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Unit rationale, description and aim

Human rights is an ideal that has underpinned many of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries' most enduring political debates and conflicts. This unit provides a broad political and legal introduction to development and practice of international human rights. In the first part, the Unit will consider the major international human rights treaties beginning with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and moving through the seven principal international conventions that have given the declaration meaning and force since the Declarations adoption in 1948. In the second part, it will consider the international and domestic mechanisms for the review and enforcement of nations international human rights obligations. The third part will consist of exploring a number of human rights case study, including the politics surrounding refugees, self-determination, free speech, association and assembly, human trafficking, and the rights of children. While cases will be drawn from all over the world, there will be particular emphasis on human rights cases in South-East Asia. The aim of this unit is to develop students' ability to provide political and legal analyses of the complex and imperfect contemporary human rights landscape.

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 the content of each of the United Nations’ principal human rights treaties (GA4, GA8)  

LO2 - Describe and analyse the operation of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Human Rights Treaty Body system in relation to key political issues (GA4, GA8)  

LO3 - Describe and analyse the operation of domestic human rights bodies including, for example, national human rights institutions, non-governmental human rights organisations and legal aid bodies (GA1, GA3, GA5, GA7)  

LO4 - Think critically and reflectively about how, and the extent to which, the key provisions of the key United Nations human rights treaties are implemented in practice (GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8).  

Graduate attributes

GA1 - demonstrate respect for the dignity of each individual and for human diversity 

GA2 - recognise their responsibility to the common good, the environment and society 

GA3 - apply ethical perspectives in informed decision making

GA4 - think critically and reflectively 

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

GA6 - solve problems in a variety of settings taking local and international perspectives into account

GA7 - work both autonomously and collaboratively 

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


  • History of human rights 
  • The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, its ethical foundations and philosophy 
  • The UDHR’s reflection in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 
  • The basic content of the Conventions on Racial Discrimination, Sex Discrimination, Torture, the Rights of the Child and of People with Disability  
  • The structure and operation of the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Treaty Bodies 
  • The common structure and operation of national human rights institutions and civil society organisations 
  • International relations approaches to human rights 
  • Economic and social rights 
  • Political case studies, including the politics surrounding refugees, self-determination, free speech, association and assembly, human trafficking, and the rights of children 

Learning and teaching strategy and rationale

This unit employs two formal ways of learning and teaching.

In the Thai-Burma Border program: Lectures will normally take place online, with online tutorials or asynchronous equivalents.

On Australian campuses: Lectures may be online with online synchronous tutorials or asynchronous equivalents. When possible, Global Classroom techniques may be used to increase engagement between cohorts.

Lectures are organised around case-based learning, an approach that involves collaborative, deep learning. Students explore real-world challenges and problems, a process that requires them to demonstrate their investigative, problem-solving and decision-making skills. Case-based learning requires learning specific theories and concepts that will complement the conceptual tools and theoretical knowledge critical to analysing divergent approaches to human rights.  

Tutorials for this unit provide opportunities for active learning. Students will engage in activities including reading, writing, interrogating ideas, exploring case studies and making presentations. These activities, as well as promoting analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of lecture content, are designed to build skills appropriate to first year study in Politics and International Relations. Furthermore, readings will deepen students’ knowledge of the various conceptualisations of human rights in practice today. 

Assessment strategy and rationale

The assessment strategy allows students to engage in a variety of tasks. The short answer task allows students to demonstrate understanding of the key human rights principles examined in the unit. The oral task allows students to share ideas and/or collaborate with each other to present on a topical issue concerning human rights today. The major written task allows students to develop, research, and write an essay on an issue that most interests them. 


A range of assessment procedures will be used to meet the unit learning outcomes and develop graduate attributes consistent with University assessment requirements. Such procedures may include, but are not limited to: essays, examinations, student presentations or case studies. 

Overview of assessments

Brief Description of Kind and Purpose of Assessment TasksWeightingLearning OutcomesGraduate Attributes

Summative Assessment:   

Requires students to identify, describe and critically discuss the key principles and concepts of human rights, especially in relation to the United Nations’ human rights treaties. This could take the form of quiz/es with multiple choice and short answer components; global classroom task, or document analysis.


LO1, LO2 

GA4, GA8 

Oral Presentation:  

Requires students to demonstrate critical thinking and oral presentation skills in relation to topics that consider domestic human rights bodies. This may be set as an individual or group task by the lecturer.


LO2, LO3 

GA1, GA3, GA4, GA5, GA7, GA8 

Major written task:  

Require students to research and write a substantive essay, media watch assignment or digital poster presentation on human rights, as set by the lecturer. 


LO1, LO2, LO3, LO4 

GA1, GA2, GA4, GA5, GA6, GA8 

Representative texts and references

Claude, R. and Burns, H.W. (2006), Human Rights in the World Community: Issues and Action, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania University Press,

Donnelly, J. (2013), Universal Human Rights in Theory and Practice (3rd Edition), New York: Cornell University Press.

Duxbury, A. and Tan, H. (2019). Can ASEAN take Human Rights seriously? Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Forsythe, D.P. (2012). Human Rights in International Relations, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Groves, M, Boughey, J and Meagher, D, (eds.) (2019). The Legal Protection of Rights in Australia. London: Hart Publishing.

 Hopgood, S. (2006) Keepers of the Flame: Understanding Amnesty International. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Alston, P. and Goodman, R. (2013). International Human Rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Landman, T. (2013). Human Rights and Democracy: The Precarious Triumph of Ideals, New York: Bloomsbury.

McBeth, A., Nolan, J. and Rice, S. (2017) The International Law of Human Rights (2nd Edition), Melbourne, Oxford University Press.

Morsink, J. (1999). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Origins, Drafting and Intent, Philadelphia: Pennsylvania University Press.

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