LLM Program in International Human Rights

The Program in International Human Rights Law is designed for students with American JDs or law degrees from other countries who wish to undertake an in-depth study of the norms and methods of international human rights law and international criminal law and their implementation by international courts and organizations and in domestic legal systems. The degree program provides an excellent grounding in international human rights law and international criminal law for individuals with career interests in the field.

The structure of the program affords unique advantages for educational and social interaction. Students are assured of a close working relationship with the professors, all of whom have had hands-on legal practice and academic experience in the field, and access to the programs of the Center for International Human Rights. The Center is led by Professor David Scheffer, a former U.S. Ambassador at Large for War Crimes Issues in the Clinton Administration who played the key US role in the creation of and support for the international and hybrid criminal tribunals. Other leading faculty members in this field are Professors Sandra Babcock, who directs the clinical projects, Bridget Arimond, who directs the LLM degree program, and Stephen Sawyer, who teaches several seminars. Students in the program benefit from participating in small group seminars with other LLM students and joining JD law students in core and elective courses of the program. In addition, the program encourages international students to study not only relevant law, but its application to the circumstances of their home countries.

Individuals who wish to complete the LLM Program in International Human Rights must apply specifically to that program by checking the appropriate box on their application for admission. It is anticipated that most applicants to this program will already have completed a JD or first degree in law in their home countries. Applicants who have not done so, but who have significant relevant work experience, will be considered for the Master of Legal Studies (MSL) Program in International Human Rights. This program is identical to the LLM Program in all respects except the degree conferred upon completion of the program. MSL applicants should complete the application form for the LLM Program in International Human Rights.

Core and Elective Courses

Five core courses (described below) fulfill 11 of the 20 required credits for the LLM in International Human Rights. IHR LLM students must earn an additional nine credits related to international human rights law or international criminal law, including at least one of the elective courses (described below) in the International Human Rights Law Program. The remainder of these nine credits can be gained either via additional program electives or, after prior consultation with and approval by Professor Arimond, via another relevant course offered by the Law School. Likewise, in lieu of a core course that the student has already completed with a satisfactory grade in prior legal studies, a student may take another relevant course offered by the law school after prior consultation with and approval by Professor Arimond. In exceptional cases, elective courses that would have the student exceeding the required 20 credit hours may be taken after prior consultation with and approval by Professor Arimond.

For more information on the program courses, view the Current Course Listings.

Fall Semester

Core Courses

  • International Human Rights I (3 credits) (Instructor: David Scheffer)
    This is an introductory survey course about the many areas of practice and study in international human rights law. The course examines the sources, history, and theoretical underpinnings of human rights law and then covers the modern protection of civil, political, economic, and social rights. The significance of cultural relativism and the critical role of international and regional human rights organizations and courts are studied, as well as corporate compliance with human rights standards and the responsibility to protect principle.

  • Human Rights Advocacy: Legal Analysis and Writing (3 credits) (Instructor: Bridget Arimond) (Core open only for international LLM candidates—see below)
    This course has been designed specifically for IHR LLM students whose first law degree was received in a country other than the United States. The course explores sources and research methodologies for international human rights law, treaty interpretation, analysis of customary international law, modes of argument, the use of cases before international tribunals and bodies, and the use of international law before domestic courts. Students complete a series of writing exercises leading up to the writing of a brief to a human rights body in a hypothetical human rights case.

  • JD Graduates in the IHR LLM Program: As an alternative to this course, the JD graduate may select an alternative course related to human rights law after prior consultation with and approval by Professor Arimond.

  • Human Rights Colloquium (1 credit First Semester and 1 credit Second Semester) (Instructor: Bridget Arimond)
    The Human Rights Colloquium is an opportunity for IHR LLM students to meet in a collegial setting with the International Human Rights faculty to discuss human rights issues from their respective home countries. During the course of the year, each student will make a presentation on a contemporary human rights issue in his or her home country. Through these presentations and the ensuing discussions, all participants will have the opportunity to broaden their knowledge of human rights issues and share insights regarding the ways in which various countries handle comparable problems and situations.


  • Nation Building: International Human Rights Law in Transitional Societies (3 credits) (Instructor: Stephen Sawyer)
    This seminar course will explore the nation building elements that must be in place in a state emerging from a period of state oppression or armed conflict in order for that state to become a society where human rights are respected. In the course, we will examine the concepts of international human rights, democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, self-determination, civil society, gender justice and minority rights, and the role these factors play, individually and in combination, in creating and maintaining an emergent society that respects international human rights. We will consider the role of a number of devices designed to aid broken societies transition to rights respecting ones, including truth and reconciliation commissions, judicial intervention, and collective action under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

  • Introduction to Trial Advocacy (International Track) (4 credits) (Instructor: Steven Lubet)
    Trial advocacy skills are developed through students' presentation of solutions to problems at weekly class sessions. The problems require students to examine witnesses, introduce evidence, present and challenge the testimony of expert witnesses, and present opening and closing arguments. In addition to regular weekly problem preparation and classroom presentations, each student is responsible for the preparation and trial of a mock civil or criminal case. Students' performances are evaluated by faculty, practicing trial attorneys, and judges. This course is designed to maximize the development of decision-making and analytical ability. The various problems emphasize the importance of theory choice by lawyers, as well as the interrelationship among the rules of trial procedure, evidence, and legal ethics. Mandatory class attendance. Those students who do not attend the first class meeting will be dropped. Evaluation: This course is graded on the basis of the students' weekly performances and final jury trial. There is no exam. Teaching method: Lecture and simulation. The International Track of Introduction to Trial Advocacy is specially designed to accommodate international LLM students who have not completed the first year of an American J.D. curriculum, and who have not taken an American course on Evidence.

    Trial Advocacy will only be available to international LLMs to the extent that trial teams of four international LLM students can be formed. In past years, this has not been a problem, and no IHR LLM students have been excluded for this reason.

  • A New World Order: the Role of the United Nations in Advancing a Rule of Law and Individual Human Rights (2-3 credits) (Instructor: Stephen Sawyer)
    The seminar’s focus is the law of the United Nations, with particular emphasis on the legal pronouncements, actions, and judgments in the international human rights realm of the U.N.’s various councils, commissions, committees, and other bodies. The seminar is designed for students who already have had a general exposure (in the academic arena or otherwise) to Public International Law and who wish to develop an in-depth understanding of the legal process at the United Nations bearing on international human rights and the rule of law. The course will explore these concepts in a number of contexts, including peacekeeping/peace building, economic development, environmental protection, advancing standards of health and conditions of work, and promoting cultural understanding among peoples. A primary tool during the seminar is the study of specific cases—both country-based and thematic—involving the denial of human rights within nations and the efforts of U.N. treaty bodies and operational agencies, including the newly created Human Rights Council, to provide redress. Throughout the seminar, students look behind the facade of the U.N. organization and seek to determine the degree to which the organization is effective as a cohesive whole or, as some critics charge, merely a “sprawling array of fiefdoms” that is more interested in promoting internal or personal agendas than the mandates of the U.N. Charter and treaties.

Spring Semester

Core Courses

  • International Criminal Law (3 credits) (Instructor: David Scheffer)
    This course provides an introduction to international criminal law as it pertains to the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals and the contemporary international and hybrid criminal tribunals, including the International Criminal Court, the International Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda (and their successor, the Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals), the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. Students study the sources and evolving definitions of the atrocity crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and aggression, as well as the creation, jurisprudence, and rules of procedure of the tribunals.

  • Human Rights Colloquium (see description under Fall Semester)


  • International Human Rights: Differing Perspectives in Europe, the Americas, the U.S. (3 credits) (Instructor: Stephen Sawyer)
    This seminar considers the developing case law of two international regional courts—the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter American Court of Human Rights—and the U.S. Supreme Court, with a particular emphasis on matters of topical interest, such as the critical elements of a democratic society, non-discrimination, due process standards for those charged with crime, the duty of government to protect individual rights, freedom of expression and association, the role of religion in the society, and the right of privacy, including the right of gays and lesbians to participate fully in society. The seminar compares and contrasts the regional international law in these areas with the law in the United States and in certain other select jurisdictions. The seminar also offers an introduction to an understanding of various European and hemispheric institutions, including the European Court of Justice and the Organization of American States, and how the regional courts fit into those contexts.

  • The Law of War/International Humanitarian Law (3 credits) (Instructor: Stephen Sawyer)
    This seminar examines the international legal parameters relating to the conduct of war/armed conflict, a topic that is also known under the heading of international humanitarian law (IHL). Students consider the application of legal regulation in the context of armed conflict from three perspectives: the lawfulness of a resort to armed force in the first instance, the lawfulness of belligerents’ conduct during armed conflict once it has commenced, and the post conflict consequences of forms of criminal misconduct during the conflict. More specifically, the seminar examines the regulation of various means and methods of warfare (including the choice and use of weapons); the status and treatment of civilians, civilian objects and POWs; the regulation of non-international armed conflicts; the application of the law of war to non-state actors (such as terrorist organizations and corporations); various enforcement mechanisms and the effectiveness thereof; and the legal ramifications of belligerent occupation and issues related to the protection of cultural artifacts and the environment during wartime. The seminar explores the application in armed conflicts of several international instruments and the military manuals of selected countries. Throughout the seminar, there is a focus on relating the international legal principles to real life situations in places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, the former Yugoslavia, Darfur, Rwanda, other parts of Africa, Colombia, and elsewhere in the world.

  • Human Rights Clinic (3 credits) (Instructors: Bridget Arimond and Sandra Babcock) (Acceptance into this course requires the prior approval of the instructor.)
    Students in this course will have the opportunity to work on actual cases or projects applying the norms of international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and/or international criminal law. Students will gain exposure to diverse forms of human rights advocacy before domestic courts, international tribunals, and inter-governmental agencies. Current and past clinic projects have included the preparation of legal memoranda at the invitation of various international and hybrid criminal tribunals; the preparation of written submissions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding human rights violations in U.S. death penalty cases; the preparation of a report for the U.N. Human Rights Committee on violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights arising out of the Guantanamo detentions; the conducting of interviews with atrocity survivors for the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission; assistance with trial preparations for a U.S. federal court trial against a multinational corporation for its complicity in atrocities in Nigeria; and research into international mechanisms that can be used to challenge extreme gender-based violence and provide relief for survivors of such violence.

  • Corporate Compliance and the Social Mandate (2-3 credits) (Instructor: David Scheffer)
    This seminar examines human rights issues related to global operations of multinational corporations. Students study relevant international legal standards, including applicable corporate law principles; the international legal personality of corporations; the scope of corporate responsibilities/duties to respect, protect, and promote human rights in the corporate “spheres of influence;” complicity, agency, and joint venture liability; civil and criminal remedies litigation before domestic courts; extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction; soft rules and corporate self-regulation with reference to the U.N. Global Compact and corporate codes of conduct; the legal objectives of companies and the conflict between shareholder and stakeholder interests; and non-market management strategies integrating human rights issues with contract law, monitoring, risk assessments, and stakeholder-sensitive corporate governance structures. The seminar also focuses on human rights litigation against multinational corporations, such as the Royal Dutch/Shell, Chevron, and Unocal cases under the Alien Tort Statute and Torture Victim Protection Act, as well as legal developments in selected European jurisdictions. Maximum number of 15 students. 25-page paper requirement, and there is a two-draft requirement for three credits.

  • Graduate Thesis (4 credits)
    International Human Rights LLM students engage in intensive, supervised research and produce a thesis of substantial length and high quality. Students propose topics in the field of international human rights law or international criminal law for approval by the supervising professor and prepare at least one initial draft for review prior to finalizing the thesis.

Additional Human Rights-Related Electives within the Law School

In addition to the above-listed courses offered by the faculty of the Center for International Human Rights, every year a number of additional courses related to international human rights or international criminal law are offered as part of the general Law School course offerings. While the offerings change from year to year, the following courses, are representative of the kinds of courses offered:

  • Refugees and Asylum
  • International Environmental Law
  • Pirates to Pinochet (And Back): Universal Jurisdiction
  • Selected Issues in Israeli and Palestinian Law
  • Women, Children and Human Rights

Language Proficiency

All students must be proficient in English, as demonstrated by a sufficient TOEFL score.

Tuition and Financial Aid

A limited number of Northwestern University fellowships, based on merit and financial need, may be awarded to applicants or negotiated with third party funders. However, not enough funds are available for all qualified students in need. Applicants are strongly encouraged to investigate other sources of support, including employers and government agencies, scholarship funds, and family and personal funds.

For further information, please contact Professor Bridget Arimond, director of the LLM in International Human Rights Law, at b-arimond@law.northwestern.edu.