Human Dignity and Human Security in International and European Law

Research strand

Coordinator: Dr Christophe Paulussen

If law cannot provide a sense of human dignity and security, it sells short of cultivating trust and trustworthiness. Upholding the rule of law and a generally high level of human rights protection contributes to the development of trust (and, arguably, vice versa). This Research Strand adopts as its normative framework a human rights approach to contemporary global challenges, inter alia in the fields of counter-terrorism, especially with regard to the topic of foreign (terrorist) fighters, international and transnational crimes, new technologies and artificial intelligence, and historical memory. Research examines what it means to safeguard human dignity - also in relation to human security - in these areas.

Human rights, including jus cogens norms such as non-discrimination and equality, constitute the lens through which we look at today’s challenges. For instance, whereas governments have an obligation to provide security and protect the lives of their citizens against terrorist attacks, one can nowadays identify a concerning trend in which human rights are increasingly sacrificed on the altar of security. How to best address, from an international and European legal point of view, the complex challenges the world is currently facing, is the aim of this research.



Research themes


Research in the field of counter-terrorism focuses on the international legal framework of countering terrorism. It is often conducted in collaboration with the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism - The Hague (ICCT). Specific topics include the crime-terror nexus, the use of evidence in (international) terrorism trials, (returning and relocating) foreign (terrorist) fighters, as well as (non-)repatriation and citizenship stripping as a security measure. 

International and Transnational Crimes

International criminal law is increasingly investigated in connection with transnational criminal law. Both substantive law (the crimes themselves) as well as procedural law (for example how to respond to irregularities in the pre-trial phase) are investigated in the context of prosecutions of crimes such as war crimes, terrorism-related crimes, as well as piracy. Adjacent fields are also addressed, including international humanitarian law. In June 2020, the four-year MATRA project ‘Providing support to Ukraine to combat international crimes’ started (see here).

New Technologies and Artificial Intelligence 

Research in this field is geared towards future challenges, by asking ourselves how to ensure human dignity and security in the digital age. There are many important aspects to be researched, both on how to protect human dignity and security “from” technology, but also on how technology can help guaranteeing human dignity and security. In September 2020, the NWO-funded research project 'Designing International Law and Ethics into Military AI (DILEMA)', started. Information can be found here.

Historical Memory

Historical memory laws enshrine state-approved interpretations of crucial historical events. Since memory laws can impose limits on democratic freedoms of expression, association, the media, or on scholarly research, the scope of these essential rights - including how they are impacted by memory laws - is a topic of increasing importance. In 2016-2019, the research project ‘Memory Laws in European and Comparative Perspectives (MELA)’ examined memory laws throughout Europe and the world. More information can be found here

Asser Nexus website

Check out the Asser Nexus on Conflict and Crime, which brings together information about the work of the T.M.C. Asser Instituut in the field of conflict and crime. Find all information about the interconnected fields of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), International Criminal Law (ICL), Transnational Criminal Law (TCL) and Legal Aspects of Countering Terrorism (LACT).