Human Rights Research Network

Thematic Streams

The conference paid particular (but not exclusive) attention to the themes listed hereunder.

Click on the title of each theme to find out more.

  • TS1. Climate Justice

    Conveners: An Cliquet, Stef Craps, Hendrik Schoukens

    The concept of climate justice points to the fact that there are major inequalities in the global distribution of responsibility for and vulnerability to climate change. Those communities and individuals least responsible for climate change tend to be hit the hardest by its effects, while those most responsible perpetuate or even exacerbate existing inequities. In recent years, youth activists worldwide have added an intergenerational dimension to calls to address this wrong. They have adopted the vocabulary of climate justice to express their anger over the fact that young people and unborn future generations will be disproportionately negatively impacted by the climate crisis.

    Global and intergenerational injustices around climate change are being vigorously exposed in the streets as well as in courts and tribunals around the world. A laboratory for both lawyers and judges, climate litigation frequently involves the invocation of human rights, with both states and non-state actors being sued for violating plaintiffs’ human rights (e.g. the right to life, food, health, housing, and an adequate standard of living).

    This stream invites proposals for presentations exploring climate justice as a concept, a principle, a demand and a practice that are often informed by and intersect with human rights discourses. We explicitly welcome contributions from different academic disciplines as well as from activist, practitioner and artistic contexts.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are emphatically not restricted to, the following:

    • What is the conceptual link between climate justice and human rights?
    • What are the causes and consequences of the human rights turn in climate litigation? Does this shift entail any risks, for instance when different rights come into conflict?
    • Do we not need to go beyond the ‘human’ in human rights when considering climate justice? Does the human-centred outlook of the UDHR and other human rights treaties and institutions limit their relevance and effectiveness in meeting the challenges posed by a warming planet? What about the interests of non-human entities that are also threatened by climate change?
    • Does pursuing climate justice require attributing intrinsic value to the natural world? How is this intrinsic value to be determined? Is there room for this within a human rights paradigm?
    • What are the conceptual and legal bases for the protection of the rights of future generations in the context of the adverse effects of climate change? What moral obligations do current generations have towards future generations in addressing the threat of climate change? (How) are such obligations enshrined in human rights instruments, and how should they be?
    • Who or what are to be considered legitimate targets of climate litigation, besides governments and private energy companies?
    • What contribution can the arts make to the climate justice conversation?
    • Can and should academics promote climate justice? What responsibilities do academics have in the face of the climate crisis and the inequities it intensifies?
  • TS2. Decolonisation and Racial Justice

    Conveners: Jan Orbie, Cira Palli-Aspero

    When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948, many people and communities in the world still lived under colonial rule. While subsequent decades have witnessed the formal decolonisation of many countries in the Global South, it is widely acknowledged that the legacies of colonialism have persisted until today in the form, for example, of social and racial injustice and structural inequalities. The relationship between human rights and decolonisation remains complex, ambiguous and in some cases highly contested. For instance, while human rights have often been instrumentally used to justify (neo)colonial agendas, they have also inspired the oppressed to resist against the abuses of power, for instance the Black Lives Matter movement.

    In this stream, we aim to analyse how notions of human rights and (de)colonisation interconnect. We want to examine how, when and by whom the relationship between human rights and (de)colonisation has taken place and has been conceptualised. Our starting point is a critical and inclusive approach to the universality of human rights. We acknowledge that colonial histories lie at the basis of epistemic and material inequalities that inform hegemonic human rights knowledge and practice. At the same time, we recognise the emancipatory potential and evolving nature of human rights. This raises questions about human rights and decolonisation that need to be addressed from a multiplicity of perspectives and form different dimensions (e.g., institutional, geopolitical, material decolonisation, or decolonisation of the mind, among others).

    We aim to foster inter- and transdisciplinary conversations on this topic by connecting different disciplinary approaches (ranging from history and literary studies to politics and psychology, among others) and involving voices beyond academia. We therefore aim to attract academic contributions on the conceptualisation and practice of the human rights-(de)colonisation nexus as well as activist, practitioner and artistic contributions that grapple with these matters.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • What are the conceptual, practical, empirical, historical and other links between human rights and decolonisation?
    • How can the ontologies and epistemologies that underpin human rights become more plural?
    • How and when are/can/should human rights (be) invoked in decolonisation processes?
    • How are decolonisation processes contributing to the construction of human rights norms, discourse and practice?
    • What are the responsibilities of scholars and civil society organisations in decolonisation processes? What is the role of human rights in this?
    • What modes of engaged scholarship, policy advocacy and activism are possible and desirable?
    • What is the impact (if any) of the digital revolution on decolonisation processes?
    • How can/should educational processes contribute to/challenge the reproduction of colonial structures? What is the role of human rights in this?

    We will connect our stream to the city of Ghent by organising a decolonisation city tour in the historical city of Ghent and a panel debate on ‘Black Pete’ in Belgium (‘Transforming Traditions: Black Pete, Racial Injustice, and Human Rights’).

  • TS3. Realising the Right to Food

    Conveners: Amber Steyaert, Joost Dessein, Carl Lachat 

    According to the United Nations, the right to adequate food is realised when everyone ‘has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement’. Simply said, this means food needs to be available, accessible and adequate for everyone. While this first condition has been met, given that globally we currently produce 1.5 times more food then we consume, the other two have proven more difficult to realise. At this moment nearly one in three people worldwide do not have access to adequate food (FAO, 2021). To address these issues, we are in urgent need of more transparency and accountability in decision-making about food.

    Within this thematic stream we want to explore ways of realising the right to food in a trans-disciplinary way and on the basis of both empirical and theoretical knowledge. Amongst the key topics that we aim to cover in this thematic stream are food justice, epistemic justice, food democracy, inclusiveness, citizen engagement, agro-ecology, food sovereignty, food and nutrition security, access to adequate food, healthy and sustainable diets, vulnerable groups in food systems, cultural rights, food agency and sustainability, public health, food safety, accountability, co-creation and design.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • How can a human rights approach to food be integrated across different academic and societal disciplines?
    • How should participative and co-creative research approaches to realising the right to food be designed?
    • How can the right to food be operationalised at different governance scales?
    • How can inclusion of voices that are currently being marginalised, such as ethnic minorities, low-income households and indigenous communities, be increased in realising the right to food?
    • What role do social movements and activism play in realising the right to food?
  • TS4. Digital Technologies and Human Rights

    Conveners: Eva Lievens, Ingrida Milkaite, Lien Stolle, Valerie Verdoodt, Argyro Chatzinikolaou

    This thematic stream addresses the ways in which digital technologies can contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights, or endanger them and pose a threat to their realisation. Within this broader theme, the stream will focus specifically on topics related to the roles of, challenges for and impact of different actors in the human rights ecosystem.

    We invite scholars from different disciplines – among others, people working in the fields of computer science, data science, communication science, political science, economics, natural language processing, UX design, and psychology – to reflect on these issues. We also encourage stakeholders, such as industry representatives, journalists, activists, lawyers, practitioners and policy makers working on this topic, to join the discussion.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • Which threats to the human rights of vulnerable individuals (e.g. children, the elderly, minorities, individuals with disabilities) and human rights defenders (e.g. journalists, environmental defenders, academics) result from the use of digital technologies?
    • How can digital technologies be used to empower vulnerable individuals and facilitate the work of human rights defenders?
    • To what extent do human rights organisations need to adopt ‘new’ human rights in light of digital technologies?
    • What are the responsibilities of tech providers to prevent and remedy human rights violations?
    • How do self- and co-regulatory approaches work in safeguarding human rights in relation to digital technologies?
    • What are the challenges for governments regarding the effect of digitisation public services on citizens’ human rights?
    • How can we address the strained relationship between academia and tech companies regarding human rights topics?
    • What is the potential of ‘by design’ approaches that aim to embed respect for human rights into the design of technologies and require cooperation between individuals with different backgrounds?
    • How can co-design approaches that involve tech users in the design of technologies contribute to support human rights?


    Within this stream, we envisage a specific panel session on issues related to the (human) right (not) to use the internet. Such issues include (but are not limited to) the autonomous recognition of the right to access the internet, questions in relation to the extent to which people have a right to refuse to use digital (public) services, or the impact of the digital divide on vulnerable groups, such as children or elderly. Contributors to that panel will be offered an opportunity to publish a chapter in a book edited by Eva Lievens, Dariusz Kloza, Valerie Verdoodt & Elżbieta Kużelewska.


  • TS5. Migration and Human Rights

    Conveners: Ellen Desmet, Jinske Verhellen, Geertrui Daem, Ilse Ruyssen, Katrijn Maryns, Justine Feyereisen

    Migrants’ human rights are among the most difficult ones to be realised. This stream aims to critically explore the interaction between migration and human rights. We welcome different kinds of contributions on the nexus between migration and human rights. We are interested in generating a space of encounter for multiple perspectives, such as those of persons with a migratory experience, practitioners, policy makers, academics and artists.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • What do human rights mean for migrants?
    • What challenges do migrants face in accessing human rights? How are different ‘categories’ of migrants affected by these challenges?
    • How do human rights function as law, discourse and practice in the context of migration?
    • What is the relevance of the migration-related articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art 13, the right to leave any country; art 14, the right to seek and enjoy asylum; and art 15, the right to nationality)?
    • How do migrants contribute to the development of human rights?
    • How can migrants’ perspectives be voiced?
    • How can the heterogeneity of migrants’ experiences be captured in research, policies and practices?
    • What is the role of academics in debates on migrants’ human rights?
    • How can non-hegemonic perspectives on the migration-human rights nexus be more visible and have more impact?
    • What innovative methods and data might assist in researching migrants’ human rights and challenges?
  • TS6. The Politics of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights

    Conveners: Ines Keygnaert, Emilie Peeters, Pieter Cannoot

    In this stream we aim to bring together a range of academic disciplines, policy makers, community voices, activists and artists to discuss reproduction policy and come up with ways to use the scientific evidence available to ensure human rights-based approaches to sexual and reproductive health. We will also look into the role academics are still allowed to play in a world where scientific evidence on sexual and reproductive health and rights can be misused or misinterpreted to support a higher political purpose.

    For this stream we will combine research presentations, evidence from personal experiences and panel discussions. We would like to collaborate with art students and include art installations in the event room to create additional artistic inspiration for the discussions.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • How are human rights affected when reproductive rights policies become a means to a higher political purpose?

    The use of reproductive rights policy as a population control mechanism is not new. In Nazi Germany, racially ‘pure’ women were forced into pregnancies in order to have a majority of blonde and blue-eyed children. Up until 2015, many Chinese families were allowed to have only one child. Still today, stratified reproduction is influencing the debates around climate change, migration and LGBTQIA+ rights in Europe.

    Is overpopulation actually the motor of climate disruption or is it a way to blame large families in low-income countries for the effects of overconsumption in high-income countries? Does the use of wording such as ‘refugee streams’ impact on the way we look at the reproductive choices of newcomers? Do laws define who is more eligible to have children than others?

    • How are human rights affected when policy makers, predominantly cis male, define sexual health policy for minority groups?

    Policy makers and doctors, still today predominantly male professions, have dominated the making of abortion laws and decisions on who could or could not have an abortion, also who can or should be sterilised. It is only recently that feminist organisations stood up and showcased the importance of women’s autonomy in this debate. This led on the one hand to cases like Ireland, where abortion was legalised up to the 12th week of pregnancy in 2018, but on the other to the United States Supreme Court overruling Roe v Wade in 2022, stating that abortion is not a constitutional right and that individual states have the authority to regulate abortion. How would we envision a different type of policy-making that includes the opinions of target populations? Are abortion laws a way to restrict women’s sexuality? And to what extent is a woman’s right to decide on the number and spacing of children an issue that can be overruled by third parties such as medical professionals and policy makers?

    Where sexuality education is included in school curricula, it often solely focuses on heterosexual relationships between cisgender people, omitting any attention to LGBTQIA+ relationships and experiences. More recently, in several countries policies have been issued forbidding altogether non-heterosexual relationships being addressed in sexuality education. In others, parents are allowed to exclude their children from attending sexuality education classes. How can we ensure that sexuality education includes family structures and types of relations that reflect the myriad possibilities that we see lived in reality today? Can we make comprehensive sexuality education compulsory or should different forms of sexual education be developed for different groups in order to ensure some form of sexual education?

    In most countries, people only have the option to be identifiable as either male or female in the national registration and on their official identity documents, which leaves no room for other genders. Is gender registration as such not in conformity with human rights and should it be abandoned altogether? Or are alternatives, such as adding a third category ‘X’ or several categories, a viable option?

  • TS7. Current Themes in the Analysis of Human Rights

    Conveners: Alina Cherviatsova, Giselle Corradi and Gustavo Prieto Munoz

    This thematic stream includes panels and roundtable discussions on multiple topics that were spontaneously proposed by conference presenters in response to the call for papers.

  • TS8. Human Rights, Truth and Power

    Conveners: Emiliano Acosta, Berber Bevernage, Marie-Bénédicte Dembour, Gertrudis Van de Vijver

    The Universal Declaration of Human Rights neither mentions a right to truth nor alludes to the difficulties of establishing ‘the truth’ of human rights violations. Since the Declaration was proclaimed, however, it has become clear that the interactions between human rights, truth and power require both conceptual and practical attention. This stream invites participants to explore these from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. We invite legal scholars, historians, philosophers, sociologists, psychologists and other scholars, as well as practitioners and artists, to join our conversation.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • How is the truth of human rights violations established?
    • To what extent do legal rules and procedures facilitate or hinder this process?
    • Who is considered to be able to speak (to) the truth? Whose voice is included? Whose excluded?
    • Is it possible to avoid narrative or epistemic inequality in this context?
    • What is truth? Can it be achieved or is it best conceived as perpetually sought?
    • Does it make sense to distinguish between different kinds of truth, such as historical truth, judicial truth, experiential truth, etc?
    • Does truth lead to justice? Is truth a precondition of justice?
    • Do the truth and justice the UDHR promises remain relevant in our era?
  • TS9. Human Rights Knowledge through Experience

    Conveners: Didier Reynaert, Geert Van Hove, Marijke D’Haese

    In recent decades, human rights have become established in many research institutions around the world. This has given scientific knowledge of human rights a significant boost. A similar development took place in policy and practice, in which a human-rights-based approach was adopted in many areas, ranging from increasing the accessibility of services for people with disabilities, through guaranteeing access to drinking water or sanitation services, to ensuring a fair price for farmers who market their products. The practical knowledge that has been developed over the years has made a significant contribution to the realisation of human rights. In addition to the development of scientific knowledge and practical knowledge, the third source of knowledge in relation to human rights, knowledge through experience, has remained rather limited. This concerns knowledge about human rights from the perspective and experiences of those who are confronted with human rights violations: people with disabilities, people with a migrant background, people with a lack of drinking water, people in poverty, etc.

    People whose rights are violated on a daily and structural basis not only experience the non-realisation of their basic rights, but are also confronted with the experience that their voice and perspective on their own situation are not acknowledged. As a result, these people experience a lack of representation of their interests in society and consequently a lack of recognitions as full citizens. The experience of what it means to live in poverty, of not having access to society because of a disability, of not being able to use essential sanitation facilities, etc. is a source of knowledge that has not yet received sufficient attention in the field of human rights.

    Under the slogan ‘nothing about us without us if for us’, this seems to have changed in recent years. In this stream we want to focus on the relationship between human rights and the voice of the very people whose rights are being violated. We do this based on the recognition that knowledge by experience is a third source of knowledge in addition to scientific knowledge and practical knowledge.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • How does experiential knowledge contribute to our understanding of how human rights are realised or not?
    • How can experiential knowledge as a third source of knowledge be fully embedded in human rights practice and policy?
    • How is experiential knowledge related to scientific knowledge and practical knowledge in the study of human rights?
    • How can experiential knowledge be given a place in the scientific study of human rights and what research approaches and methods are supportive?
  • TS10. Multi-layered Human Rights Protection in Europe

    Conveners: Inge Govaere, Peter Van Elsuwege, Joyce De Coninck

    Through the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Union, as well as its Member States, became legally bound to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. This Charter is an EU-specific and comprehensive document, covering both civil and political rights and socio-economic rights and freedoms, as well as ‘third generation’ fundamental rights such as data protection, guarantees on bioethics and transparent administration. It is applicable to and in the EU Member States in conjunction with international human rights law, including UN treaties and the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), as well as in parallel with domestic constitutional law, which traditionally is considered the primary national guardian of human rights protection.

    This multi-layered approach to human rights protection is reflected in Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union. The latter states that ‘the EU shall accede to the ECHR’, but it does not spell out how this should be done, nor with which implications. The applicability of the Charter, together with the potential accession of the EU to the ECHR and the traditional layer of human rights protection at the constitutional level of EU Member States, generates an endless string of unsolved issues.

    We invite academics from various disciplinary backgrounds, such as law, political science, EU studies and (legal) anthropology, to submit proposals tackling the interacting and multi-layered nature of human rights protection in Europe. We are interested in ‘bottom-up’ perspectives that address the realities of groups and individuals seeking protection, as well as in ‘top-down’ perspectives analysing the implications for policy making.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • How are (and/or should be) these different domestic, regional and international regimes of human rights protection related to one another, when applicable in parallel?
    • What potential legal norm conflict arises out of the dynamic between the Court of Justice of the European Union, the European Court of Human Rights, and their mutual interactions with domestic adjudicatory regimes?
    • What opportunities can be seized for human rights harmonisation in this multi-layered system of human rights protection?
  • TS11. Human Rights and Accountability

    Conveners: Tine Destrooper and Marie-Benedicte Dembour

    Human rights have long been described as being in crisis. At one end of the spectrum are those who criticise human rights for quick political gain, with an argumentation that seeks to delegitimise and undermine a system intended to offer protection to those at risk of having their rights violated. At the other end are scholars and practitioners who genuinely worry that the human rights system remains unable to offer adequate protection to all rights-holders. One of their central concerns is that the system does not capture the everyday realities of all rights-holders. At the heart of this type of critique lies the realisation that formal human rights systems are finding it difficult to provide solutions to multi-layered human rights challenges, which are occurring in rapidly changing and vastly complex societal contexts. Indeed, if human rights are to continue to offer a widely accepted framework for thinking about (social) justice, we urgently need to revisit some of their core assumptions and characteristics. Because human rights are not spontaneously respected, this endeavour is particularly urgent in respect to human rights accountability, given that a significant accountability gap emerges when accountability mechanisms are not tailored to the real challenges faced by rights-holders.

    The question driving this thematic stream is thus how accountability for human rights violations can be achieved so as to ensure better human rights protection in line with the everyday experience of rights-holders.

    We invite contributors to consider this overarching question by providing either specific case studies or accounts from practical experience, as well as more theoretical perspectives. We are particularly interested in contributions which themselves cross disciplinary boundaries or lend themselves to being further developed in discussion with others.

    Possible questions to be addressed within this thematic stream include, but are not restricted to, the following:

    • What persons should be considered human rights duty-bearers and thus held accountable for human rights violations, but now slip through the net?
    • What conceptual advantage is there in speaking in terms of accountability rather than, say, responsibility or compliance?
    • What should accountability, comprising various layers beyond the legal, look like?
    • What is the role in this of social movements and social mobilisation for human rights?
  • TS12. Data, Methods and Methodology in Human Rights Research

    Conveners: Tine Destrooper, Gustavo Prieto, Elke Evrard, Sofie Verclyte

    Within this thematic stream we invite the submission of posters contributing insights on research methods in human rights scholarship.

    The posters should highlight the opportunities and perils of the methods currently used in human rights research in various disciplines. We invite presentations focused on how research is actually being conducted, meaning the specific steps and choices made to engage with new knowledge: how and where is data being collected? What techniques are used? How is information processed and what tools are used to analyse it? We are also interested in understanding the embedded conceptual and epistemological assumptions, such as the definition of the ‘field of enquiry’ that leads to practical decisions while developing research on human rights.

    Through their posters, researchers will have the opportunity to promote their current research and methods in human rights scholarship. In addition, the poster presentation will create a unique space for young and experienced researchers to get together and reflect on the future of human rights research.

    Please note that this thematic stream only welcomes contributions in the following formats:

    • Posters
    • Round-table discussion