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Course E085: Minority Rights

17 April-28 May 2013 [revised dates!] (E08513) | Register for this course (page opens in new window)
Instructor: Dr. Gerd Oberleitner

This certificate course is an introduction to the protection of minority rights under international law and allows participants to explore and critically assess the norms and institutions for the protection of minorities that have been created over the past half century. The course provides an introduction to the history of minority protection before 1945 and traces the conceptual, political and legal questions associated with and arising from the protection of minorities, as well as the struggle over the definition of minorities. It discusses how the rights of national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities are protected and promoted under international legal regimes - in the United Nations and in Europe, Africa and the Americas. Participants will debate the challenges of protecting "new" minorities (such as migrants) as opposed to "old" (autochthonous) minorities and explore different conceptual approaches - human rights, group rights, peoples' rights, self-determination, autonomy and minority rights - as well as the link between non-discrimination and minority rights.

This e-learning course relies extensively on case studies from various regions of the world in order to explore selected topics (such as religious and linguistic rights, land rights of tribal communities, education and cultural rights, the effects of climate change, participation in public affairs, etc.). In doing so, the course analyses the contribution to the development of minority rights and the rights of indigenous peoples which have been made by a range of international organisations and bodies (the UN treaty bodies, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the European and Inter-American Court of Human Rights, the European Union, the OSCE and the International Labour Organization). The case studies will also allow course participants to develop skills in accessing and analysing "jurisprudence" on minority rights.

The course involves approximately 30 hours of reading, on-line working groups, interaction among students and instructors, webinars and quizzes, and is offered over a 6-week period. The course will integrate active and participatory learning approaches within activities and assignments, with an emphasis on reflective and collaborative learning. The maximum number of course participants is 25. Students who successfully complete the course will receive a Certificate of Participation. It is also possible to audit the course. 

Course outline

Week 1. Introduction: history, law and politics of minority protection
Week 2. Mapping 'old' and 'new' minorities
Week 3. Conceptual challenges between human rights, minority rights, group rights and (indigenous) peoples' rights
Week 4. Non-discrimination and minority protection
Week 5. The United Nations and minority protection
Week 6. Minority protection in Africa, Europe and the Americas

About the instructor

Dr. Gerd Oberleitner is Senior Lecturer at the Institute of International Law and International Relations of the University of Graz (Austria). His research interests are in international human rights law, international 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. In 1999, he co-founded the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC) in Graz and worked as the Centre’s Executive Secretary until 2002. 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. For more than fifteen years, he has taught international law and international human rights law in a number of institutions and summer schools and teaches regularly in the Venice and Sarajevo Master Programmes on Human Rights and Democratisation. He has been an instructor for HREA distance learning courses since 2003. His latest book is Global Human Rights Institutions: Between Remedy and Ritual (Cambridge, Polity, 2007).

Who should apply

The course is aimed at practitioners and professionals who want to gain knowledge in the field of the minority rights, university students of international law, international relations, politics and other areas and NGO staff members. (Basic) knowledge in international law is an advantage, but not a prerequisite. Participants should have a good written command of English and have high competence and comfort with computer and Internet use. HREA aims to ensure equal gender and geographical distribution across the selected participants. The maximum number of course participants is 25. It also possible to audit the course. A Certificate of Participation will be awarded upon successful completion of the course.


Tuition fee for participants: US$ 435 (25% discount) if paid by 5 February 2013; $ 490 (15% discount) if paid by 26 February 2013; $ 575 after 26 February 2013.

Tuition for auditors: US$ 160 (25% discount) if paid by 5 February 2013; $ 185 (15% discount) if paid by 26 February 2013; $ 215 after 26 February 2013.

Payments can be made online with major credit cards, PayPal and check (Canada and USA). Bulk rates are available.


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