Human Rights Major


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The major in human rights requires 10 courses for a minimum of 31 total credits. One of the distributional or specialization courses must be a seminar. Regulations for all human rights majors are available on the undergraduate requirements section of the human rights bulletins for Columbia College and General Studies.

Core Courses

Introduction to Human Rights - HRTS UN3001 (3 credits)

International human rights is a powerful idea in our time, but also the focus of numerous controversies. It not only embodies a set of ideals but also functions as a political tool, which different forces try to bend to their own ends. The result of this struggle is a process of norm contestation and norm change that this course seeks to understand. The course looks at the laws and institutions that define human rights as an international regime, in the context of key intellectual controversies and political puzzles surrounding human rights theory and practice. It discusses how human rights norms change, and it analyzes some of the challenges of contemporary human rights advocacy.

International Human Rights Law - HRTS UN3190 (3 credits)

This course will introduce students to the international law of human rights, and give a basic orientation to fundamental issues and controversies. The course has two principal focal points: first, the "nuts and bolts" of how international law functions in the field of human rights, and second, the value and limitations of legal approaches to a variety of human rights issues. Throughout the course, both theoretical and practical questions will be addressed, including who bears legal duties and who can assert legal claims, how these duties might be enforced, accountability and remedy for violations. Attention will be given to how international law is made, what types of assumptions underlie various legal mechanisms, and how the law works in various contexts.

Human Rights Senior Seminar - HRTS UN3995 (4 credits)

The senior seminar is a capstone course required for the human rights major. The seminar provides students the opportunity to discuss human rights from a variety of disciplinary perspectives and to explore various theoretical approaches and research methodologies. Students undertake individual research projects while collectively examining human rights through directed readings and discussion.

Distributional Courses

Students take one course in three of these four categories (three courses), for a minimum of 9 credit points:

  • Politics and History
  • Culture and Representation
  • Political Theory and Philosophy
  • Social and Economic Processes

Please see the undergraduate course list for the current list of courses that fulfill the distributional requirement of the major.

Specialization Courses

Students fulfill the specialization requirement by focusing on a particular discipline, taking four courses for a minimum of 12 credit points offered by a single department or institute.

The goal of the specialization requirement is to equip students with the tools of a specific discipline. Students should inform the human rights program of their intended specialization before taking courses to fulfill this requirement.

As a general rule, fields of study listed as academic programs on the bulletin are approved for the specialization requirement if a free-standing major is offered. Courses approved for that major are generally approved for the human rights specialization. However, language acquisition and studio courses may not be taken to fulfill the specialization requirement.

Students are encouraged to take any core and/or methodology courses required by a program when fulfilling their specialization requirement. Students are also encouraged to take courses within their chosen specialization that focus on human rights issues, but the specialization requirement can be fulfilled by taking any four courses within the same discipline. For example, if a student's specialization is Political Science, he or she can fulfill the specialization requirement by taking any four POLS courses.

Departmental Honors & Thesis Seminar


Nikita Perumal
2016 graduate Nikita Perumal presents on her thesis work in Vanuatu.

To be eligible for departmental honors, a student must satisfy all the requirements for the major, maintain a 3.6 GPA in the major, maintain an overall GPA of 3.6, and complete a thesis of sufficiently high quality to merit honors. A thesis is required of all students who wish to be considered for honors, but does not guarantee honors. Students who graduate in October, February, or May of a given academic year are eligible for honors consideration in May. Normally no more than 10% of graduating majors receive departmental honors in a given academic year. 

Students interested in writing a thesis for honors consideration complete a two semester course sequence during their final year of study. In the fall, students take HRTS UN3994 Human Rights Senior Seminar: Research Methods, which introduces students to various research methods and guides them through the proposal development process. In the spring, students take HRTS UN3996 Human Rights Thesis Seminar. This course will consist of group sessions, where students will present their work and participate in discussions, as well as individual meetings with their thesis supervisor, who is also the course instructor. Students should apply in the spring semester of their Junior Year. Applications completed by March 27 will be given priorityAPPLY HERE.

Students are encouraged to write a thesis, but they should not do so solely to be eligible for honors consideration. Rather, students should consider enrolling in the thesis seminar in order to demonstrate their capacity to produce a work of original research and develop more specialized knowledge of a human rights issue.

Guidelines for all Human Rights Majors

Student should also consult the general academic policies of their school.

Course Planning & Approval

Students should consult with the program prior to each semester's registration period in order to verify that selected courses will fulfill the remaining degree requirements. To facilitate this process, please use the major worksheet to plan and track degree progress. 

Distributional courses that are pre-approved for the major are available on the course list page.


No course with a grade of D or lower is credited towards the major.

One course, with the exception of the three core courses required for the major, can be taken for Pass/D/Fail. The student must receive a grade of P for the course to count towards the requirements of the major. All other courses must be taken for a letter grade.  

All seminar courses must be taken for a letter grade. 

Transfer Credit/Study Abroad Credit

Human rights majors may transfer a maximum of three courses or nine Columbia-equivalent credits from other institutions. This includes study abroad credit. No more than one Advanced Placement course can be counted for the major.  The application of transferred courses to the major must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies or the undergraduate adviser.

Students wishing to count transfer courses toward the major should email with their Transfer Credit Report, the syllabi of the courses they want to count toward departmental requirements, and a statement of how they want to apply the transfer credits to the requirements.


In accordance with the academic policies of their school, students pursuing another program of study (a major or a minor) may double‐count a maximum of two classes towards the Human Rights Minor, provided that the classes are approved to fulfill a requirement for each program. Students should consult the academic policies of their school for specific information regarding the double-counting of courses taken to fulfill Global Core or other school requirements.