Human Rights and International Justice

6 credits

Teacher responsible: Prof. Carola Ricci

The course aims at exploring the tensions and congruencies between human rights, international justice and the law, encouraging critical and creative thinking about challenges and solutions towards a higher degree of effectiveness of human right protection in practice. In particular, on successful completion of the course, the students will be able to: (i) recognize the nature of the different rights and obligations stemming out from human rights conventions and jus cogens rules; (ii) identify the specific rule of law applicable to hypothetical disputes and practical cases on human rights violations and to international crimes; (iii) analyze the case law rendered by existing international courts having jurisdiction over fundamental human rights’ protection and the punishment of international crimes, in order to evaluate the degree of effectiveness of the rights of individuals as emerging subjects of international law; (iv) formulate, both individually and as member of a group, a well-organized assertion using proper juridical methodology and terminology in order to either assess or criticize a certain position with regard to a specific legal issue.

The first part of the course will be devoted to the responsibility of the States to protect human rights through the analysis of the relevant case-law of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), considering the role of other actors in the international arena (namely NGOs and multinationals). Then, since one of the major advances of the human rights movement in recent decades has been the development of individual criminal accountability for mass atrocities, the class will continue with an overview of the key substantive elements of international criminal law, followed by a survey of the institutional architecture employed to achieve accountability in different contexts, and the particular evidentiary and procedural challenges posed by such cases. The analysis will be devoted to the “judicial reaction” to the commission of international crimes by the ICJ, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), International Criminal Court (ICC) and the so called ‘internationalized tribunals’ such as the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

The specific characteristic of the Course is its interactive nature based on a ‘learning by doing approach’, that requires:

(i) proficiency in the English language at the level of the European standard C1 and

(ii) the basic knowledge of the fundamentals of international law.

The program will include the participation to public hearings held before one or more of the above mentioned international courts, subject to admittance by the relevant international institution.

During the lectures various cases and materials will be analyzed and seminars will be held by external experts.

Preparatory Readings:

For those who have never taken any exam in International Law, the following back-ground readings are recommended:

1. V. Lowe,International law, OUP, Oxford, 2007, Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5 or, alternatively also V. LOWE,International Law. A very short introduction, OUP, Oxford, 2015 (available in kindle format too);

2. A. Clapham, Human Rights. A very Short Introduction, OUP, Oxford, 2007, Ch.1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 (available in kindle format too).

3. The readings can be complemented by listening to the following lectures, available at the website of the United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law (

3.a: Judge Christopher Greenwood, “The Sources of International Law”, at the following link:

3.b: Judge Thomas Buergenthal, “A Brief History of International Human Rights Law”, at the following link:

3.c: Mr. Kevin Riordan, “Basic Idea about International Criminal Law”, at the following link:


With the exception of the above mentioned background readings (at n. 1-2 of the previous list), all the required readings (cf. infra the detailed syllabus) will be made available on electronic reserve (within the students’ login area in Kiro database on the Course webpage with restricted access to attending students, when not available directly on-line.

Enrolled students may view the full course syllabus via Kiro.