Advancing human rights research in the Netherlands: a “Herculean task” – An interview with the newly appointed Chair of the NNHRR Steering Committee, Dr. Jasper KrommendijkPublished 13 March 2023
By Melanie Schneider
This post was originally published on the Human Rights Here blog on 10 March 2023 and can be found here.
On 1 January 2023, Dr. Jasper Krommendijk became the new Chair of the NNHRR (Netherlands Network of Human Rights Research) Steering Committee succeeding Prof. Yvonne Donders (University of Amsterdam). Jasper is Associate Professor of International Law and European Law at Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen, where he directs the Research Centre for State and Law (SteR). Jasper has been a member of the NNHRR Steering Committee, where he was elected to his new role by his peers, since September 2020. We sat down with Jasper to discuss his vision for the NNHRR in the context of the contemporary research landscape, as well as his own work in the field of human rights.
What inspired you to pursue the leadership role of Chair of the NNHRR's Steering Committee?
I have always been committed to the Network and its predecessor (the Netherlands School of Human Rights). During my doctoral studies, I was a PhD representative in the Steering Committee and participated in and co-organised several of the School’s activities. I especially valued (and still value!) the many helpful interactions with PhDs and senior researchers at other universities. It is unique to have all universities within one country interacting with each other in such an intensive way.
What do you think are the Network’s strengths?
The Network has in the past years grown in size: all law faculties in the Netherlands are now a member. This has also led to an almost threefold increase in the Network’s membership over the past three years. The Network, thus, unites research within the Netherlands: it has contributed to cooperation among members and universities. Actually, the Network (or School) predated current tendencies within the academic field to foster cooperation between faculties instead of competition via sectorplannen. Another strength of the Network are its flagship activities: the yearly Toogdag organised by one (or more) participating universities as well as the training activities for PhDs.
How do you plan to advance the Network's mission and goals?
As Chair I can build on the phenomenal work of prof. dr. Yvonne Donders as well as all the wonderful colleagues in the Steering Committee. I see my role very much in terms of continuing the current strategy. There is some room to broaden the Network and make it more relevant for colleagues working on Dutch law, be it criminal law, administrative law and private law. Recent developments and cases such as Shell/ Milieudefensie or the ‘Toeslagenaffaire’ show the increasing relevance of human rights beyond traditional areas of interests and the usual suspects.
How do you see the current landscape of human rights research evolving in the future in the competitive global academic market and in the Netherlands in particular: what are particular challenges?
Human rights research in the Netherlands has had a solid reputation for decades. One challenge for individual researchers is substantive and relates to the almost Herculean task of keeping track of all relevant developments given the multiplicity of sources and mechanisms of human rights law: UN, regional (EU, ECHR, ACHR, ACHPR etc) and national. The EU increasingly becomes a relevant human rights “actor”, not only in terms of Charter jurisprudence of the Court of Justice, but also legislation such as the Digital Services Act, AI Act, and Corporate sustainability due diligence. Another challenge for the field is Open Science. Legal journals operate in a commercial market and immediate open access publishing in human rights can be difficult. I am happy that the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, the journal closely associated with the Network, started to be fully open access as of January 2023.
In your work, you have focused on the impact of international and European law on a domestic level. You recently finished a five-year project called 'It takes two to tango'. What was the project about and what were your main findings?
This research project focused not so much on human rights as such, but primarily examined the functioning of the most important EU law procedure: the preliminary reference procedure. In the monograph published at the end of 2021, I examined why national courts make preliminary references to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), and what the referring court does with the answers. I discuss the wide variety of motives of national courts, ranging from primarily legal to politico-strategic reasons. Especially in areas in which human rights play a role, such as migration and asylum as well as criminal law cooperation, references are often the result of strategic litigation on the side of various actors involved (see, for an example the recent ECJ judgment in relation to ex officio review of detention of illegal third country nationals, discussed here).
What project are you currently working on or plan to work on?
I am currently working on a three years Jean Monnet project on rule of law in the EU and the national legal order (EURoLNAT). At the moment, I am conducting interviews with policy officials involved in the negotiations in relation to Regulation 2020/2092 on a general regime of conditionality for the protection of the Union budget. This is the rule of law conditionality mechanism used to suspend €6.3 billion of EU spending to Hungary. This case study forms part of an evaluation on the Dutch influence on EU policy and legislative making coordinated by the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB). Part of the Jean Monnet project also involves providing guest lessons, together with law students, at primary schools about the rule of law.
How would you say has your field of research evolved in the past decade?
Ever since I started my PhD in November 2008 I have been working on human rights, starting with UN human rights. After completion of my PhD I shifted to EU law, focusing on EU institutional law and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights as well as EU’s relationship with the ECHR. The common denominator in my research is the impact of international and European law at the domestic level: how can the ‘law in the books’ be translated to ‘law-in-action’? How effective are international courts and how do (international) legal procedures function in practice? My scientific mission is truly understanding and offering explanations on the law with a specific interest in human rights and effective judicial protection.
Many of the NNHRR members are PhD students. As a former doctoral candidate yourself who has channeled their research agenda into a successful academic career, what would you say are important things to keep in mind as one transitions from the student world to the job market and start a PhD?
Before I started, I worked for some months at the Dutch Ministry of Justice: this was a wonderful experience and made me also realise that I wanted another intellectual challenge before starting a “proper” job. Starting a PhD journey is a unique moment in your life. Never before and again did I have the time to immerse myself in one specific topic. As a word of warning I want to emphasise to (PhD) students that this does not mean that you should work largely on your own and have the ambition to publish a magnus opus that will change the world. Take it lightly: it is also just work! Enjoy it and take the time to connect with fellow PhD students, organize activities, present at conferences and conduct a research stay abroad. I liked the academic world and the diversity of tasks (teaching, research, editorship roles, advisory positions, management etc) so much that I lingered on much longer than perhaps expected.
Could you share a challenging professional experience you have had as an academic and how you were able to overcome it?
What I find challenging about the academic world is that the sky is the limit in terms of what you can achieve: it is never enough and you can always publish more or go to the umptieth conference. A lot depends on your own initiative and time. This can be tricky and can easily slip into a tendency to work more and more, in weekends and during evenings. I have always tried to resist this temptation, also forced by my decision of having a family with kids at a relatively young age (already during the PhD trajectory). This has -luckily- forced me to “switch off” from work and take my fair share of holidays. What is still challenging for me is saying “no” to new and nice opportunities that arise, including this role as Chair. So far taking on these new challenges has brought me a lot of joy: a varied academic life!