, and individual meetings with the thesis supervisor. The course instructor is the thesis supervisor for each student.

Spring 2017: HRTS UN3996
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 3996 001/16274 M 6:10pm - 8:00pm
613 Hamilton Hall
Mila Rosenthal 3 6/16

HRTS GU4955 Narrative and Representation in Post-Conflict Societites. 3 points.

This course explores the relationship between narrative and the legacy of violence and atrocity in post-conflict societies, focusing particularly on the Holocaust, Cambodia, Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia (and more briefly Indonesia and Armenia). Examining a range of medium – including, but not limited, to eye-witness accounts, memoirs, history books, government reports, film, theater, memorials - we will consider how different narratives address issues of history and memory, justice and judgment. We will also discuss how narrative influences efforts to achieve reconciliation and come to terms with the past on both personal and societal levels. Does revisiting the past allow people who either suffered or inflicted terrible violence – or both – once again live together? Are there particular modes or genres of narrative that are particularly successful in terms of enabling societies to reflect on their past and respond adequately? Can justice and accountability ever be achieved?These are some of the questions we will consider as we examine the ways in which atrocities are written about, remembered, judged and interpreted.


The course seeks to combine critical reflection with practical application. It encourages students to take a birds‐eye view on the UN human rights system, its challenges and the need for reform. The main research project will focus on the question of impact of Special Procedures and strategies to improve their effectiveness. At the same time, the course will bring in the perspectives of advocates who seek to make the most of the system as it currently exists and discuss their strategies for advocacy. The course seeks to convey an understanding of the different interests and strategies at play and will bring human rights bodies to life through role plays, debates and practical assignments. We will explore different types of presentation and writing through these assignments designed to develop practical advocacy skills through experiential learning. 

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4900
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4900 001/72202 T 8:10pm - 10:00pm
402 International Affairs Bldg
Inga Winkler 4 12/20

HRTS GU4270 Human Rights and Information/Communication Technology: Advocacy and Analytics. 3 points.


This course examines how changes in information and communications technology have, over the past two decades, fundamentally transformed the practices of civil society actors engaged with human rights issues. New communications tools such as Twitter, blogs, and Facebook have changed the ways that organizations communicate with their followers and seek to influence public debate. The increasing accessibility of analytic tools for researching and visualizing changing patterns of human rights abuse has empowered groups to better understand and respond more forcefully to these issues. Indeed, the use of social media as a communications tool has made it a data source for those monitoring and analyzing patterns of activity, in ways that draw increasingly on the techniques of big data analysis.

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4270
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4270 001/21500 M 6:10pm - 8:00pm
C01 Knox Hall
Ted Perlmutter 3 13/20

HRTS GU4230 Refugees, Forced Migration, and Displacement. 3 points.

Refugees, forced migration, and displacement: these subjects top the headlines of the world’s newspapers, not to mention our social media feeds. Over a million refugees have reached Europe’s shores in recent years, and conflicts in the Middle East and elsewhere continue to force people to flee their homes. In the aftermath of the financial crisis and 9/11, politicians in the Global North have focused on borders: who crosses them and how. Walls are being erected. Referendums are being held. We are consumed with thorny questions about who gets to join our political communities. Today there are over 65 million refugees, displaced persons, and stateless persons in the world, represented at last summer’s Olympics by their own team for first the time, a testament to their increasing visibility on the world stage. Global forced displacement recently hit a historical high. And while numbers are increasing, solutions are still elusive. The modern refugee regime, the collection of laws and institutions designed to address the problems faced by refugees, has developed slowly over the course of the last 100 years, first in response to specific crises. That regime has been shaped by a changing geopolitical landscape. At the end of the Cold War, institutions in the field expanded their mandates and preferred solutions to the “problem” of refugees changed. And yet today many scholars and policy makers argue the regime is not fit for purpose. They point to the European refugee crisis as the latest case in point. Why? What went wrong and where? Can it be fixed? This course will largely focus on the issues of forced migration, displacement and refugees related to conflict, although this subject is inevitably intertwined with larger debates about citizenship and humanitarianism. Taking an interdisciplinary perspective, this course will address both scholarly and policy debates. Utilizing human rights scholarship, it will draw on work in history that charts the evolution of institutions; legal scholarship that outlines international and domestic laws; work in political science that seeks to understand responses in a comparative perspective, and anthropological studies that address how refugees understand these institutions and their experiences of exile and belonging. These topics are not only the purview of those in the academy, however. Investigative journalists have most recently provided trenchant coverage of the world’s refugees, especially the current European crisis, where many have reported from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Policy makers scramble to keep up with a crisis literally in motion. We will read their communiqués as well. While we will only begin to skim the surface of these issues, in this course you should expect to gain the following expertise: 1) Knowledge of the modern refugee regime and its origins 2) An analysis of actors and institutions who are tasked with responding to refugee crises and how their roles have changed 3) An understanding of a few critical historical case studies, both in the United States and abroad 4) Critical analysis of the current refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East 5) Knowledge of the asylum process in the US and in comparative perspective 6) An understanding of the debates about conducting research with vulnerable populations such as refugees and displaced persons 

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4230
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4230 001/75282 T 4:10pm - 6:00pm
402 International Affairs Bldg
Lara Nettelfield 3 17/20
Fall 2017: HRTS GU4230
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4230 001/70107 T 4:10pm - 6:00pm
Room TBA
Lara Nettelfield 3 16/20

HRTS GU4700 Ethical Dilemmas in Healthcare: A Human Rights Approach. 3 points.

This course examines major ethical dilemmas that emerge in the convergence between human rights and public health at the national and international levels. Using specific case studies, Attention will be given to the rationales, meaning and implementation of the right to health across borders; the theories and practices of allocation of scare resources; the challenges of providing care for minority groups—including sexual minorities, children, and persons with disabilities; and the ethical, legal, and social implications of international health governance. This is an interactive course, with interdisciplinary scholarship and exploration of issues in historical, cultural and political contexts. 

Spring 2017: HRTS GU4700
Course Number Section/Call Number Times/Location Instructor Points Enrollment
HRTS 4700 001/91098 M 4:10pm - 6:00pm
405 International Affairs Bldg
Maya Sabatello 3 14/20

Of Related Interest

Please see the ISHR undergraduate course list for additional courses approved for the human rights major and concentration.