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Human Rights MA

Mode Duration Start date
Full time 1 year September 2016
Part time 2 years September 2016

Choose Kingston's Human Rights MA

This course examines the human rights actors, activities and mechanisms used to define and protect human rights. A key concept is the role of practitioners/activists in the field. The course deals with political developments in the UK, in Europe and internationally, and explores the extent to which human rights are enshrined in and supported by deeper politics and culture, and by institutions, structures, movements and values.

Key features

  • You will benefit from exceptional teaching by enthusiastic human rights specialists and will acquire essential practical skills required in the field, eg advanced research training, campaign design and impact evaluation. You will also be supported in preparing your dissertation, in which you will research an area of interest in depth.
  • You will have the opportunity to arrange a placement in a human rights organisation, increasing your employability in the field.
  • Lively discussion is encouraged, with visiting speakers, leading academics and figures from human rights and international organisations contributing to the debate.

What will you study?

You will look at the actors and activities involved in the protection of human rights. Integral to your study are explorations of who these actors are (campaigning movements, pressure groups, nation states, international and transnational organisations) and what their contributions can be to the development and securing of human rights.

You will analyse current international situations and relations between states and non-state actors where conflicts have resulted in considerable violations of rights, and consider the strengths and weaknesses of international human rights mechanisms.

You will investigate the challenges and demands that arise from the continual and growing movements of peoples, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as they flee conflicts and disasters, seeking realisation of their fundamental rights.


Essays, reports, project work, presentations, dissertation or applied research project.

Course structure

Please note that this is an indicative list of modules and is not intended as a definitive list.

Core modules

  • The Masters programme culminates in the dissertation, an extended project that allows the student to engage in independent research, applying and developing the content of the taught modules to a topic of their choice.

    The dissertation is prepared for in Semester 2, and is then fully engaged in what is effectively a third semester.

    The student’s dissertation research is supported by supervision, with the primary emphasis on independent study.

  • This module is one of two core modules for students on the MA Human Rights, and can be taken as an option by some students in related fields who are interested in learning about the human rights architecture, its actors and their activism. It is aimed at clarifying central themes in the history and evolution of human rights, and looks also at the institutions and mechanisms operating at the international and regional levels to protect, promote and defend human rights. Through case studies, students will learn about the roles, functions and activities of key human rights actors and institutions at the international, regional and domestic levels. The module will include a critical evaluation of the challenges facing human rights actors and institutions in defending, protecting and promoting human rights and end with a critical consideration of the interplay between human rights actors, institutions and activism.

  • How is research conducted? What constitutes good research? How do you develop and carry out an independent piece of research?

    This module is an integral part of this Master’s course. Students are trained in the use of research sources, such as libraries and archives. The module guides students through a range of research techniques and methods and enables them to analyse how to choose the most suitable for a particular research project.

    The module is designed to support other content-led teaching, especially the relevant core modules. In the first semester students are encouraged to apply skills to their course modules and evaluate what constitutes reliable, accurate and verifiable information. In the second semester students design a research proposal drawing on the lessons from the first semester. This will then form the foundation for students researching and writing a dissertation over the summer.

  • This module is one of two core modules for the students on the MA Human Rights, and can be taken as an option by some students in related fields who are interested in learning about practical strategies for campaigning for human rights. The main premise of this module is to critically assess the possibility of achieving human rights in various different contexts. Students will explore what is meant by human rights and the protection of human rights. They will consider, in detail, the scope and content of a number of core rights. Through case studies illustrating various campaign methods and strategies, students will gain practical knowledge of how to design and deliver campaigns that have impact. They will simulate practitioners in the field and gain relevant expertise in campaign design. This module blends contemporary debates and contested issues with practical strategies of how to achieve the protection of human rights.


Optional modules

  • This module covers two aspects key to understanding and managing conflict within international relations.  First, it looks at theoretical and analytical approaches to conflict.  Drawing on insights from a range of social science disciplines – including history, psychology, anthropology, sociology, politics and international relations – this module critically examines the range of theories that have been put forward to explain how conflict arises and how it escalates.  It also explores the way in which identity (such as religion and ethnicity), structural inequality, frustration and aggression can all play a part in creating the conditions for confrontation and conflict.  Second, the module explores the wide range of ways in which international conflict can be managed and resolved and how a sustainable peace can be built in post-conflict situations. The module therefore explores topics such as

    • The role of international law and international organisations in the management of conflict;
    • The prevention and containment of conflict;
    • Humanitarian intervention and peacekeeping;
    • Mediation and negotiation;
    • The role of NGOs and aid organisations in conflict; and
    reconciliation and reconstruction.

  • This module approaches questions of security and conflict in the contemporary world by providing opportunities for their in-depth analysis in two contrasting ways: first, by focussing on a range of contemporary issues and dynamics raised by recent conflicts and security questions, each of them discussed with the help of a range of contrasting examples. Then, the second part of the module will provide an opportunity to explore two cases of conflicts and/or security crises, the study of which will allow in-depth discussion several of the issues explored in the first part of the module together.

    Both parts of the module provide opportunities to use and challenge various theoretical and conceptual approaches of conflict and security issues at an advanced level. The range of issues analysed and studied in the first half of the module, as well as the choice of case studies selected each year for the second half, will evolve through time, but both will offer rich and contrasting grounds for an in-depth practical and critical understanding of contemporary security and conflict situations and management.

    So for instance, issues, themes and dynamics explored and analysed in the first half will include: New forms of conflict in the post-Cold War period; Ethnicity and national citizenship in contemporary conflicts; Terrorism, insurgency and political violence; Issues of gender in conflict; Sovereignty, the Nation-State and international intervention; New forms of international conflict management,  etc… Then, in the second half of the module, examples of case studies which will be developed may include: Recent conflicts in West Africa; Conflicts in Bosnia; the Northern Ireland conflict; etc. In analysing each of these conflicts, several of the issues and themes developed in the first part will be highlighted and explored within the case study itself – for instance the West African conflicts case study will provide ample opportunities to revisit and discuss issues such as ‘New forms of conflicts in the post-war period’; ‘Refugees, mass migration and citizenship’, ‘Ethnicity and national citizenship in contemporary conflicts’. Students select two case studies in the second part of the module.

  • This one semester module is an elective primarily offered to students taking an MA in Media & Communication or an MA in Film but it is also relevant to those taking postgraduate degrees in politics, political communication, human rights and conflict. It deals with some of the most hotly debated issues in different societies about how to balance core freedoms (expression, press and protest) with the state protecting what and who may be potentially harmed by certain forms of expression through censorship.  Even then these remain open debates as new forms of subversion and resistance emerge with new technologies or through the use of the body to express protest. The module explores these at two levels. The first outlines different approaches to and principles governing censorship depending on whether expression is through images; words, ideas and beliefs; information; and action. These are then explored in more depth in sessions that draw on staff specialisms here, for instance, in film, news, information-privacy, protest movements, etc.

  • This module will enable students to acquire a thorough understanding of the multifaceted character of politics by outlining key orthodox and critical paradigms in political theory as well as examining different normative frameworks within an evolving global politics. It combines the examination of theories and ideologies concerning the state with a historical and issue-based exploration of the interplay between different political actors including states, intergovernmental organisations, multinational corporations, NGOs and the civil society in the context of normative frameworks for global governance.

  • This module will be examining some deeply troubling events in recent history and politics and the various ethical, legal and political responses that they have generated. It has been argued that the Holocaust was a critical turning point, a catastrophe which required a fundamental ethical, legal and political rethinking of how the rights of human beings could be protected when states in the modern world engage in the systematic attempt to murder large numbers of people, including many of their own citizens. The module begins with reflections on the Nazi attempt to eliminate a whole group of people (the Jews) and to murder and enslave millions of others. It then considers a range of responses, including the Nuremberg trials, the Genocide Convention, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It examines a number of cases of genocide and crimes against humanity that have nevertheless occurred subsequently. It evaluates the repeated failure for decades to halt or prevent these crimes and then considers the rethinking caused by the genocides in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and the setting up of ad hoc tribunals and an International Criminal Court to prosecute perpetrators and provide justice to victims. It concludes with reflections on how much progress has been made in protecting citizens in a world of sovereign nation states and what forms of justice can work after such crimes have been committed. These are highly contested questions and the module is designed to encourage the critical analysis and evaluation of a wide range of arguments that have been put forward from a variety of perspectives.

  • This module is designed to investigate the ways in which criminal justice policy is created and communicated. This is a practice based module which will examine the evidence, mechanisms, influences and communication techniques that shape policy priorities and bring about change. The module will focus on understanding the socio-political environment in which criminal justice policy is proposed, implemented and communicated to different audiences. Students will examine the way change is considered and debated by stakeholders in the political sphere and within the criminal justice system. We will observe how evidence and argument is used to influence policymakers and consider how policy proposals are communicated through different media.  In the course of the module students will scrutinise policy makers and advocates of change in order to develop their own skills for influencing criminal justice policy. 


  • This module introduces students to the study of terrorism and political violence, and engages with the primary debates in the field. The first half of the module addresses definitional, epistemological and methodological issues raised by the study of political violence. The module will also outline the history of modern political violence and the evolution of the way it has been defined and studied. In this context, the module will explore the nature and evolution of various forms of contemporary political violence, including: wars; ‘new wars’; insurgency and counterinsurgency; irregular warfare; guerrilla warfare; state and non-state terrorism; and counter-terrorism. Throughout, focus will be given to a range of mainstream and critical approaches to the field, ensuring that students become aware of the rich variety of perspectives which can be adopted in relation to the subject. In the second half of the module, time will be given to examining a range of human rights issues and debates which arise in relation to political violence and terrorism.

  • This module is a core module for the MSc International Relations.  It can be taken as an option module by students studying in related masters fields.

    How do we understand the contemporary international system?  The module: 1) explains and critiques a number of the leading theories that have been put forward to explain how the international system operates; and 2) applies those theories to a series of case studies. This combination facilitates the exploration of international relations through the practical application of theoretical standpoints.

    In the first part of the module we explore the key ideas and philosophies underpinning the study of international relations (IR), including:

    -          traditional realist theories of interstate relations and great power politics;

    -          Marxist inspired theories of structural inequalities;

    -          contemporary pluralist theories focusing on the interaction of state and non-state actors.

    In the second part we apply the theories explore in Part 1 to a series of student led international relations case studies of major international issues, both historically and contemporary. The cases will be chosen by the students with guidance from the module leader.

    As a bridge between Part 1 and Part 2 the students will explore a case study provided by the module leader to give the students a framework for what is expected in the student led case studies.

  • Students have the opportunity in this module to gain valuable placement experience in human rights or political communication organisations which use these, and reflect critically on this.


You will have the opportunity to study a foreign language, free of charge, during your time at the University as part of the Kingston Language Scheme. Options currently include: Arabic, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.

For further information

Postgraduate admissions administrator
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2361
Email us


This course is taught at Penrhyn Road

View Penrhyn Road on our Google Maps

For further information

Postgraduate admissions administrator
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 2361
Email us


This course is taught at Penrhyn Road

View Penrhyn Road on our Google Maps
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