Universiteit Leiden

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Research programme

Effective Protection of Fundamental Rights in a pluralist world

What opportunities and threats flow from the existence of institutional and normative diversity in the area of fundamental rights for the effective protection of those rights in a pluralist world?

Duration
2015  -   2017
Contact
Titia Loenen

Background
Some background information about the genesis of the programme ‘Effective Protection of Fundamental Rights in a Pluralist World’ (EPFR). Leiden University can boast of a strong tradition in human rights research of excellent quality led by scholars such as Schermers, Alkema (both former members of the European Commission on Human Rights) and Kooijmans (i.a. former UN Special Rapporteur on Torture). As a result, since the time universities started to programme research, the Law Faculty has included human rights as a specific strand of research. The current EPFR programme builds on this tradition and endeavors to further expand and strengthen it. The programme formally started 1 January 2015 in the wake of a decision to split up ‘Securing the Role of Law in a World of Multilevel Jurisdiction’ (MLJ) and launch the sub programme ‘Protection of Fundamental Rights in an integrating Europe’ as an independent programme. This decision provided an opportunity to broaden and extend the Fundamental Rights research group by:

  • incorporating another sub programme of MLJ, that is ‘The rule of law and development: formation, implementation, and improvement of law in developing countries’ (run by the Van Vollenhoven Instituut, VVI; see for more details section 1.3);

  • extending the inclusion of expertise on fundamental rights of the Department of Child Law, which was already a small part of the fundamental rights programme, but which has grown considerably since Ton Liefaard joined the Law School in 2012 on an UNICEF chair in Children’s Rights and since Julia Sloth-Nielsen was appointed as part time chair in Children’s Rights in the Developing World in 2013 (see for more details section 1.3);

  • extending the inclusion of expertise on fundamental rights of the Center for Law and Digital Technologies (eLaw), which was also already a small part of the fundamental rights programme, but has grown considerably since Simone van der Hof joined the Law School at the end of 2011 on a chair in Law and Information Society (see for more details section 1.3).

Diversity
The EPFR programme explores the dynamics of institutional and normative diversity regarding fundamental rights protection against the backdrop of the socio-cultural, political, and economic pluralism that is a prominent feature of today’s world, both globally and locally. As such it ties in with the university research profile area ‘Interaction between Legal Systems’. With institutional diversity we refer to the unprecedented increase and extension of the institutional settings within which fundamental rights issues are addressed. The number of specific human rights protection instruments and mechanisms at national, regional and global levels has increased significantly (e.g. global and regional conventions; declarations; individual complaints procedures; special rapporteurs; working groups; constitutional human rights standards in new democracies; national human rights institutions, et cetera). As part of this development, the diversity of state and non-state actors responsible for and involved in fundamental rights protection has increased tremendously. Generally speaking, this institutional diversity has multiplied the opportunities for developing, monitoring and implementing fundamental rights standards. At the same time some of these developments may be threatening to more effective protection of those rights. The increasing institutional diversity confronts us with a complex and at times confusing array of fundamental rights instruments that may lead to normative diversity, that is the de facto existence of a diversity in normative judgments and opinions on the substantive content of fundamental rights standards (such as scope and meaning; balancing of conflicting rights; implications in terms of negative and positive obligations; and horizontal effect).

Central research problem
To complicate matters, developing and implementing fundamental rights standards in different social, political and economic settings may be inspired by and in its turn further enhance a plurality of readings and understandings of those rights in different regions and countries, and also within pluralist societies. To what extent is this indeed the case? What mechanisms play a role in arriving at (more) convergence or divergence? And to what extent are institutional and normative diversity problematic or something to be applauded? Against this background the programme’s central research problem is formulated as follows.

  • What opportunities and threats flow from the existence of institutional and normative diversity in the area of fundamental rights for the effective protection of those rights in a pluralist world?