International Tribunals, World Courts and Human Rights

11 February-24 March 2015 (E03515) | Closed
Instructor: Dr. Gerd Oberleitner

What is the role of international courts and tribunals in protecting and promoting human rights? To many, it seems self-evident that courts are the best guarantors for human rights: they punish perpetrators, end impunity, deter potential wrong-doers and (re-)establish justice. They bring the individual into the international arena, intrude in formerly “domestic affairs” and allow victims to claim financial compensation. To others, the adjudication of human rights suffers from severe drawbacks: the potential of courts to prevent human rights abuses is limited, they do not respond to structural injustice, they are ill-suited for systematic and gross human rights violations, they put justice over reconciliation and they do little to effectively remedy the suffering of victims.

International courts are as manifold as the advantages and setbacks they have come to stand for: some allow only states as parties, while others are open to individuals. Some are established permanently on treaty basis, while some are set up by the Security Council or are of a hybrid nature. Some grant damages, while some give advice. Some seem do function, while others don’t. They work under the constraints of international law and in the emerging triangular relationship of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international criminal law. Their proliferation over the past decades seems to speak for their added value, but what is their impact on human rights?

This e-learning course explores the multitude of international courts and tribunals which have been set up – since the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after World War II – to adjudicate on human rights in the broadest sense, including violations of the law of armed conflict and international criminal law. It provides information and case studies on the working of such courts, from the International Court of Justice to ad hoc and hybrid criminal tribunals and from the regional human rights courts to the International Criminal Court. The course critically explores the role and value of such courts in promoting and protecting human rights as well as the advantages and drawbacks of entrusting international courts with human rights issues.

This certificate course is inter-disciplinary in its approach and draws on reading from international relations and international law. Knowledge of human rights, international humanitarian law and international criminal law is beneficial, but not a prerequisite.

Course structure

The course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, on-line working groups, quizzes, a writing assignment, webinars and interaction among students, the instructor and invited guests. The course will integrate active and participatory learning approaches within activities and assignments, with an emphasis on reflective and collaborative learning. Participants will do the required reading, prepare an assignment, including case studies, and participate in group discussions. The maximum number of course participants is 25. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a certificate of completion. It is also possible to audit the course.

Course outline

Week 1: The history of international courts
Week 2: The International Court of Justice
Week 3: Regional human rights courts: the Americas, Africa and Europe
Week 4: The criminal tribunals for Ex-Yugoslavia and Rwanda; special and hybrid courts: Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Lebanon
Week 5: The International Criminal Court
Week 6: Towards a World Court for Human Rights?

About the instructor: Gerd Oberleitner

instructor photo_Gerd OberleitnerDr. Gerd Oberleitner is professor of international law at the University of Graz (Austria), where he works at the Institute of International Law and International Relations. His research interests are primarily in international human rights law, humanitarian law, human security and the law of international organisations. From 1998 to 1999 he served as Legal Adviser in the human rights and humanitarian law department of the Austrian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and has in subsequent years joined the Austrian governmental delegation to sessions of the (then) UN Human Rights Commission. From 1999 to 2002 he was the Executive Secretary of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC) in Graz. From 2002 to 2004 he was Lecturer in Human Rights at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and subsequently Visiting Fellow at the LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights until 2007. He was visiting professor/scholar at the University of Prishtina, the European Inter-University Centre Venice and the Université du Quebéc à Montréal. For more than fifteen years, he has taught international law and international human rights law in a number of institutions and summer schools and in the Venice and Sarajevo Master Programmes on Human Rights and Democratisation. He has been an instructor for HREA e-learning courses since 2003. His publications include Global Human Rights Institutions: Between Remedy and Ritual (Cambridge, Polity, 2007) and Human Rights in Armed Conflict – Law, Practice, Policy (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Who should apply

The course is aimed at university students and graduates of international relations, international law, politics and other areas, NGO staff members, staff of international organisations and other practitioners. Participants should have a good written command of English and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. The number of participants is limited to 25 per course. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 575; tuition for auditors: US$ 215. Payments can be made online with major credit cards (Discover, MasterCard, Visa), PayPal, bank transfer (additional fee applies) and money transfer (Western Union, MoneyGram). Bulk rates are available. Payments are due upon registration.

How to register

Registration is closed.

Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently asked questions about HREA’s e-learning courses.