Human Rights and Development (LAW-739S-001) 

In-person (WCL)

2:30 - 4:20 p.m.

*For students enrolled in the LL.M. in Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, this course corresponds to 2 academic credits.


  • Duygu Çiçek, Counsel, Legal Vice Presidency, Environmental and International Law Practice Group (LEGEN)
  • Margaret Roggensack, Interim Executive Director, International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), Washington, D.C.

Course Description:

Human rights and development have evolved largely in separate tracks, and even, to a large degree, separate worlds. However, times have changed. There are now clear spheres of convergence between these fields in theory, applied research and practice.

In September 2015, UN member States concluded a new global agreement on development cooperation including a set of “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In the same year, two other global agreements were concluded: the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and the Addis Ababa Agenda for Action arising from the third International Conference on Financing for Development. Human rights considerations and commitments have featured far more prominently in these agreements than their predecessors. However, the hard work in translating these commitments into action has only just begun and their ultimate impact cannot yet be foreseen.

The institutional landscape for human rights and development is similar, a varied and complex one. Many bilateral and multilateral aid organizations, non-governmental organizations and development workers now profess to implement “rights-based approaches” to development, while others have resisted. There are still debates about the implementation and impact of such approaches. At the same time, governments, development agencies and others are facing increasing demands for accountability for human rights violations carried out in development’s name. With the myriad influential actors involved in development, and with the increasing involvement of the private sector, the locus of accountability seems increasingly diffuse.

The infiltration of human rights into development thinking and practice has been embraced in many, but by no means all, quarters. No less a figure than Amartya Sen has remarked: “The suspicion is that there is something a little simple-minded about the entire conceptual structure that underlies the oratory on human rights.” Other commentators have derided rights-based approaches to development as mere “rhetorical repackaging.”

The Human Rights and Development course will critically examine key features of this dynamic landscape, through a mix of lectures, case studies, group work discussions and practical exercises. The course will explore the contemporary conceptions and meanings of human rights and development, laying the ground for a more detailed examination of the points of convergence - as well as tensions - between these fields in both theory and practice. Consideration will be given to how international human rights standards and principles have emerged and how they have influenced public policy debates concerning international aid, development financing, infrastructure investment, engagement with fragile states, the MDGs and the SDGs and climate change. There will be a strong institutional focus within the program, with a close look at the roles and functions of international and regional development banks and other financing institutions, the Group of 20 industrialized countries (G20) and business entities, set against political debates on human rights and development in the United Nations’ inter-governmental and human rights bodies.