Credit points


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Unit rationale, description and aim

To be an effective human rights practitioner, you will need to know how sub-national, national and international legal institutions operate to create, develop, enforce and indeed impede human rights obligations, and the lived experience of human rights. This knowledge is foundational to the work of any person who applies human rights in their work and seeks a deeper understanding of the complex interactions between law, its institutions, and its practices. To build the legal pillar of your human rights learning journey, this unit, Legal Institutions and Human Rights is concerned with developing your knowledge and understanding of the fundamental legal institutions of human rights and how they operate today. Historical and philosophical antecedents of these institutions will be fulsomely addressed in other subjects: our focus here is on the legal.

The unit uses case studies to introduce you to these legal institutions, and the concepts, theories and regulatory regimes they apply, to paint a picture of how these institutions operate to create our human rights environment. This approach will help you to develop your knowledge and understanding in a way that links the concepts and theory to actual human rights practice. Through these case studies, you will engage with national and international literature, and develop a deep understanding of how human rights are advanced, celebrated, destroyed and ignored.

The aim of the unit is to equip you with knowledge of legal institutional frameworks which you will use to view all of the things you learn in the human rights program.

Learning outcomes

To successfully complete this unit you will be able to demonstrate you have achieved the learning outcomes (LO) detailed in the below table.

Each outcome is informed by a number of graduate capabilities (GC) to ensure your work in this, and every unit, is part of a larger goal of graduating from ACU with the attributes of insight, empathy, imagination and impact.

Explore the graduate capabilities.

On successful completion of this unit, students should be able to:

LO1 - Describe fundamental concepts and theories relating to the human rights legal institutions (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO2 - Explain how concepts and theories informed the development of human rights legal institutions, and their operation (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

LO3 - Illustrate understanding of human rights law concepts and theories through the consideration of case studies (GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9)

Graduate attributes

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

GA5 - demonstrate values, knowledge, skills and attitudes appropriate to the discipline and/or profession 

GA8 - locate, organise, analyse, synthesise and evaluate information 

GA9 - demonstrate effective communication in oral and written English language and visual media 


  1. Introduction: jurisdictional concepts and sources of law (international).
  2. Public international law as “law”.
  3. Monism and dualism.
  4. Introduction: jurisdictional concepts and sources of law (local and sub-national).
  5. Introduction: jurisdictional concepts and sources of law (national).
  6. The United Nations.
  7. The United Nations Human Rights Committee.
  8. International human rights institutions.
  9. Regional human rights institutions.
  10. Universal periodic review.
  11. Preparing a UN Human Rights Communication against Australia.
  12. Does Australia honour its international human rights obligations? 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit comprises 150 hours of study in total. It will be taught over a 12-week semester, with one 2-hour lecture followed by a 1-hour tutorial each week. Other study components might include on-line webinars, podcasts, readings, discussion forums etc. The balance of the hours is comprised of private study.

The strategy is to encourage students to actively engage with unit content and their peers; to provide a clear link between lecture content and tutorial practicum to develop an authentic, case-based understanding (of principles and theory) that (in combination with learning from other units) bridges the gap between theory and practice. Thus, the learning and teaching strategy extends from within this unit, to integrate with other units in the course. Within an integrated learning framework, lectures will provide core content relating to the topics identified above and begin a process of active, engaged, exploration, which will be deepened by detailed explanation and further investigation in tutorials. Through direct interaction between students and teachers, students active, engaged exploration of the foundational knowledge they acquire supports its assimilation in the form of comprehension of concepts and theory. Students are then encouraged to test that evolving understanding by applying it to factual situations, to produce solutions supported by legal authorities and arguments; and to reflect on their learning. Each component is intended to build on knowledge, understanding and skills to progressively scaffold student learning.

The online learning platform used in this unit provides multiple preparatory and practice opportunities to guide in-class and out-of-class study. Online learning assistance in the form of learning resources, notices, assessment information (including online submission, marking and return of results/feedback), is student focused, affording greater accessibility and flexibility to the learning experience.

Assessment strategy and rationale

This unit is assessed by three assignments used deliberately as an integral part of the learning process to guide and scaffold learning, as well as to determine learning outcomes.

First, a basic content knowledge assessment (e.g. via a quiz).

Second, a case-study based assessment that challenges students to explain how particular principles are applied by the legal institutions that are the central focus of the course.

Third, an assessment requiring longer answers from students that extends the second assessment tasks. For example: based on three case-studies, students would be asked to (a) List the fundamental concepts and institutions at play (b) explain how these explain/illuminate the human rights principles shown, and finally, to highlight the differences and similarities between the ways the concepts and theories apply across the three case studies.

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Multiple choice online quiz: Requires students to demonstrate their knowledge of fundamental human rights legal institutions.



GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Case-study based short answer paper, focusing on understanding of particular human rights legal institutions applying particular human rights, from a restricted range of readings.


LO1, LO2

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

Extended written comparison of three case studies.: This assessment requires students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of human rights institutions and principles, as manifested in authentic case-based scenarios.


LO1, LO2, LO3

GA4, GA5, GA8, GA9

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