This course is discontinued

ERN4323 – Nutrition and Human Rights

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

The course provides an overview of the right to adequate food in the context of the promotion and protection of the international human rights. The course focuses especially on economic, social and cultural rights of relevance to food security and nutritional health. It addresses the meaning and implications of a rights-based approach to analysis, policies and programmes in these areas, internationally and in specific countries. It discusses the relationships between right-holders and duty-bearers, and especially obligations of the State in respecting, protecting and fulfilling the right to adequate food and nutritional health for all. The opportunities, constraints and future challenges to applying a rights-based approach to food and nutrition in development in an increasingly globalised world, will be discussed. It further discusses how obligations can be translated into action, conceptually and as exemplified by emerging efforts in selected countries. Also examples of efforts in international fora to advance the right to adequate food and freedom from hunger will be discussed.


The human rights approach to economic and social development is increasingly considered a new paradigm in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. The obligations of states inherent in this approach can strengthen the efforts towards food and nutrition security and nutritional well-being for all. It breaks with conventional and often charity based approaches, and recognises that people have a human right to adequate food. This was laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) shortly after the Second World War (1948). From a human rights perspective, hungry or malnourished people are not to be seen as passive recipients, but, as rights holders, also as active claimants of their right to food. At the same time they themselves have duties to make optimal use of the resources available to them so that they can cater for themselves and for their dependants. This can however only happen when they have access to the necessary resources and opportunities for doing so. UDHR was followed by binding international human rights conventions, both on civil and political rights and on economic and social rights, of which the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR, 1966), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1979), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC, 1989) are those most pertinent to a human rights based approach to food and nutrition. The operationalisation of the economic, social and cultural rights has been slower than in the case of civil and political rights. The historical background for this will be reviewed in the course. This will serve as a backdrop to understanding the current situation and movement to make these rights the guiding principles for economic, social and human development, thus also food security and nutritional well-being as fundamental development concerns.

Learning outcome

Overall aims

After having completed the course, the participants will have acquired knowledge and skills that will help them in identifying and interpreting the international legal human rights instruments of relevance to food and nutrition, and to apply, as feasible, a human rights based approach in their own present or future work. Participants will have become familiar with the mode of operation of international and national human rights organisations and procedures, with a special view to how they can enhance food and nutrition security efforts. They will be able to retrieve relevant information, including research results, within development and human rights literature and databases.

Specific learning objectives

Part 1. Historical background, and conceptual and institutional basis

1.1 Describe the historical development of

  • the international human rights system
  • the right to food “movement”;

1.2 Explain key concepts and principles in human rights thinking and practice;

1.3 Describe the key international human rights instruments relevant to economic, social and cultural rights and especially those pertaining to food, nutrition and health;

1.4 Identify major international institutions and organizations working with rights relevant to nutrition.

Part 2. The right to adequate food and nutritional health

2.1 Describe the content of the right to adequate food and nutritional health and corresponding obligations of the state in promoting and protecting such rights;

2.2 Discuss the role and responsibilities of non-state actors (civil society; international organizations; private sector) in promoting and protecting the right to adequate food;

2.3 Describe important international tools for implementing the right to adequate food, including General Comments and guidelines;

2.4 Discuss the value-added of a human rights based approach to assessment, analysis and action, nationally and internationally.

Part 3. The structure and function of the international human rights system

3.1 Describe the functions of the international human rights institutions to promote and protect human rights, in particular those related to economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR);

3.2 Describe important international mechanisms and procedures in the promotion and protection of ESCR.

Part 4. The politics of human rights

4.1 Discuss the right to food in a globalising world: Globalisation of the economy vs. universalisation of human rights;

4.2 Discuss human rights dimensions of the Millennium Declaration;

4.3 Review human rights dimensions of the Millennium Project.

Part 5. Implementation of the human right to adequate food and related rights

5.1 Consider approaches of various international development agencies and organisations dealing with food and nutrition (UN, bilateral agencies and NGOs) from a rights perspective;

5.2 Identify critical issues for the implementation of the right to adequate food in a national context, including requirements to monitoring and evaluation (M&E);

5.3 Exemplify country situations, particular groups and specific themes where application of a rights perspective has been or is being considered;

5.4 Discuss opportunities for and obstacles to the implementation of the right to adequate food in particular national contexts and situations;

5.5 Discuss how best to develop capacity to address and apply human rights in development.


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Formal prerequisite knowledge

Bachelor level degree in human nutrition or documented equivalent knowledge. Exemptions can be made on a case-by-case basis.


The training/learning includes lectures, seminars and interactive group work and discussions. The course sets special demands to independent reading and critical use of Internet. The core staff will be supplemented with external lecturers. The possibility for including a study tour is being considered.


Students will be evaluated on the basis of an individual written exam - 4 hours.

Facts about this course






Every spring


Every spring

(Spring 2005 June)

Teaching language