14th Annual AHRI Conference – “Emerging Research in Human Rights”


The 14th Annual Conference took place in London on 9 and 10 September 2013 and was generously hosted by The Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study, University of London.

The objective of the conference was to stimulate an open-ended discussion about the themes and activities to be pursued within the AHRI network in the years to come. To this aim, all AHRI members were invited to suggest topics for workshops, and as a result a number of workshops covering a diverse range of topical themes convened during the conference. Experts opened the sessions on both days with thematic panels in plenary. Please find below a description of each workshop and the summaries from the workshop discussions, which also include suggestions for future avenues as well as contact detail of the workshop chairs. The conference concluded with the annual AHRI Assembly Meeting, followed by a reception hosted by the Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE.


8th September:

18.30: Arrivals and early registration (Senate House lobby, ground floor)

19.00: Evening activity: pub dinner at the Marquis Cornwallis in Bloomsbury (Marchmont St)


9th September:

9.00: Registration (Grand Lobby, 1st floor)
9.30-9.50: Welcome and introductions (Chancellor's Hall, Senate House , 1st Floor)
Professor Roger Kain, Dean, School of Advanced Study
Dr. Damien Short, Director, Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study
Dr. Jonas Christoffersen, Chair of AHRI and Executive Director, Danish Institute for Human Rights

9.50-11.00: Panel 1, 'Emerging Research in Human Rights', Chaired by Dr. Jonas Christoffersen
Professor Martin Scheinen, European University Institute
Dr. Champa Patel, Head of Casework and Activism, Amnesty International UK
Dr. Axel Marx, Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies
Professor Mads Andenas, University of Oslo

11.00-11.30: Break

11.30-13.30: Workshops (in parallel)

Human Rights Activism and Risk: Assessing the Global Impact of the European Union. Chaired by Ms. Karen Bennett.

Human Rights in EU Development, Trade and Investment Policies. Chaired by Dr. Axel Marx.

EU Migrant Communities and Human Rights. Chaired by Professor Tom Hadden.

13.30-14.30: Lunch

14.30-16.30: Workshops (in parallel)

Human Rights in Times of Economic Crises. Chaired by Professor TT Arvind.

New Approaches and Mechanisms of Human Rights Accountability. Chaired by Dr. Margot Salomon.

15.00-15.30: Break

18.00-19.30: Panel discussion and reception hosted at UK Parliament: Key priorities for the UK at the UN Human Rights Council: International Perspectives (limited places available)

Speakers: Professor Martin Scheinen, EUI; Professor Manfred Nowak, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights; Mr. Clive Baldwin, Human Rights Watch; Chaired by Ann Clwyd, MP. 


10th September:

9.00-­10.00: Panel 2, 'Emerging Research in Human Rights', Chaired by Dr. Damien Short
Professor Jan Wouters, Leuven Centre for Global Governance Studies
Professor Björg Thorarensen, University of Iceland
Dr. Stéphanie Lagoutte, Danish Institute for Human Rights

10.00-10.30: Break

10.30-12.30: Workshops (in parallel)

Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights. Chaired by Professor Björg Thorarensen.

The UN and the EU: an Ever Stronger Partnership in Human Rights? Chaired by Professor Jan Wouters.

New role for soft – law in developing international protection of human rights? Chaired by Dr. Stéphanie Lagoutte.

12.30-14.00: Lunch

AHRI Executive Committee working lunch (12.30-14.00)

13.15-15.15: Human Rights Research Students conference panels (all welcome)

14.00-15.00: AHRI Annual General Meeting Part I (for AHRI members and prospective members)

15.00-15.30: Break

15.30-17.00: AHRI Annual General Meeting Part II (all welcome)
Report back to AHRI AGM on workshop proposals
Conference conclusions and ways forward

18.00: Reception hosted by Centre for the Study of Human Rights, LSE


11th September:

9.30-12.30: Human Rights Research Students conference panels (all welcome)

10.30-11.00: Break

12.30-14.00: Lunch  


Workshop: Human Rights Activism and Risk: Assessing the Global Impact of the European Union


Human Rights Activism and Risk: Assessing the Global Impact of the European Union 

WG Panel

Champa Patel, Head of Activism at Amnesty International UK, Chair

Karen Bennett, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, Presentation of research findings: Assessing the Effective Implementation of the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, Case Studies in Kyrgyzstan, Thailand and Tunisia[1] 

Kim Smeby, Office of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Presentation: the recent work of the UN Special Rapporteur on HRDs[2] 

Alice Nah, Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York, Presentation: Research Agenda for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders[3] (recent call for papers and workshop co-ordinated by the University of York, London Metropolitan University and Amnesty International) 


The European Union has played a leading role in promoting respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world, particularly in countries and regions where they are most at risk. The EU links its work on human rights to the promotion of democracy, the alleviation of poverty, and supporting development, anti-terrorism, and the prevention and resolution of conflict. The EU engages with repressive states on human rights issues through political dialogue, trade and cooperation agreements, and through financial and practical support. It has also paid particular attention to human rights defenders at risk, for example, providing financial support to civil society organisations globally through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) and encouraging EU missions to exercise influence through implementing the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders since 2004. However, systematic research is needed in order to assess the impact of the EU’s interventions related to human rights, and to review the (intended and unintended) effects of its actions and implications for strengthening its human rights commitments, including engagement with civil society practitioners of human rights.

In this panel, academics and practitioners put forward ideas for research collaboration assessing the global impact of the European Union on human rights activism and risk. Panel members provided a number of areas where research in human rights activism can inform and strengthen EU policy implementation aimed at promoting ‘enabling environments’ for the defence of human rights, particularly in support of vulnerable groups working in remote areas. The panel argued research is lacking in a number of areas needed to consolidate and increase knowledge specific to the understanding and managing of risk in human rights activism.

Conference participant engagement with the panel focused on the role of the EU and UN, with discussions focused on the findings from the recent research (Bennett) and reports from the UNSR (Smeby). Discussions were on research and reporting activities, methodologies for investigating HRD practice, and questions around international community responses to current problems in human rights activism (i.e. complexities involved in providing protection to whistle-blowers). The outcome of the Workshop focussed on how best to strengthen research activities between academic researchers and human rights practitioners, and to consider the benefits that this collaboration might provide to a global agenda for the study of Human Rights Activism and Risk. The Workshop facilitators put forth a number of models for collaborative research between practitioners and academics in this area, in order to: 1) make research more responsive to needs of practitioners; 2) enhance academic’s role in understanding human rights practice beyond evaluative research, 3) encourage academics to consider a participatory model of research working with civil society experts, to encourage more informed EU understanding and international responses to human rights policy,  and 4) broaden dissemination and applicability of  academic research, to be accessible and useful to facilitate other people’s learning experiences (i.e. human rights defenders working in remote areas). 

The working group has decided applying for a COST Action would not be the best use of our time, as we have already begun activities through a number of collaborative channels to increase our research activities in this area. We would be interested in working on a collective effort with interested AHRI members to submit an EU bid. More details on the development of this action will follow.   

If interested in research activities in this area, please contact Karen Bennett: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 


Workshop: Human Rights in EU Development, Trade and Investment Policies


Human Rights in EU Development, Trade and Investment Policies

9 September, 11:30-13:30, Rapporteur: Anna-Luise Chané


The workshop on Human Rights in EU Development, Trade and Investment Policies, chaired by Dr. Rafael Leal-Arcas (Queen Mary University of London), focused on the recent efforts of the EU to integrate human rights into its external policies. The workshop highlighted the significant challenges the EU faces thereby, both internally and externally, ranging from: fragmentation of human rights-related competences and lack of coherency between its policies, contestation of the universality and legitimacy of human rights norms by third countries, and lack of credibility as a promoter of human rights. Approaching these issues from a variety of different angles, the workshop sought to identify existing knowledge gaps and to encourage new and interdisciplinary research initiatives.

Dr. Lorand Bartels (University of Cambridge) laid the groundwork by discussing the EU's external human rights obligations under EU law, focusing on domestic regulatory measures with external human rights impact. He argued that neither customary international law nor human rights treaty law contains a legal basis for this kind of obligation and referred to both the contradictory jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights and the silence of the European Court of Justice on the issue. He then pointed out the fundamental role of Art. 21 (1) and (3) TEU, both enacted by the Lisbon Treaty. Art. 21 (3) TEU states that the Union "shall respect the principles and pursue the objectives set out in paragraphs 1 and 2", among these the principle of universality and indivisibility of human rights. The provision applies to the whole range of the external action of the European Union and to the external action of its other policies. Dr. Bartels argued that Art. 21 (3) TEU radically changes the status quo and merited a greater focus in academic literature.

Dr. Axel Marx (Leuven GGS) then presented a paper on Human Rights in EU Development Policies. He gave an overview of different strategies for integrating human rights in development cooperation and pointed out the ensuing host of open legal and empirical questions. Referring to human rights conditionality—the inclusion of human rights as a factor in the allocation of aid budgets—he argued that significant challenges resulted from variations between donors about the meaning and content of "human rights", the assessment of compliance, and the choice of indicators. Donors were uncertain about the balancing of human rights and other conditions in the selection of partner countries and about the termination of budget allocation in cases of violations of human rights. He further stated that human rights and democracy programmes, which seek to directly support human rights, face a measurement challenge due to the difficulty in quantitatively and qualitatively assessing their effectiveness. The EU as well as many bilateral donors, on the other hand, has adopted a human rights based approach: human rights as both a means for achieving development and a goal of development cooperation. Dr. Marx pointed out that in the current state there is a lot of experimenting on human rights based approaches by different actors, and that it is still an outstanding question of if and how it should be applied in development cooperation.

Ms. Laura Beke (Leuven GGS) gave an introduction to Trade, Human Rights and the GSP reform. The EU uses a generalized system of preferences (GSP) which gives preferential access to developing countries when exporting their products to the EU market. Beneficiary countries must fulfil certain human rights obligations in order to avoid withdrawal of the preferential conditions. Ms. Beke referred to the frequent criticism of the system, based on the vagueness of the human rights conditions, the arbitrary choice of human rights commitments, monitoring problems, lack of transparency, and democratic legitimacy as well as double standards. She identified research questions in three areas: decision-making, policy-making, and operationalization of human rights, especially concerning the roles and relationships of the European institutions after the Lisbon Treaty, the influence of the voting behaviour of the Member States on EU GSP policy, the threshold for EU sanctions, and the potential design of a sticks and carrots approach to reach the desired goal.

Mr. Nicolas Hachez (Leuven GGS) rounded off the workshop with his presentation on Human rights impacts of EU investment policy. Based on the frequent criticism that bilateral investment treaties are detrimental to human rights protection due to their strong protection of investors, he took a closer look at recent developments at the European level and asked whether the EU could give international investment law a new direction. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty the EU has acquired the competence on investment over the member states and the EU is committed to a strong human rights agenda, as evidenced by Art. 21 TEU, the Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy, and Item 11 of the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy. Mr. Hachez highlighted that the EU could overhaul international investment law if it chose to replace the existing bilateral investment treaties of the member states with agreements that are more favorable to human rights. However, with a look at the pragmatic approaches of the Council and the Member States, as well as at the reluctance of the partner countries to include standard human rights language, he drew the cautious preliminary conclusion that it will be difficult for the EU to be a game changer. 


Workshop: EU Migrant Communities and Human Rights

Under construction 


Workshop: Human Rights in Times of Economic Crises

Under construction 


Workshop: New Approaches and Mechanisms of Human Rights Accountability

Under construction


Workshop: Protocol No. 15 to the European Convention on Human Rights

Workshop on Current Developments in European Human Rights Protection - Conclusions and Way Forward

Chair: Professor Björg Thorarensen, Human Right Institute, University of Iceland

Speakers: Professor Oddný Mjöll Arnardóttir, Human Rights Institute, University of Iceland
Associate professor Antoine Buyse, Netherlands Institute of Human Rights, Utrecht University

Summary of the Workshop

This workshop addressed current developments in European human rights protection from the perspective of the reform of the European Court of Human Rights, culminating most recently in the Brighton Declaration and two new Protocols to the ECHR, and the EU’s increased engagement with human rights through the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the intended accession to the ECHR.

The intended accession of the EU to the ECHR is likely to create increased interpenetration and dialogue between the Strasbourg Court and the Luxembourg Court. This, in turn, will increase the complexity of the multi-layered realities of human rights protection in Europe, not only from the perspective of access to justice and rules of procedure, but also from the perspective of the normative development of substantive rights and the methods and modes of reasoning employed by the two courts. The Brighton Declaration’s emphasis on moving responsibility from the European level to the domestic level, which finds concrete expression in the emphasis placed on the principle of subsidiarity and the doctrine of the margin of appreciation in Protocol 15 and the new advisory opinion procedure constructed under Protocol 16, adds yet another layer of complexity to the mix.

The Brighton Declaration and recently adopted amendments in the Strasbourg control mechanism have only addressed the tip of the iceberg and the short-term problems the ECtHR is facing in terms of its case-load and the legitimacy dilemma created by criticism directed towards the quality of the bench and the quality and consistency of the Court’s case-law. The Committee of Ministers shall decide whether further short-term measures are needed to improve the situation of the Court by the end of 2015. While the solutions offered from this short-term perspective only take the form of minor tweaks in the current control mechanism, the political momentum behind the Brighton Declaration at the time of its adoption reached further and placed a more serious review of the Court’s nature and role on the agenda. The question of whether more fundamental changes to the system are needed is to be decided before the end of 2019. In this respect the Brighton Declaration expressly calls for participation and advice from external experts regarding a comprehensive analysis of the issues and possible solutions.

It was agreed by the participants in the workshop that these developments raised many questions and provided fertile ground for research into the future of human rights protection in Europe from various perspectives. It was also decided that those present and a few other individuals/groups that had already expressed interest in engaging in a research collaboration around the issues identified would form a ‘core group’ that would continue developing the themes and look into funding opportunities. Finally, it was decided that researchers from within and outside the AHRI network should be able to join the collaboration.


Workshop: The UN and the EU: an Ever Stronger Partnership in Human Rights?


The UN and the EU: an Ever Stronger Partnership in Human Rights?

The panel on The UN and the EU: an Ever Stronger Partnership in Human Rights?, chaired by Professor Jan Wouters (Leuven GGS), sought to discuss the way that the EU's strong commitment to human rights and multilateralism in the treaty of Lisbon could connect to the United Nations' legal and institutional system of human rights protection. This was discussed both from the internal perspective of the EU (How can the EU get organized so as to be present and to impact the work of the UN?) and from a relational perspective (Does the EU's exercise of its HR agenda support the UN's human rights activities, or does it clash with it?). From these debates emerged a number of questions that could be exploited in further research.

In this framework, four very interesting presentations were delivered.

First of all, workshop attendees were very lucky to receive an authorized perspective from the inside: Mr. Bert Theuermann, Chair of COHOM and member of the European External Action Service, very much responsible for the implementation of the EU's commitment to promote human rights worldwide, presented the challenges and opportunities which the EU is facing when it engages with the different UN human rights bodies.

One challenge that Mr. Theuermann emphasized from the outset is the fact that the EU human rights agenda refers extensively to European human rights standards, like the charter of fundamental rights and the European Convention of Human Rights, but hardly ever mentions UN human rights standards. Therefore, EU policies (notably as reflected in the Council's Strategic Framework and Action Plan) could be more embedded into UN human rights standards.

A second challenge is that of planning. As the EU is to engage actively with the UN and now has a special status at the UN, a challenge is to take advantage fully of this status. In the early days, apparently the EU was more in a reactive position in sessions of the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council, etc., going from session to session, and often finding itself in a defensive position. Now the EU tries to think ahead and to prepare a strategy early in advance for each session, defining priorities and doing so in collaboration with member states.

A third challenge is the challenge of coordination of the EU with its member states, which is quite daunting, especially since human rights are addressed in different UN bodies in which the EU has

different rights or is unevenly represented. So while coordination is very context- and topic-specific, the situation is improving.

So the question is how the EU can improve its performance as far as its external relations policies connect with the work at the UN; this involves defining the relations that the EU has with its member states. In this relation, Mr. Theuermann is of the opinion that, though one often hears that the EU should speak with one voice, in fact it should, 'speak with many voices from the same song sheet': not only the EU should be speaking, but the member states should also speak up to support EU positions.

A second presentation was delivered by Professor Piet Eeckhout (UCL) on the famous Kadi case. Professor Eeckhout was also a very authorized speaker on this topic since he was on Mr. Kadi's defense team. After recalling the different procedures before the EU jurisdictions to challenge the restrictive measures imposed on Mr. Kadi as a result of his listing on the list of sanctions, Professor Eeckhout underlined the criticism that the Kadi case-law had generated.

A first line of critique was that the ECJ had confronted the UN Security Council and did not try to enter into a dialogue with it, which perhaps ran the risk of antagonizing it and making the Security Council abandon any initiative for reform in that area. Professor Eeckhout argued that this was not the case, since so far the Security Council had changed its listing procedures, and had notably appointed an ombudsman, partly as a result of the rulings of the European Court of Justice. The possibility of inserting, within the EU sanction regulations themselves, a condition of exhaustion of the recourse to the UN ombudsman before the measure could be challenged before the European Court of Justice was also evoked. The fact that in its last judgment the European Court of Justice provides that a dialogue must be engaged between the UN Security Council and the institutions when a challenge is mounted before it against a sanction is also an interesting development in this regard.

A second line of criticism that was raised is that, in its case-law, the European Court of Justice focused too much on EU law and not on international law, thereby leading to accusations of 'parochialism'. However, in its last case, the Court refers to UN standards of human rights. Also, Professor Eeckhout wanted to relativize the accusation of parochialism because the standards contained notably in the European Convention of Human Rights can be considered universal. So this presentation raised very interesting questions as to the potential for clash or coordination between the EU and the UN Security Council through the action of the European Court of Justice.

Third, Ms. Carolina Pavese (LSE) delivered a very interesting presentation on the potential that the 2007 strategic partnership between the EU and Brazil had to form a front in favor of human rights at the UN. Ms. Pavese underlined that the EU and Brazil, through this partnership, are crossing traditional lines of divide: geographical and between developed and developing countries. Therefore it is quite interesting to see what the results of this partnership are in terms of human rights action at the UN. After an analysis of voting behavior between the EU and Brazil in the Human Rights Council, it appeared the EU and Brazil are not yet on the same page, and need to turn their partnership from rhetoric to action. This presentation thus raised the question of partnerships that the EU as an entity can make with other important member states to advance strategically on human rights.

Finally, the workshop concluded with a presentation by Ms. Katrien Meuwissen (Leuven GGS) on National Human Rights Institutions, their role, and their status at the UN and in the EU. After a presentation of NHRIs, their diversity, their role, and also the principles that govern their design and functioning (the so-called Paris principles), Ms. Meuwissen gave an overview of the role of NHRIs at the UN, notably in the HRC and treaty bodies. Ms. Meuwissen then gave an update on the situation of NHRIs in the EU, where there are currently 24 in 17 countries. NHRIs can be very effective tools for the implementation of human rights on the ground in a very fragmented, multilevel human rights system. They can act as bridges between those different levels, notably: top-down when a special rapporteur requests information to the NHRI; bottom-up when the NHRI contributes, for example, a shadow report in the framework of the UPR; vertically when it helps a state draft its own report; or vertically when it collaborates with civil society or assists citizens. There are therefore a lot of opportunities for research on NHRIs in the multilevel human rights governance system.


Workshop: New role for soft-law in developing international protection of human rights?

New role for soft-law in developing international protection of human rights?

The AHRI workshop held in London on the 10th of September 2013 gathered about 25 researchers who discussed the book proposal and proposed a number of topics and relevant case-studies. There was a high interest in being part of the book project which was considered timely.

The book project has the following working title: "Tracing the role of soft law across the human rights field"; It is an anthology on the role of soft law, which builds on a core of relevant case-studies and takes stock of the newest developments in the human rights field.

As to the way forward, three editors are in the process of being identified. They will meet in Copenhagen in December 2013 in order to draft the conceptual framework for the book, send a call for abstract to the AHRI network and other relevant research institutions and plan the work in 2014. The September 2014 AHRI Conference will be the occasion to present draft book chapters (a few case-studies & the conceptual chapters). Our aim is to publish the book should at the end of 2014.

A Call for abstract will be send at the beginning of 2014. Contact person: Stéphanie Lagoutte, Senior Researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)


























Additional information