Oxford Summer Program Course Information

2023 Dates: July 4-29

Course Aims

The program aims to provide an intensive immersion in international human rights law and practice. Students will learn about key international and regional human rights laws and the enforcement of human rights by courts, quasi-judicial bodies, the UN and other inter-governmental organizations and non-governmental actors. The introductory morning session course – entitled The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law –  aims to provide a basic grounding in the field of international human rights law for students with no prior knowledge. The advanced morning course – entitled Human Rights Lawyering – is restricted to students with prior study of/or experience human rights protection. The six afternoon electives, from which each student chooses one, aim to provide students with an opportunity to specialize in a key sub area of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. More broadly, the program is intended to prepare participants to contribute to the improvement of human rights conditions in their homelands and around the world.

Course Structure

The 2023 program begins on Tuesday, 4 July, with arrival and registration. Wednesday, 5 July, is reserved for orientation, library registration, and an optional but recommended introductory lecture on the sources of international law and the means of its enforcement. Classes are held mornings and afternoons Thursday, 6 July to Wednesday 26 July. Thursday, 27 July, is reserved for a reading day, and examinations are held on Friday, 28 July, followed by a farewell dinner. The program concludes after breakfast on Saturday 29 July.

Academic Program

The academic program consists of:

  • Morning: a daily plenary lecture given by a leading expert within the faculty; followed by small break-out discussion groups (3 sections of the Fundamentals course, 1 section of the Lawyering course)
  • Afternoon: study in small interactive group seminars led by experienced tutors
  • Optional extra-curricular events progam

All students will take either one of two morning courses for three credits:

  • The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law; or
  • Human Rights Lawyering (advanced)

Students then choose one of the following afternoon elective seminars for two credits: 

  • Climate Justice  
  • Human Rights and the Digital Realm 
  • Gender, Sexuality and International Human Rights Law
  • Human Rights in the Marketplace
  • International Human Rights and Refugee Law
  • War, Peace and Human Rights

Seminars will usually contain no more than 18 students.

A typical class day looks like this:

8 am Breakfast
9-10 am Plenary Lecture
10-10:20 am Coffee Break
10:30-11:50 am Fundamentals/Lawyering Seminars
12-1:30 pm Lunch
2-3:35 pm Afternoon Elective Seminars

In addition, there will be optional afternoon events, including special guest lectures and panel presentations on some days.

Contract Hours

The program provides a minimum of 58 hours and 45 minutes, comprising:

  • 15 plenary lectures of 1 hour each day
  • 15 morning break-out groups of 80 minutes each day
  • 15 afternoon seminars of 95 minutes each day

Levels and Demands

This course is an intensive program of postgraduate-level study and potential applicants should therefore be confident that they are academically and linguistically prepared for such a program. American undergraduates cannot be admitted to the program.

Participants are expected to:

  • Undertake preparatory reading before each class
  • Attend all seminar sessions and lectures
  • Be actively engaged with their seminar topics

If your first language is not English, you must supply evidence of your proficiency before a place can be offered. Further information about accepted English tests and minimum scores for this course are listed in the Applications section.


Assessment for all classes in this program is by way of timed examination and class participation but examinations are only compulsory for those seeking credit from the program. Further information about credit can be found in the Certificates and credit section below.

Please note: all examinations take place on the final Friday of the program and cannot be re-arranged.

Certificates and Credit

All students who satisfactorily complete the program will be awarded a Certificate of Attendance. To qualify for this, students are required to attend lectures and seminars to the satisfaction of the course tutors. It is not necessary to take the examinations in order to receive a Certificate of Attendance but those seeking credit from the program will need to sit the examinations. The certificate will list your name, the dates of the program and the two courses you have taken.

The program is accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) for 5 semester credits, but these can only be awarded to North American law students who have applied for the program through the George Washington University (see 'Application procedure' on the Applications page). North American students must take the examinations to receive ABA accreditation.

2023 Seminar Options

In the mornings, all students who have not previously studied international human rights law at the graduate level take the Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law (IHRL), which provides an in-depth understanding of relevant laws, legal principles, obligations and enforcement machinery. This course comprises a plenary lecture, followed by small-group seminars. For students who have previously studied IHRL or who have substantial experience in the field may qualify for Human Rights Lawyering. In the afternoons, students choose one of six seminars for a more in-depth study of a particular specialized area of IHRL. 

You will be asked to choose your seminar options on the online application form. For the afternoon seminars, we will ask you to make a first, second and third choice of class. Classes are allocated on a first-come first-served basis according to payment date. Therefore, if you are keen to take one particular class, we advise you to apply early and pay as soon as possible if you are offered a place. If your first choice of class is oversubscribed when your fees are received, you will be allocated to your second or third choice of class.  

All courses are evaluated by way of a written examination and class participation (75/25% or 80/20%). Participation includes discussions and, for some courses, in-class exercises. 

For information on all faculty, please see Your tutors.

Morning Seminars

The Fundamentals of International Human Rights Law

Prof. Başak Çalı, Dr. Elvira Dominguez-Redondo, Prof. Joshua Castellino

This core course provides students with a broad grounding IHRL and its monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. The course is open to students who have no prior knowledge of international law or IHRL, as well as those who are seeking to broaden their understanding of IHRL.

The first part of the course examines the philosophical basis and historical development of human rights, in light of the key principles of public international law which underpin IHRL. In this part of the course, particular emphasis is placed on the sources of IHRL. The second part of the course explores international and regional human rights laws and their enforcement mechanisms. In this part of the course, we examine and evaluate the work of the United Nations Charter and treaty bodies, as well as the regional human rights laws and systems in Africa, the Americas and Europe. The final part of the course examines a number of substantive issues in IHRL, including poverty and human rights, women's human rights, humanitarian law and intervention, refugee rights, business and human rights, international criminal tribunals, and the role of non-governmental organizations in the protection and promotion of human rights.

Teaching on the course comprises a mix of plenary lectures and seminars.

Human Rights Lawyering (advanced class)

Prof. Ralph Steinhardt

This course, designed for students with previous studies or experience in the field, emphasizes the role of attorneys in the articulation and enforcement of international human rights law. Students will analyze human rights norms in the form of treaties, customary international law, and “soft law” instruments, always with an eye to using the law effectively in advising and representing individual clients, organizations, and governments seeking compliance. Students will assess the value of various international, regional, and domestic systems of enforcement. At each juncture, they will confront contemporary problems in international human rights law, especially the liability of non-state actors (e.g. multinational enterprises), the sporadic internalization of human rights norms by government actors, and the challenge of cultural relativism and other forms of skepticism.

Afternoon Seminars

Human Rights in the Marketplace

Prof. David Kinley

The class explores the intimate relationship between international human rights standards and the global economy – why it is so important, how it works and when it doesn’t, and what is being done to improve it in ways that benefit the poor and marginalized, not just the privileged and powerful. We examine the human rights implications of the main drivers of the global economy – transnational corporations, global financial institutions, international trade regimes, and aid and development agencies – and critique the principles, policies, laws, and institutions that endeavor to regulate them. We also consider the crucial roles played by good governance and the rule of law in protecting human rights alongside sustainable economic development. The class finishes with an open-ended assessment of the main problems and possibilities that lie ahead in the field.

War, Peace, and Human Rights

Prof. Stuart Maslen

This course will focus on the rules applicable to armed conflict, particularly the conduct of hostilities (Hague Law) and the treatment of persons in the power of the enemy (Geneva Law). Key topics for discussion will include identifying an armed conflict, the legality of means and methods of warfare, including the weapons used, piloted and unmanned bombing, blockades, cyberattacks, and conflict in space. Application of the law to non-state armed groups will be covered as will the relationship between warfare and law enforcement and between the law of armed conflict and jus ad bellum. We will also consider the means by which the law of armed conflict is enforced in the current international system.

Gender, Sexuality, and International Human Rights Law

Prof. Charles Ngwena

This course critically explores the role and effectiveness of international human rights law in protecting women’s rights at the intersections of gender and sexuality. The emphasis is on protecting the rights to equality, non-discrimination and human dignity. In conceptualizing gender and sexuality, the course acknowledges the intersections with reproductive rights. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) serves as a necessary human rights source in the framing and appraisal of the human rights protections for women. At the same time, the course makes connections with other human rights treaties that are contributing to the protection of human rights of women, including the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The discussion will cover classical issues such as domestic violence, contraception, sterilization, and abortion as well as contemporary issues such as disability, female genital mutilation/cutting, #Me Too movements, and climate justice. The course draws on critical social theory and mainly feminism and decolonial theories to show how social and legal norms shape gender and sexuality and to evaluate the efficacy of international human rights protections. The aim is to understand, evaluate and critique international law and its contribution to improving the lives of women, gender and sexual minorities around the world.

International Human Rights Law and Refugees

Prof. Stephen Meili

This course will examine international and domestic protections available to refugees. Its primary focus will be the 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol and other international instruments, and how they have been interpreted by various international, regional and national bodies. The course will emphasize the human rights approach to refugee law, i.e., the extent to which human rights instruments such as the Convention Against Torture and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights inform interpretations of the Refugee Convention. Given the ongoing refugee situation in Europe, the course will pay particular attention to the role of regional human rights instruments applicable to refugees, including the Cartagena Declaration of 1984, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Organization of African Unity 1969 Convention. The course will combine lectures, discussions, and in-class exercises such as mock oral arguments and asylum hearings.

Climate Justice (new for 2023)

Prof. Helen Duffy

Climate change threatens the effective enjoyment of a range of human rights including those to life, water and sanitation, food, health, housing, self-determination, culture and development. States have a human rights obligation to prevent the foreseeable adverse effects of climate change and ensure that those affected by it, particularly those in vulnerable situations, have access to effective remedies and means of adaptation to enjoy lives of human dignity. This course addresses how IHRL sets out a framework to establish the responsibilities of duty bearers to rights-holders with respect to all human rights harms, including those caused by environmental degradation. It sets out what a human rights-based approach to climate action could look like through environmental policies with a focus on the principles of participation, non-discrimination, and right to remedy and reparation. The course also analyses the UN human rights mechanisms on environmental rights and climate change; as well as other UN agencies and National Human Rights Institutions dealing with human rights, the environment, and climate change.

Human Rights and the Digital Realm (new for 2023)

Dr. Sejal Parmar

The digital age has radically transformed the field of human rights. On the one hand, digital technologies, including the internet, have become central to the exercise, defense and realization of human rights. They are widely considered as vital tools for holding powerful actors to account. On the other hand, digital technologies are regularly used to exacerbate human rights abuses, deepen inequality, and silence critical voices. This course unpacks the complex and evolving relationship between human rights and digital technologies, identifying and assessing the nature of challenges to human rights in the digital age or digital human rights (often called ‘digital rights’) and the responses of international human rights bodies and mechanisms and regional human rights courts to such challenges. This course covers threats to particular digital human rights – such as freedom of expression and access to information, privacy and data protection, equality and non-discrimination – through the analysis of recent case-studies, while emphasizing cross-cutting themes, emerging debates and controversies. By drawing on a broad range of sources, this course highlights the respective roles played by a range of state and non-state actors – notably national governments, the European Union, regulators, technology companies, intergovernmental organizations, civil society organizations, and the media – and the relationships between them in the governance of digital human rights and the construction and implementation of solutions to the issues confronting human rights in the digital age.