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MA in Applied Human Rights

Course Description

The MA focuses on the use of rights discourse and tools within the human rights mainstream and in a range of related fields (development, humanitarianism, conflict transformation, public health etc.). As such, it is designed for practitioners and would-be practitioners across this spectrum who wish to engage with applied human rights.

The MA addresses a paradox. Human rights is currently subject to critique on familiar territory, such as civil liberties in the post 9/11 era, and is expanding rapidly into new areas such as those detailed above. This context provides exciting new opportunities and fundamental challenges.

How the MA is distinctive

• it is tailored to equip human rights defenders and would-be defenders to navigate the paradox (critique on the one hand; expansion on the other);
• its focus is applied – for example, the international human rights defenders hosted by the Centre will be thoroughly integrated into the learning experience on offer;
• the MA is interdisciplinary in both its core and optional modules. The MA provides a solid grounding in international human rights law and relevant practical skills (monitoring and report writing; project management and evaluation; advocacy etc.), as well as the capacity to engage with the political and social contexts that facilitate human rights abuse and advancement;
• a placement with a human rights NGO takes place in South Africa or York in the first term.

Why choose the MA at York?

Our MA in Applied Human Rights is distinctive in five main ways:
*it is uniquely applied, exploring how human rights can advance social justice in law, policy and social activism
*it is interdisciplinary and holistic (integrating knowledge of human rights, development, conflict, and more)
*students will acquire relevant knowledge but also skills that are vital for a career in human rights e.g. project management skills
*the lecturers are both academics and experienced practitioners, and the international human rights defenders hosted by the Centre will attend and lead classes
*an international field trip to South Africa takes place in the first term, enabling students to work alongside local NGOs and human rights defenders on concrete projects.

Course structure

Students need to complete five modules in total (two compulsory, in the first term; one compulsory, running over three terms; two options in the second term). A dissertation will fulfill the requirements for an MA. This structure has been chosen so as to maximize the choice available to students, but to guide the selection process in a constructive way e.g. indicating where modules are practice-based and where they are not.
The three compulsory modules are: Defending human rights; ‘Social sciences & human rights practice’; and ‘International human rights law & advocacy’. The compulsory modules reflect the two sides to activism - the strategies employed and the debates, institutions and political structures activism seeks to influence - and will engage with all facets of the paradox outlined above.
In the second term students will be able to take two optional modules. Optional modules taught at CAHR share the characteristics of the MA (practice based; interdisciplinary). Three modules explore areas where rights are being used in new and innovative ways ('Asylum, migration & human trafficking',‘Cultures & protest’, and 'Truth, justice & reparations after violence'). Options taught by other departments such as Politics, Sociology and Education feature other human rights related courses offered at the University.


Gaining direct experience of fieldwork is a key component of the MA in Applied Human Rights. The fieldwork takes place either in Cape Town, South Africa, or in York over a two week period in weeks 9 and 10 of the autumn term. Projects are based on partnerships with local organisations. Students, in small groups, will be expected to forge a relationship with one organisation, which will develop over the course of the year of the MA. As such, the experience mirrors a classic human rights mission, requiring the following elements:
*Preparation: extensive background research on country context, the host organisation, relevant thematic issues etc., and agreeing with the local partner the exact profile of the project;
*Field work: two weeks intensive work in Cape Town or York in December; and
*Follow up: project completion and dissemination of the project output(s).

Where after the MA?

Our MA provides career advice, networking opportunities, hands-on experience, and personalised reference letters to help our graduates find good jobs with human rights NGOs, humanitarian and development organisations, policy think-tanks, national governments, and UN agencies.

Visit the MA in Applied Human Rights page on the University of York website for more details!

(Student Profile)

Jonathan Rebours

4460.jpg After taking a five year hiatus from studying, I was somewhat nervous about coming back to university and starting academic life again. However, any fears were allayed by the welcoming and engaging atmosphere at the Centre for Applied Human Rights. The lecturers, supervisors, and support staff all go out of their way to assist students and their knowledge and enthusiasm is infectious. On the course we’ve studied a range of challenging and practical topics, for example writing our own Universal Periodic Reviews for a country of our choice for the assessment for the Law and Advocacy Module. Practical assessment like this gives us the skills we need when going out into the jobs market, rather than simply writing an academic essay.

The Defending Human Rights Module places students within organisations in York, South Africa, and Malaysia. Working within an established organisation gives insight and opportunities for learning that you can’t foresee, and therefore makes it far more like the real world of human rights practice. Having regular lectures and seminars coupled with this hands-on placement meant that our learning in the classroom was directly translated into practice. Another highlight for me was the Culture and Protest Module offered in the Spring Term. As part of the module students must organise a cultural project from scratch, such as a film festival, a photography exhibition, or a participatory video, and it’s again this practical nature of the course that I find so important. It taught me skills as varied as making participatory videos and using theatre in human rights, as well as leadership skills and team management and communication.

The reason I chose the MA in Applied Human Rights is because of the emphasis on being ‘applied’, and there are opportunities to exercise this at every point of the course.


Entry Requirements

People from diverse academic backgrounds, and from human rights organisations and other, related fields, are encouraged to apply. Applicants are expected to have a good first degree (2:1 or its equivalent) and/or relevant work experience.

Course Fees

2016/17 Home/EU: £6,650; Overseas: £15,680

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Recipient: University of York

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