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Programs / Arts / Human Rights and Social Justice

Program Summary

Human rights contribute, through theory and practice, to people’s struggles to overcome institutional and everyday inequities.

They provide legal, social and political tools and strategies for challenging forms of discrimination, subjugation and persecution, such as those based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, or political opinion, as well as historical practices of colonialism and exploitation.

Drawing from a wide range of interdisciplinary topics and approaches from the humanities and social sciences, the Human Rights and Social Justice program provides an overview of historical and contemporary human rights issues and their impact on human lives in different cultural contexts.

The program offers students an opportunity to examine and critically assess the various strategies and mechanisms that have been used nationally and internationally to address these issues, including social movements, domestic legislation, international statutes, and human rights declarations and conventions.

As well, the program looks at reporting requirements, treaty-monitoring bodies and human rights committees. You will have opportunities to discuss and evaluate the challenges and prospects for strengthening human rights and for meeting future challenges to advance equality and social justice.

Unique interdisciplinary approach

Carleton’s comprehensive interdisciplinary program in Human Rights and Social Justice enables you to study human rights through five dimensions: marginalized groups; critical principles; political repression; social justice; and human rights laws and institutions.

With attention to the struggles of diverse cultural groups and identities that experience systemic discrimination, our program allows you to examine the social causes that explain why new rights are (or have been) claimed, resisted, adopted and violated. At the same time, you’ll come to understand their philosophical foundations and the ethical justifications for claiming, resisting or adopting them.

Thirdly, you will be able to study various aspects of political violence, such as the practices and justifications of state-sanctioned torture, its impact on survivors, and the strategies used to overcome its legacies.

With respect to social and economic justice, you will also have the opportunity to examine the development of historical and contemporary social movements, and the effects of global capitalism and international development on the well-being of different groups and populations.

And finally, you will learn not only how human rights are implemented and enforced in contemporary legal, political and international institutions, but also how those institutions may need to change, in order to keep pace with the evolution of human rights.

Specialized faculty

At Carleton, you will be taught by professors who have expertise in the theory and practice of human rights; professors from the five departments that have sponsored the Human Rights and Social Justice program (Interdisciplinary Studies, Law, Philosophy, Political Science, and Sociology and Anthropology); and faculty from other relevant departments, schools and institutes. Thus you will have the benefit of studying human rights from a wide array of perspectives, with dedicated faculty from many different fields of study.

Work experience

One of the strengths of the Carleton Human Rights and Social Justice program is that students can gain first-hand experience at a human rights agency or organization while they study. By taking the Practicum Placement course in their final year of study, fourth-year students could find themselves working up to one day a week in such Ottawa-based national and international organizations as the Feminist Alliance for International Action; Amnesty International; the Canadian Centre for International Justice; the United Nations Association in Canada; and the Communication, Energy and Paperworker’s Union.

Carleton University also hosts many student-run clubs and societies, including several which focus on human rights and social justice. Involvement in such groups allows students to meet like-minded people and engage in human rights advocacy while still at university.

Carleton University’s location in Ottawa is ideal for the study of human rights.

Ottawa is not only the site of Canada’s national government, but also the home of many nongovernmental organizations that are actively involved in the promotion of human rights and in the elimination of human rights abuses.

These agencies and organizations, such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission, Canada Without Poverty and Amnesty International Canada, can provide research, practicum and employment opportunities to Human Rights and Social Justice students.

Bachelor of Arts (General)

Bachelor of Arts (Honours)

Bachelor of Arts (Combined Honours)

Bachelor of Arts (Combined Honours) in Human Rights and Social Justice and Law with Concentration in Transnational Law and Human Rights

The Human Rights and Social Justice program is offered as a General, Honours or Combined Honours program.

If you choose the General program, you will be required to complete 15.0 credits of which 7.0 credits must be in Human Rights and Social Justice. The Honours program requires 20.0 credits of which 9.0 credits must be in Human Rights and Social Justice.

The Combined Honours programs offer you the opportunity to combine your studies of human rights with those from another discipline. The combined programs require that you complete 20.0 credits of which 7.0 credits are in Human Rights and Social Justice. You must also satisfy the Combined Honours credit requirements of the other discipline.

Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Journalism program may combine their journalism studies with those in human rights for a Combined Bachelor of Journalism. As in other combined programs, the Combined Honours requirements for both Journalism and Human Rights and Social Justice must be met.

First-year experience

All four Human Rights and Social Justice programs begin the same way. You will take the first-year introductory Human Rights and Social Justice course OR one of the approved First-year Seminars that cover human rights issues.

First-year Seminars (FYSM) are a unique feature of our BA program. With no more than 30 students in each FYSM, these Seminars will get you out of the lecture hall and into a small class, allowing for plenty of discussion and group work. You will also get early and frequent feedback on assignments and instruction in research and writing. Most first-year BA students are strongly encouraged to include a First-year Seminar in their first-year course load.


In first year, you will be able to take up to four electives. Taking courses in a variety of disciplines in first year means that you can begin to identify other disciplines that might interest you. As well, when you are choosing electives, take into consideration your career goals as well as your interests.

Upper-year courses

As you progress into the second year of the program, the multidisciplinary nature of the program becomes very apparent. You will take the second-year Human Rights and Social Justice course that examines the theoretical foundations of human rights, another which addresses the impacts of power on human rights, and 0.5 credit in one of the pre-selected courses in Law, Political Science or Philosophy.

To round out the required credits for the program, students must choose from a list of courses that are organized into the following thematic groups and selected from different disciplines:

  • Laws and Institutions
  • Critical Principles
  • Marginalized Groups, Diversities, and Identities
  • Political Violence, Persecution and Repression
  • Social and Economic Justice

Within these thematic groups, students can choose such Human Rights and Social Justice courses as Political Repression: Impacts and Responses; Racialization, Racism and Human Rights; and Corporations and Human Rights, to name just a few examples.

Work experience

The fourth year of the program offers opportunities for practicum placements, special topics of study or independent study.

The workplace

A BA in Human Rights and Social Justice from Carleton will give you a combination of knowledge and skills that is unequaled by any similar program.

Students are prepared to work in public-interest groups; unions; women’s groups; community groups; and international, governmental and nongovernmental organizations.

Graduate studies

Graduates of our program are well qualified to go on to graduate studies in a variety of fields. If you think that you may wish to pursue an advanced degree, you are encouraged to investigate graduate programs early in order to ensure that your program is suited to meet the graduate-level requirements.

Professional programs

Many professional programs, such as teaching and law, are interested in attracting well-rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds.

Human Rights and Social Justice provides a strong foundation for such programs and you are encouraged to pursue interests you may have in these fields after completing your undergraduate degree.

What students are saying about Human Rights and Social Justice

The Human Rights program at Carleton has provided me with a unique university experience. In addition to deconstructing understandings of exploitation, segregation and discrimination through a human rights perspective, I have been able to study inequality through multiple disciplines. This interdisciplinary approach to learning allowed me to discover interests in fields of political science, philosophy and women’s and gender studies, just to name a few. Taught by professors who have expertise in the practice of human rights, the Carleton University Human Rights program was a perfect fit for me.
Christine Bilsky, Human Rights student

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