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The MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights is the longest running interdisciplinary, practiceorientated human rights master’s degree programme in the UK.

The degree aims to develop you as future human rights practitioners and to enable you to engage with the intellectual and philosophical foundations of human rights. All of our graduates are awarded a University of London degree.

In addition to providing students with the practical skills essential to pursuing a career as human rights practitioners, this degree addresses essential questions and debates within the field of human rights.

You can also study distance learning (MA, PGCert, and PGDip) with the University of London.

Contact the Institute

Key Information

Degree overview

The degree brings together insights on human rights from a range of disciplines, including law, international relations and sociology. This unique interdisciplinary approach will provide you with an extensive and diverse range of perspectives with which to understand contemporary human rights challenges. 

Offered by the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) at the School of Advanced Study, this programme is: 

  • Intellectually rigorous, engaging with human rights debates at the forefront of scholarly research
  • Practice-orientated, exploring human rights issues from a practical, solution-based perspective as well as a scholarly one
  • Career-orientated, developing the next generation of human rights defenders, advocates and researchers through an emphasis on building practical skills, including campaigning, fundraising, and research—all of which are important for work in human rights advocacy
  • Cutting-edge, widening the frame of human rights debates by looking at emerging issues, such as the impact of environmental destruction on human rights

To find out more about the course, download our programme specification

How will this course benefit me?

As part of the School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, you will benefit from a collaborative, interdisciplinary research environment. The Human Rights Consortium enjoys close links with other SAS members including the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and the Centre for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

We provide tailored support in finding internships with human rights organisations in and around London that will complement your studies and professional goals. Our long-standing relationships with a variety of NGOs— including Amnesty International and Minority Rights Group International—and our experience with the application and interview process give our students a competitive edge when applying for internships.

We run an annual optional one-week study tour to Geneva in the summer term that includes visits to the United Nations as well as meetings with human rights advocates inside and outside the UN framework, enabling you to learn from a wide range of experienced individuals and to build your personal networks.

Modules and structure

The degree can be taken full time over one year or part time over 24 or 36 months, with entry in October only. The degree comprises four compulsory modules, including a dissertation, and three optional modules.

The distance learning option can be studied part time over 2-5 years for the MA in Human Rights or in less time for the PG Certificate or PG Diploma in Human Rights, please visit the University of London website for further information.

The Human Rights Consortium, in collaboration with the Institute of Latin American Studies, offers a specialist pathway through the MA in Understanding and Securing Human Rights which enables students to focus their studies on the human rights concerns – past, present and future – of Latin America. Find out more about the Latin American Pathway.

Core modules (three in autumn term, dissertation in summer term)

  • Understanding Human Rights I: Ideas and Contexts [10 ECTS] 

  • Securing Human Rights I: Actors and Mechanisms, Skills and Strategies [10 ECTS] 
  • Translating Human Rights into Law I: The Foundations of International Human Rights Law [10 ECTS] 
  • Dissertation (15,000 words) [30 ECTS] 

Optional modules (three in spring term)

  • Genocide and Reconciliation [10 ECTS]

  • Securing Human Rights II: Securing Human Rights in Development and in Conflict [10 ECTS] 
  • Translating Human Rights into Law II: Topics in International Human Rights Law [10 ECTS] 
  • Researching Human Rights: Social Research Methods [10 ECTS] 
  • Environmentalism and Human Rights  [10 ECTS] 
  • Indigenous Peoples, Minorities and Human Rights [10 ECTS] 
  • The Politics of Human Rights in Latin America [10 ECTS] 

Please note that the list of modules is indicative and may be subject to change.

Please note that part-time students take four modules in the first year of study and two modules and the dissertation in the second year of study

Teaching, learning and assessment

The MA convenor is Professor Damien Short, Professor of Human Rights and Environmental Justice. Other core lecturers include Dr Corinne Lennox (Senior Lecturer in Human Rights) and Professor David Cantor (Professor of Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies).

Their research interests include environmental justice and human rights, genocide, international human rights law, refugee protection, and the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities. In addition to their scholarly expertise, our academic staff act as human rights advocates, practitioners, and consultants, and their teaching draws on their extensive practical experience.

The programme is also enriched by an extensive range of guest lecturers, including academic specialists and human rights practitioners who offer practical perspectives on a number of topics. Speakers from NGOs provide practical, policy-orientated views on the impact of human rights norms and policies on the ground, thus providing different insights into the practicalities of human rights work.

The experience of our staff, plus the insights of human rights practitioners, means that the degree stays current with new developments in the field. You will benefit from small class sizes, so you can learn, debate and discuss ideas in a friendly and open environment while receiving individually tailored feedback on your work. Our lecturers are accessible and arranging meetings to discuss aspects of the course is actively encouraged. We provide a stimulating experience for our students that helps them achieve their intellectual and professional goals.

The MA is assessed through essays and examinations and through work similar to that produced by professionals in the human rights field, including legal reports, a media project and a mock funding proposal. Class participation also forms an element of the MA assessment.

Meet the lecturers

Professor David Cantor

Professor David James Cantor, PhD, is the founding director of the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. His research won the Times Higher Education (THE) award for Research Project of the Year, 2017-18. Trained originally as a social anthropologist, Professor Cantor worked as a practitioner in the legal field during the 2000s for organisations such as the Refugee Legal Centre, a London-based public law centre where he litigated refugee and human rights cases until 2007, and UNHCR. In a consultancy capacity, he has advised, trained, and undertaken research for more than 15 governments (mostly from the global south), as well as international organisations and northern and southern NGOs. During 2016-17, Professor Cantor undertook a part-time secondment as Senior Advisor to the UNHCR Americas Bureau.

Professor Cantor’s research has a strong legal and policy focus. Current and past topics include returns by refugees and IDPs, reparations for displacement, IDP protection during armed conflict and organised criminal violence, human mobility in disasters linked to natural hazards, refugee law and its relationship to human rights law, and HL and IDP law. He has a long-standing fascination with Latin America, where he has carried out fieldwork since 1998 in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Panama, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Mexico. Since 2010, he has published five books, two special issues, and more than 30 journal articles and book chapters. While running the RLI, Professor Cantor has organised over 100 conferences, workshops, and seminars. He founded the International Refugee Law book series (where he remains editor) and the distance-learning MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies. He has led and participated in international research collaborations, securing almost £8 million in competitive research funding for around 15 projects as PI or Co-I (including AHRC, ESRC, GCRF, and Leverhulme Trust). He was selected as an ESRC Future Research Leader in 2012 and sits on the Research Council Peer Review College. He is the new editor-in-chief of the Refugee Survey Quarterly.

Dr Corinne Lennox

Dr Corinne Lennox is senior lecturer in human rights and programme director of the new distance-learning MA in Human Rights, University of London. She is based in the School of Advanced Study, University of London, where she is also co-director of the Human Rights Consortium. Her research focuses on issues of minority and indigenous rights protection, civil society mobilisation for human rights, and on human rights and development. She holds a PhD and MSc in International Relations from the LSE, an MA in the Theory and Practice of Human Rights from the University of Essex, and a BA (Hons) in Political Science from McMaster University, Canada. She has worked for many years as a human rights practitioner with various NGOs, including Minority Rights Group International, and has been an adviser on minority and indigenous rights to governments, the UNDP, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. She is author of Transnational Social Mobilisation and Minority Rights: Identity, Advocacy and Norms (Routledge, 2020), co-editor of the Handbook on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights (Routledge, 2015), and co-editor of the open-access book Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The Commonwealth: Struggles for Decriminalisation and Change (School of Advanced Study, University of London, 2013). She currently serves as associate editor of The International Journal of Human Rights. Dr. Lennox is a fellow of the Human Rights Centre, University of Essex; chair of the Dalit Solidarity Network UK; an advisory board member for the Tom Lantos Institute; and a member of the Technical Advisory Group of the Global Centre for Pluralism. Her current research projects include a major study of the UN Forum on Minority Issues. In addition, she leads the research strand of the Strong in Diversity, Bold on Inclusion project funded by UK Aid Connect, which focuses on supporting the inclusion of LGBT+ persons in five African cities.

Professor Damien Short

Professor Damien Short is co-director of the Human Rights Consortium (HRC) and a professor of human rights and environmental justice at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. He has spent his entire professional career working in the field of human rights and environmental justice, both as a scholar and advocate. He has researched and published extensively in the areas of indigenous peoples’ rights, genocide studies, reconciliation projects, and environmental human rights. He is currently researching the human rights impacts of extreme energy processes (for example, tar sands and fracking -- learn more at the HRC website). Professor Short is a regular academic contributor to the United Nations' ‘Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ and the United Nations Harmony with Nature Initiative, and serves as academic consultant for the ‘Ethical Trade Task Force’ of the Soil Association. Professor Short is also the editor-in-chief of The International Journal of Human Rights, convenor of the British Sociological Association’s Sociology of Rights Study Group, and active member of the International Network of Genocide Scholars. Professor Short has worked with a variety of NGOs, including Amnesty International, War on Want, Survival International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, and the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, and with a range of campaign groups including Eradicating Ecocide, Biofuelwatch, Climate Justice Collective, and the UK Tar Sands Network. He currently advises UK local anti-fracking groups and county councils on the human rights implications of unconventional (extreme) energy extraction processes such as fracking.

About the Human Rights Consortium

The Human Rights Consortium (HRC) at the School of Advanced Study brings together multidisciplinary expertise across a range of areas within human rights, including ecocide, the impact of environmental destruction on human rights, indigenous rights, international refugee law and securing rights for LGBTI people worldwide. The HRC acts as a national and international collaborative centre to support, promote and disseminate academic and policy work in human rights and hosts a number of seminars and research-led conferences on different themes in human rights throughout the academic year.

Entry requirements

The normal minimum entrance requirement would be a First or Upper Second Class Honours degree from a university in the UK, or an overseas qualification of an equivalent standard.

Applications from candidates who do not meet the formal academic requirements but who offer alternative qualifications and/or relevant experience, could be considered.

English is the language of instruction and applicants are required to demonstrate an appropriate level of proficiency.

Find out more about our entry requirements

How to apply

For more information on how to apply, including deadlines and the documentation you will need to provide on the application form, visit our How to Apply page.

Careers and further study

For alumni of the programme, the MA has been a crucial investment in their careers as human rights advocates, with many of them finding work shortly after graduating. In the competitive field of human rights, our MA is recognised by recruiters at NGOs for imparting the necessary practical skills that employees will need. You will benefit from being part of a network in which you will continue to find support after your studies end, through personal connections with staff and through our alumni network. 

Our connections with people from a range of human rights organisations, who often deliver guest lectures, ensure that you will be introduced to key contacts throughout your degree, helping you to understand the opportunities in the field and develop networks essential to working in the humanitarian and human rights sectors. 

Graduates of both the campus and distance learning human rights MA programmes have gone on to work for an impressive range of organisations, including with major human rights NGOs, as government advisors, as leading academics, with UN Agencies and in the business sector.

Alumni Career Profiles

Study Human Rights at the School of Advanced Study, University of London

The School of Advanced Study is a unique environment in which to study the humanities. It strives to reflect the latest developments in thinking across the humanities disciplines it supports and to ensure that its programmes reflect this. We also know that the needs of our students are constantly changing. With that in mind, the School continually reviews its programmes and, as part of that process, reserves the right to alter or discontinue them. Students enrolled on any programme that we discontinue will be able to complete that programme within a reasonable timeframe and with all the necessary resources. The School will communicate any anticipated changes to students as soon as possible.