Teaching human rights in university law schools: Approaches, challenges and comparative lessons

Paper presented at the 2017 CLEA Conference in Melbourne

John Cantius Mubangizi
University of KwaZulu-Natal

Human rights is a recent addition to the curriculum of many law schools all over the world. It is one of those subjects that have had to justify their place on the syllabus because, as some have argued, it is not an academic discipline per se. Despite this somewhat erroneous argument, the research and teaching of human rights has grown exponentially in the last half a century or so. Although by its nature human rights is both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary, most of its research and teaching takes place within the scope of the field of law. It is for that reason that law schools should and do have an important role to play in the teaching of human rights. This paper discusses various approaches adopted by law schools and the challenges they face in the teaching of human rights. The approaches discussed include integration of human rights into the curriculum, the use of moots, clinical legal education and research. The role of designated centres of human rights attached to law schools is also discussed. The challenges highlighted and discussed include the competition-oriented higher education systems, issues of methodology, personnel, apathy and lack of resources, among others.

The paper adopts a comparative and case study approach. In that regard, an overview of the teaching of human rights is done with specific reference to law schools in Asia, Europe, United States and Africa respectively. Specific law schools and centres of human rights in each region are highlighted and discussed with a view to identifying comparative lessons that can be learnt particularly by law schools in the Commonwealth.

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