RSOS2952 – Law, Ideology and Human Rights Violations

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Course content

What happens when democratic principles and the rule of law is challenged and legal systems begin to produce injustice and human rights violations on a grand scale? How do judges and bureaucrats react in such situations – do they oppose or support totalitarian regimes and authoritarian ideologies? How robust is the law and traditional legal authority when thoroughly challenged? Is the international human rights system an effective solution to such problems?

These are some of the important questions addressed in this course. We examine these issues by looking at the legal system and its agents in totalitarian regimes and in democracies in situations of crisis where the rule of law and human rights comes under attack. The historical examples will include the Third Reich, where we analyze the role of judges and the relationship between Nazi ideology and the law. We also seek to understand to what degree a modern and legal bureaucracy helped produce the Holocaust. Following that the Nurnberg Court and its legacy is discussed and the rise of an international and regional human rights regime is described. Further historical examples include the role of law and judges in Communist Dictatorships and the Apartheid-system. We will also focus on contemporary examples of what happens when basic human rights standards are challenged in democratic societies, which will include a discussion of the post 9/11 legalization of torture in the US. Theories on the relationship between fear, risk and law will also be discussed. Finally, the apparent crisis of the international human rights regime is analyzed and the current and future role of human rights will be discussed.

Learning outcome


At the end of the course, you will have obtained knowledge of some of the most central questions and positions in contemporary debates about law, ideology and human rights, how they interrelate and under what circumstances legal systems can help produce human rights violations:

  • what is the rule of law and what happens when it is challenged?

  • how can democratic legal systems evolve into authoritarian ideological institutions?

  • how and under what circumstances can legal authority help produce injustice and atrocities?

  • how do judges and bureaucrats act in such situations?

  • what is the role of human rights in preserving the rule of law?

  • what is the future of the international human rights regime?


Students will:

  • learn to interpret, analyze and critically discuss scholarly texts and official documents with a view to their possible implications for legal, social and political practices;

  • learn to compare and evaluate moral, political and legal ideals and proposals


Students will:

  • enhance their capability to question and discuss urgent and sensitive aspects of historical and contemporary legal, social and political realities;

  • enhance their capability to formulate and reflect on their own ideas of the legitimacy of law and judicial regimes


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Overlapping courses

10 credits overlap with RSOS4952 – Law, Ideology and Human Rights Violations




Students are graded on the basis of a final 3-day take-home exam that you deliver electronically in Inspera.

Size: Maximum 2000 words (roughly 5 pages). Front page, contents page (optional) and bibliography are not included. If footnotes are used in the text (at the bottom of each page), they are included in the 2000 word limit. Papers that exceed the 2000 word limit will be disallowed.

Any exam at the University of Oslo is being checked for both correct word count and incidents of cheating.

Submit assignments in Inspera

You submit your assignment in the digital examination system Inspera. Read about how to submit your assignment.

Use of sources and citation

You should familiarize yourself with the rules that apply to the use of sources and citations. If you violate the rules, you may be suspected of cheating/attempted cheating.

Language of examination

The examination text is given in English.You may submit your response in Norwegian, Swedish, Danish or English.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Marking criteria 

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Explanations and appeals

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Facts about this course






Autumn 2019


Autumn 2018

Teaching language