2021 in Review: Looking back, moving forward

Published 1 February 2022


2021 in Review: Looking back, moving forward
The beginning of 2022 presents the perfect opportunity to reflect on the wonderful and vibrant year for the NNHRR that was 2021. Despite the challenges, the Network continued its work organizing and supporting a number of events. Additionally, the Network expanded owing to the addition of many new individual members joining from the recently incorporated stakeholder universities, namely, Radboud University Nijmegen, the Open University of the Netherlands and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Throughout 2021, the NNHRR organized and supported numerous events, research workshops and lectures on a range of topics, with some of the highlights shared below.

Fourth Annual NNHRR Conference: Human Rights and Vulnerability

The Fourth Annual Conference on ‘Human Rights and Vulnerability’ was hosted by Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of Amsterdam together with the Asser Institute from 22-24 June. The conference featured a keynote speech by Prof. Gerard Quinn, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, and comprised panels and working group workshops which discussed the conference theme. The event was attended by human rights researchers and students worldwide which contributed to the sessions being highly interactive.

Annual PhD Training 2021

On the 5th of November, the NNHRR and the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights virtually hosted the first part of the NNHRR’s Annual PhD Training. The event covered various topics ranging from human rights research methods to academic life planning aimed at achieving a work/life balance and skills sessions for participants who had just started their PhDs. The attendees then gathered in a virtual get-together to engage with three PhD researchers who are further along in their studies. The second part of the PhD Training will be organised by Maastricht University in May 2022 as an in-person event.

Annual Follow-up PhD Training 2021: 'Getting heard, getting hired'

On 21-22 October, Radboud University hosted the Annual Follow-up PhD Training aimed at third- and fourth-year PhD candidates. The first day of the workshop focused on research output, publishing in international peer-reviewed journals and publishing one’s dissertation as a monograph. The second day consisted of a number of events focused on career prospects. One workshop on analytical storytelling helped the PhD candidates to practice pitching their research to non-academic audiences. Another focused on academic and non-academic careers.

Joëlle Trampert (University of Amsterdam): ‘I spent a wonderful two days at the law faculty of the RU Nijmegen. During several interactive panels, we had the opportunity to speak to experts in the fields about everything related to getting heard (publishing) and getting hired (careers). Besides the analytical storytelling workshop, the (real life!) escape room was also a highlight for me - although I definitely need more training! All in all, I learned a lot, and it was a great way to (re)connect with other Network members.’

Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award 2021

On Human Rights Day (10 December), the Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award was presented during an online ceremony organised by the NNHRR and Tilburg Law School. The event included a keynote speech by Dr. Bahia Tahzib-Lie, Human Rights Ambassador in the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on Education lasts a lifetime: let’s give human rights a greater place in the classroom. Following the keynote, the award winners were announced by the Jury.

Dr Yousra Benfquih (Universiteit Antwerpen) was awarded the Max van der Stoel Human Rights Award for the best PhD in the field of human rights. Her PhD is titled 'Reasonable Accommodation in Education: An Integrated Human Rights Approach on the basis of the Right to Equality, Inclusive Education and Freedom of Religion'.

Katie Pentney (Leiden University) was the winner of the Max van der Stoel Category 2 prize for her Masters-thesis titled ‘Tinker, Tailor, Twitter, Lie: Government Disinformation and Freedom of Expression in a Post-Truth Era’.

Online Lecture with Prof. Tom Ginsburg: ‘Democracies and International Law’

Also in December, Prof. Tom Ginsburg (University of Chicago), delivered an online lecture on his recent book Democracies and International Law (CUP, 2021). During his talk, Prof. Ginsburg surveyed the state of democracy-enhancing international law across several continents and provided ideas for a way forward in the face of rising authoritarianism. The event was followed by a discussion with remarks by Dr. Uladzislau Belavusau (Asser Institute) and moderated by Dr. León Castellanos-Jankiewicz (Asser Institute, NNHRR Academic Coordinator). PhD members were also welcome to join an informal meet and greet with Prof. Ginsburg.

James Patrick Sexton (Research Intern at the T.M.C. Asser Institute):  ‘As someone who aspires to pursue a PhD and is currently trying to formulate a research proposal, hearing Prof. Ginsburg talk so candidly about his academic journey was hugely insightful. His recommendation to embrace other fields and methodologies in one’s legal research has motivated me to take a more holistic approach in my future research.'

Research Workshops

The NNHRR Research Workshops in Human Rights are funded by the Network and represent opportunities for Network members to discuss academic work in an interdisciplinary and inter-institutional setting. This year, several research workshops took place in person and others were held in a hybrid setting.

The Right to Contribute to Environmental Information

Tilburg University, supported by the NNHRR, hosted an immersive and interactive multimedia research workshop on environmental information on July 8th at the Tilburg Library LocHal. The workshop consisted of presentations by experts in data activism and environmental justice, and marked the launch of the graphic novel, 'The Story of a Civic Sentinel'. Despite the challenges of hosting a hybrid event and of the experimental fusion of art and science, the turnout was great with almost 250 people virtually connected, on top of those present at the event. Recordings of the workshop can be found here.

Decolonization and Human Rights in the Kingdom of the Netherlands

The hybrid workshop on Decolonization and Human Rights in the Kingdom of the Netherlands convened by León Castellanos-Jankiewicz (Asser Institute) and Wiebe Hommes  (University of Amsterdam) was held on 14 October at the Asser Institute in The Hague with the support of the NNHRR research workshops scheme. With opening remarks by Dr. Marco Duranti (University of Sydney) and over 120 online attendees, the event was a resounding success. The workshop contributions have now been published in a dedicated Symposium on Verfassungsblog, available here.  A video recording with the speakers' presentations is available here.

Working groups

Throughout the year, the NNHRR working groups on Human Rights in the Digital Age, Business & Human Rights and Migration & Borders organised various activities and participated in the Fourth Annual NNHRR conference.

Human Rights in the Digital Age Working Group

During the Annual Conference, the NNHRR’s working group on Human Rights in the Digital Age convened a panel which explored the different human rights ramifications of the concept of vulnerability. The panellists also explored selected aspects of the ‘Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe’ focused on upholding equality and protecting against discrimination and hate.

Business & Human Rights Working Group

In September, the Business and Human Rights Working Group and the Asser Institute hosted a workshop on ‘Artificial Intelligence: The New Frontier of Business and Human Rights’. The event focused on the human rights responsibilities of private businesses that produce, sell and use AI technologies, as well as the responsibility of States to regulate private actors and safeguard human rights. The workshop consisted of six panels, a keynote speech by Prof. Lorna McGregor from the Essex Law School and Human Rights Centre, and had over 75 enthusiastic participants.

Migration & Borders Working Group

The NNHRR Migration and Borders Working Group convened a webinar during the Annual Conference which employed a conceptual perspective in order to explore aspects of vulnerability within the context of migration. Moritz Baumgärtel (Utrecht University and University College Roosevelt) and Sarah Ganty (Yale University and Université Saint Louis) opened the panel by arguing that migratory vulnerability could be a potential ground for discrimination under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Next, Stephanie Rap (Leiden University) approached the concept of vulnerability from the angle of minor migrants. Finally, Jordan Dez (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) discussed the vulnerability of irregular migrants, tying them to Judith Butler’s theory in the co-edited volume Vulnerability in Resistance (Duke: 2016).

Doctoral Research Forum

In February 2021, NNHRR PhD Representative Stephanie Triefus and Daniela Heerdt co-organised the first NNHRR Doctoral Research Forum for PhD members of the NNHRR. This event provided early-stage PhD candidates with an opportunity to present their research in a conference setting within a safe and constructive atmosphere.

Stephanie Triefus (Erasmus University Rotterdam): ‘I really enjoyed facilitating the Forum and the participants found it to be a good way to practice presenting their research while connecting with their peers and senior members during challenging times.’

Advisory Board and Steering Committee

Last year, the Network and its members thanked Prof. dr. Ernst Hirsch Ballin, for his support and commitment to its community throughout his years of service as Chair of its Advisory Board. The Network also welcomed the incoming Chair of the Advisory Board, Prof. dr. Liesbeth Lijnzaad, who takes up her functions year. In the Network’s Steering Committee, we sincerely thanked Prof. dr. Carla Zoethout (Open University) for her contributions and welcomed Prof. dr. Jan Willem Sap (Open University) who has recently joined this governing body.

We look forward to 2022 being a new year full of interesting and engaging human rights publications, posts, conferences, events and workshops!


Edited by Merel Dinkla