Curriculum: MA & Certificate in Human Rights Practice


Curriculum Description

Students will study cutting-edge issues through assigned readings, webinars, and the online participation of human rights practitioners from around the globe. Our curriculum includes unique online experiences such as virtual field trips, in-depth analyses of current human rights crises with input from actors on the ground, community-engaged projects, and incorporation of students’ current human rights work. Classes are designed to support the human rights work of NGOs, activists, government officials, and even current students. The curriculum will develop organically and collaboratively as faculty incorporate materials and assignments that address the interests and needs of enrolled students. We will solicit project ideas and participation opportunities from NGOs, government offices, academics, and activists. 

Recent courses have been incorporating the specific topical interests of students as well as the following:

  • violence again women
  • indigenous rights in international law
  • the human rights of LGBT persons
  • environmental justice and access to unspoiled resources
  • trauma and secondary trauma in human rights work
  • refugees and forced migration crises across the globe
  • reporting human rights crises
  • documentary filmmaking about human rights
  • struggles for effective government that protects human rights/freedom from corruption
  • grant writing and management to advance human rights organizations

The cumulative experience of working with a variety of human rights colleagues across the globe is intended to help students build and participate in a community-of-practice that continues after degree completion. Human rights practice is rewarding and often difficult; it is important to have colleagues with whom it is “good to think.”

Completing the M.A. will also prepare students to undertake doctoral work in the future if they so choose. HRTS MA courses also can be used as electives in the Master's Program in Bilingual Journalism.

Required Courses

  • Human Rights Practice MA students complete HRTS 500, 501, 510, and 909 (Capstone)
  • Human Rights Practice Certificate students complete HRTS 500 and either 501 or 510 
Provides an overview of human rights practice and activism. The first part of the course will focus on the history of human rights with an emphasis on the growth of international organizations for advancing human rights. Students will attain a firm understanding of the international human rights system, including international and regional human rights bodies. We will examine grassroots social movements and participatory approaches to human rights activism, including recent critiques of participatory human rights and development. The second part of the course focuses on critical skills needed to become effective human rights activists, including professional responsibility and ethics, interview skills and techniques, translating international norms into specific contexts, psychological issues such as trauma and memory, and various approaches to fieldwork.
Focuses on the practical aspects of advancing human rights through civil society organizations (CSOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with a special emphasis on some of the dramatic transformations they have undergone in the past couple of decades. The course will cover such critical issues as: management of resources, relationships with personnel and boards of directors, marketing human rights issues, fundraising and financial management, accountability, navigating governmental corruption, program evaluation, and delivering outputs such as shadow reports and white papers.
Provides students with an understanding of human rights law and the means for human rights enforcement (as found in international, regional, and national processes). Law can be the means for fomenting change and advancement of human rights initiatives. Human rights lawyers and practitioners will participate with us as guest speakers. Students will acquire the necessary tools for promoting legislative initiatives, engaging executive actors, and bringing challenges before a range of international bodies.


Human Rights Practice MA students are required to complete HRTS 909: Capstone Courses. Instructor consent required for enrollment. Students will complete a project approved by their faculty advisor while engaged in one of two possible capstone courses: 

  • Applied Project in Human Rights addresses a human rights issue and could take the form of a community arts project and its documentation, a documentary film, a more traditional thesis or master’s paper, a research project completed with community members, or other substantial output for public dissemination. The Capstone Project should account for the social, political, cultural, and structural causes that go into the human rights issue being addressed. The project should evidence the student’s consideration of theoretical, socio-political, and ethical issues in working with marginalized groups and engaging communities. Students may choose to expand upon a project that has been initially undertaken in another course. This is a three-credit course offered by the faculty advisor(s) whose students are working on the Capstone. Students will meet online during the “class” to get feedback while the project is underway.
  • Human Rights Mentorship may be undertaken with a human rights practitioner who is engaged in a human rights effort of interest to the student.  The student will work directly with the practitioner and then write a process evaluation or other report reflecting on the experience.  Students must submit a proposal to their faculty advisor.  If a project is approved, faculty will work to match the student with an appropriate mentor.  


  • Human Rights Practice M.A. students complete 18 units of electives
  • Human Rights Practice Certificate students complete 6 units of electives
An elective expanding upon the practical aspects of NGO management and operations. Students will gain experience with: Setting missions, visions, purposes and goals; grant writing and program design; building logical frameworks; developing work plans, accountability and impacts tracking; stakeholder engagement; organizational, program, and project evaluation; communications and media relations; and other operations and outreach functions that assist an organization to enact its mission and vision. Adaptable planning tools and administrative/programmatic tracking templates will be shared. Case studies of NGOs will continue to provide lessons in NGO accomplishments in advancing human rights in the face of emergent issues.
Introduces students to the critical role played by first-person testimonies, especially of marginalized populations, in human rights work. We will consider how testimonies are used in a variety of media including official reports, documentaries, and published works. And, we will look at the strengths and potential pitfalls of using such testimonies. Key questions include: Where and how can human rights stakeholders' especially survivors and those marginalized in societies be listened to and heard? Should human rights regimes take extraordinary measures to listen to the voices of the marginalized? What does it mean to undertake justice for the marginalized in society? Will the voices of the marginalized be co-opted by existing power structures, thus rendering them even more marginalized?
Case-study focused and will explore advocacy and enforcement across the globe that has been successful or is underway, with a strong emphasis on the specific work of human rights practitioners in addressing impunity, pressing cases, and developing new legislation to protect human rights.
Focuses on how to implement community-based action research projects relevant to protecting and advancing human rights in local communities. Community ownership and/or access to data as an empowerment tool will be examined. Students will learn how community members participate in developing research questions, choosing and implementing data collection methods, interpreting findings, and sharing/presenting of results. Case studies of community research that resulted in empowerment and enfranchisement will be presented. Students will work hand-in-hand with faculty and community members in designing and running two community-based action research projects.
This course focuses on how to implement community-based action research projects relevant to protecting and advancing the rights to be free from violence, and preventing violence against women and LGBTQ+ communities. Building off of themes from the introductory course, we will consider how to integrate intersectional frameworks into methodological practice so that the research and work itself does not cause further harm, trauma, and community disenfranchisement. Community ownership and/or access to data as an empowerment tool will be examined. Students will learn how community members participate in developing research questions, choosing and implementing data collection methods, interpreting findings, and sharing/presenting of results. Case studies of community research that resulted in empowerment and enfranchisement will be presented. Students will work hand-in-hand with faculty and community members in designing and running two community-based action research projects.
In this course, students examine one of the most widespread and yet understudied forms of gender-based violence, femicide/feminicide, or the targeted killing of women and girls because they are female, often enabled through state complicity. Students will learn about scholarship, activism, and legal policies related to femicide/feminicide. Root causes and psychologies of femicide/feminicide are explored as well as compounding forms of violence that often lead to the death of women and girls, especially intimate partner violence, but also forced sterilization, forced motherhood, and sexual violence. The class will offer an international perspective on the struggle of women’s organizations and feminist to generate social and cultural awareness and transformations about this problem and to demand legal and public policy actions from States to eradicate these kinds of crimes.
Surveys current models for making and using documentary media in the service of human rights practice and activism. Interrogating concepts such as witness, testimony and evidence, historical memory, transmedia storytelling and convergence, strategic partnerships and impact campaigns, and emergent participatory frameworks, the course explores a variety of approaches to media production, exhibition, distribution and advocacy. We will interact with filmmakers and/or media activists in the field through video conferencing; explore media products such as films, websites and online tutorials; and complete critical and practical readings. Students will develop individual projects in consultation with the instructor.
Explores visual arts, performance, theatre, puppetry, music, dance, poetry, ritual, and arts consortia/communities/venues as sites for human rights documentation, advocacy, appreciation, critical examination, and commentary. Students will meet and talk online with guest artists and arts advocates who have crafted responses to human rights issues with cannot be "spoken of" fully or compellingly except through use of artistic non-verbal or performative actions/creations. Students will examine with guest artists the conceptualization, execution, and personal/social/ political/historical impacts of their projects. Key theoretical learnings will include use of play and as-if frames in addressing human rights, and how to explore arts' impacts. Students will acquire basic skills and create a human rights-focused art project during the class.
Will overview use of emerging technologies and applications for human rights advocacy, such as using satellite imagery, analyzing big data, working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and/or using text messaging and participatory video to build grassroots support communities. Human rights actors who are breaking ground using technological applications for advancement and/or protection of rights will guest lecture. Students will work in groups to complete a project which deploys technology in a creative and/or cutting edge application in human rights advocacy, research, or protection.
May be repeated and covers a given topic – such as police training and accountability in human rights protection – in various parts of the world. This class will emphasize review of case studies on the topic and will engage practitioners and researchers who worked on the cases under study.
1-3-credit course and may be taken up to three times (for a total of nine credits). These courses engage students in short, real-time examinations of a human rights emergency or crisis around the globe. Students learn from local activists and scholars what the issues are, how they emerged, and what activists are doing to try to incorporate human rights protections into crisis intervention and problem solving. It is recommended that students take at least two of these classes during their time in the program. Examples of crises that could be the subject of such a class include: the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Burma; the recent crackdowns on the LGBTQ population in Chechnya; or the widespread abuses perpetrated against African migrants as they attempt to journey to Europe.
Will change focus each time it is offered within a calendar year to address any of the following: new research questions and methods; emergent conditions and their impacts on specific locales or identity groups; new and/or developing approaches to advocacy, justice-seeking, or violations recovery; or theoretical advances in law, advocacy, or preventing violations. Course inputs will provide background to critical issues confronting human rights actors, and discussions will develop/assess the means for addressing and potentially even alleviating the problems. The course may be taken up to three times on different topics.
A theme-based course in which students “complete” 2 or 3 virtual field trips dedicated to a chosen human rights topic or issue as experienced/understood in different parts of the world. An activist or scholar in a relevant location will host the field trip (along with the UA instructor) and arrange for video or audio interviews with key stakeholders, guest lectures, and a video tour of the location. Assigned readings and course discussions will tie together the disparate experiences. Example themes might be environmental changes or natural disasters and their aftermath, refugee and migrant reception and governance, or governmental action against NGOs. A concluding webinar features the field trip hosts, key stakeholders, and other relevant experts from around the globe. Each 7.5-week class will address a different human rights theme, with partial direction coming from external actors making the request for a focus on a specific issue. NOTE: This 3-credit course can be taken twice on different human rights themes.
Under supervision of a HRTS faculty member. Students may take 1-6 total credits as independent project negotiated with the supervision faculty member. Instructor consent required for enrollment.

Human Rights Across Contexts

Professor Phyllis Taoua presents a curriculum investigating peaceful, non-violent protests in Africa that use cultural tools to promote democratic reform. This elective course exemplifies the variety of faculty and topics available to students enrolled in the Human Rights Practice program.