Human Rights and Humanitarianism

This specialisation is one of seven included in our Master in International and Development Studies. These specialisations are interconnected curricula that provide the possibility for you to tailor your individual path.

The Human Rights and Humanitarianism specialisation will introduce you to these related ethical projects and their changing relationship.

How to apply

The idea is that you will be exposed to some of the critical thinking about human rights and the problems that the human rights movement is currently undergoing, as well as some of the issues concerning humanitarianism.
Andrew Clapham
Head of the Human Rights and Humanitarianism Specialisation

Programme details and objectives

The worlds of humanitarianism and human rights have become entangled even if they still operate with very different logics. The aim is to understand what these two sets of values and practices are telling us about the world in which we live and the way it is governed.

The specialisation will endow you with the ability to understand critically both human rights and humanitarianism, as well as the fleeting differences and connections between them. Human rights and humanitarianism embody distinct worldviews and utopian projects. They also trigger similar affects, emotions and specific forms of action.

You will be asked to analyse specific case studies and build on empirical examples drawn from various historical, political and geographic contexts to develop your own appreciation of how human rights and humanitarian action work in practice, and how both projects seek to frame political and social issues in a moral language.

The overall aim of the specialisation is to equip you with a mix of theoretical insights and practical skills that are essential for reflection and effective participation in these two fields. The specialisation approaches the topics and contemporary challenges from the multiple perspectives of the different disciplines taught at the Graduate Institute: international law, history, anthropology, sociology, economics, political science and international relations.

By the end, you will be familiar with the inner workings of national and global institutions in charge of making human rights and humanitarianism real in the world.


In this specialisation, you will be able to choose from a portfolio of courses and will be introduced to:

  • the history of human rights and humanitarianism;

  • human rights law and international humanitarian law;

  • the evolving relationship between human rights, business and development;

  • the links between morals, ethics and politics in these field;

  • the contemporary significance of economic, social and cultural rights;

  • the complex interaction between the two projects, notably via phenomena such as ‘the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)’ and the concepts of humanitarian intervention and droit d’ingérence.

Opportunities and Career Options

The courses are taught by experts in international law, international history and politics, anthropology, but also by those who work as special rapporteurs in human rights, working for the United Nations, and those working for organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross. It will be possible to work on an Applied Research Project (or Capstone Project) for one of the relevant Geneva-based organisations.

Courses in this specialisation include interaction with Geneva-based institutions active in these fields, such as the United Nations Human Rights Council, international NGOs, and different parts of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. You will witness first-hand how human rights mechanisms function in practice by observing UN Human Rights Treaty Body proceedings or the key meetings of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review of states’ human rights records. Participants from this specialisation may be thinking of a career with the United Nations, in human rights, or in the non-governmental sector humanitarian sector.