Brief Outline

  1. Course Title: Introduction to Harmful Practices, Human Rights, and the UN system.
  2. Course Instructor: Dr Samantha Spence, Course Director for Postgraduate Studies in Law, Staffordshire University, UK. Visiting Professor, School of Legal Studies, REVA University, Bengaluru.
  3. Course Level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate Students
  4. Course Duration: 15 hours
  5. Start Date: 03 March 2023
  6. Course Content: Refer to Annex 1
  7. Course Fee: INR 4000 (40 GBP approx.)
  8. Registration Link: 
  9. For any queries contact: / 

Course Summary

This course provides a foundational understanding of human rights law, from an international perspective. It is designed to provide a detailed and critical overview of international human rights law. The course will begin with an overview of the basic concepts and theories of human rights law, before exploring how human rights are protected, at an international level, though the United Nations system. Finally, this course will explore contemporary issues and challenges facing international human rights law, particularly related to the rights of marginalized groups.

Course Aim

This course aims to critically examine the challenges faced when implementing international human rights norms and seeks to question why these difficulties occur. Different theoretical and conceptual approaches to international human rights will be explored, together with the difficulties surrounding the longstanding Universalism v Cultural Relativism debate. Various mechanisms, put in place to protect human rights, will be explored, examining whether these mechanisms are effective within the United Nations system. International human rights face multiple intersectional challenges and throughout the course, key challenges contemporary issues will be discussed. For example: How are human rights monitored, implemented, and enforced within the UN system? What are the different categories of rights? Is the current UN system effective in protecting human rights, particularly those of women, children, and minorities? Where do we place human rights within the universalism v cultural relativism debate?

Course Learning Outcomes

After successfully completing this course the students should:

  1. Be able to demonstrate a critical understanding of the historical, philosophical, and social context that governs international human rights law.
  2. Be able to understand and identify the key challenges faced with the implementation of human rights standards
  3. Be able to understand, identify and critically analyze key contemporary issues facing international law, proposing suggestions for development and / or reform of existing international standards.
  4. Be able to apply theoretical and conceptual approaches to international human rights law to real world examples, presenting the material in a way that is appropriate to the audience.

About the Course Instructor

Dr Samantha Spence is the Course Director for Postgraduate Studies in Law at Staffordshire University and a visiting Professor at the School of Legal Studies, REVA University, Bengaluru. She has a PhD (Law) from Lancaster University, UK on the topic of ‘Witchcraft Accusations and Persecution as a Mechanism for the Marginalisation of Women’ focusing on India, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, and Nepal. She has an LLM (Research) from Edge Hill University, UK ‘Feminist analysis of the effectiveness of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women on cultural violence in Southeast Asia’ and a 1st class LLB (Honours) from Edge Hill University, UK. 

Over recent years, her work has involved working with the United Nations, to highlight abuses linked to harmful practices. She is a member of an international working group who worked for many years to push for and produce a UN Resolution on the issue. In June 2021, they were finally successful, when the UN Human Rights Council adopted the Resolution on the Elimination of Harmful Practices Related to Accusations of Witchcraft and ritual Attacks at their 47thsession. She has been personally invited to the United Nations in Geneva on several occasions, most recently to provide evidence to the Expert Consultation on Harmful Practices, held by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, in July 2022. She has also been invited to attend parliamentary events held in both the UK Parliament and the Pan-African Parliament. The international working group were once again successful when the Pan-African Parliament adopted the Guidelines on Ending Harmful Practices related to the Manifestation of Beliefs in Witchcraft in November 2022. Dr Spence is currently a member of several international advisory boards relating to harmful practices and the rights of women.

Annex 1

  • Introduction to Course – History of International Human Rights

This lecture will initially introduce the course, then will star to explore the conceptual and philosophical background to human rights. It will begin with an examination of international human rights on a domestic level, looking at key developments within the 17th and 18th centuries, before moving onto the creation of international human rights in the 1940s, post-World War 2.

  • Justifications and Critiques of Human Rights: Universalism v Cultural Relativism

This lecture will discuss the fundamental principle of Universalism in international human rights law, as laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, whilst examining the conflicting concept of cultural relativism. 

  • The United Nations

This lecture will examine the organisational structure of the United Nations and critically assess the different types of human rights monitoring bodies and their reporting mechanisms. 

  • Monitoring, Implementing and Enforcing Human Rights: The Reporting System

This lecture will explore the different types of human rights monitoring bodies and their reporting mechanisms. It will examine existing implementation methods, before looking at some of the problems within the system. It will also explore the reports system, inter-state complaints, provisions, and individual complaints, before examining the role of the special procedures.

  • Monitoring, Implementing and Enforcing Human Rights: Issues

This lecture will look at some of the problems within the UN System. In particular, the Treaty System (ratifications / declarations / reservations) and State accountability (issues with State reports) together with the lack of resources, implementation, and sanctions within the UN system. It will also question how successful the UN is to date and possible recommendations for reform.

  • Equality, Non-Discrimination, and Women’s Rights

This lecture will explore the protection of human rights of women under international human rights law. There will be a key focus on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women 1979, examining the aims of the Convention, and the articles within. This lecture will also explore the contentious split, within international human rights, between the public and private divide sphere, addressing fundamental issues with the recognition of discrimination and violence against women in the private sphere.

  • Cultural Rights Part 1: Rights for Specific Vulnerable Persons: Persons with Albinism

This lecture will begin with the question: What is albinism? It will then explore some of the myths surrounding persons with albinism (PWA) and the impact of such myths, giving real-word examples. Applicable international human rights standards and obligations will be examined together with recommendations for future change.

  • Cultural Rights Part 2: – Witchcraft and Human Rights

This lecture will explore the historical connotations of witchcraft, before moving into the 21st century where it will examine the effect of contemporary witchcraft throughout the world. Common themes and differences will be examined within the witchcraft discourse, providing country case-study examples to attribute this to real-life situations. 


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