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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?

Nadia Sonneveld

The research programme Effective Protection of Fundamental Rights in a Pluralist World (EPFR) started in its current form in 2015. It builds on a strong tradition of inspiring and high quality human rights research at Leiden University and endeavors to further expand and strengthen this line of research. The programme is unique in the Netherlands by being the only self-standing research programme on fundamental rights at a Dutch Faculty of Law.

Research focus and themes

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. The programme focuses on the following topical and overlapping themes:

  • the interaction of European and national fundamental rights;
  • digital technologies and their interplay with fundamental rights;
  • children’s fundamental rights;
  • social and cultural diversity and fundamental rights;
  • and fundamental rights, development and rule of law .

The research group brings together a wide variety of disciplines. It is unique by being the only faculty research programme consisting of researchers from across institutes and departments of the faculty of law:

  • Department of Constitutional and Administrative Law;
  • Department for eLaw/Center for Law and Digital Technologies;
  • Department for Law, Governance and Society/Van Vollenhoven Institute (VVI);
  • Department of Child Law; 
  • Institute of Immigration Law;
  • Europa Institute;
  • Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology;
  • Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies.

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).

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?

Academic Staff

PhD Candidates

External PhD Candidates

On Wednesday 7 June, the EPFR research program had its annual research day (toogdag). The venue we had for this year was the Gravensteen, a beautiful historic building right by Pieterskerk.




This year’s format was a bit different from previous years – instead of presentations, we had the screening of a documentary, a panel discussion about it, and a public lecture by Dr. Ajla Škrbić.

About 20 people attended the toogdag from VVI, eLaw, Child Law, and Constitutional and Administrative Law. While having lunch, we watched The Prosecutors, a documentary that tells the story of three dedicated lawyers who seek justice for the victims of conflict-related sexual violence and ensure these types of crimes are not met with impunity. The documentary is filmed over five years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Columbia.

After the break, we moved to the panel discussion with Carolien Jacobs (VVI), Rehana Dole (Child Law) and Ajla Škrbić (Freie Universität Berlin). They gave their takes on the documentary, but also linked it to their own research.




We ended the toogdag with Ajla’s super interesting lecture titled ‘Conflict-Related Sexual Violence (CRSV) and Criminal Justice: Challenges and Opportunities in the Fight Against Impunity.’ She made a comparative analysis of the three post-Yugoslav states – Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Serbia – and their prosecutions of conflict-related sexual violence. She conducted a comprehensive mapping and analysis of indictments and final decisions regarding wartime sexual violence from the highest courts in the three selected states for the period of 2010-2020 to explore whether these courts applied international norms and standards related to gender in conflict-related sexual violence cases.

‘Searching for Justice’ at the 2024 EPFR Research Day

On Friday 22 March, the Effective Protection of Fundamental Rights research programme held its annual Research Day (Toogdag) at the Gravensteen Building, which was a great success. The theme was 'The Concept of Justice in a War Era: The Cases of Gaza, South Sudan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina'. Nadia Sonneveld, the Coordinator of the research programme, gave the opening statements. She announced the formation of a Scholars at Risk (SAR) initiative within Leiden Law School. ‘Scholars at Risk is an international network of institutions and individuals whose mission it is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom.’ It provides advisory services to universities wishing to host scholars at risk. If you are interested in joining, please send an email to epfr@law.leidenuniv.nl.


Henning Lahmann, Assistant Professor in eLaw, gave a presentation entitled ‘Fact-Making in Armed Conflict and the Role of Digital Technologies: Lessons from Gaza’. He explained how the increasing availability of digital open-source information has created a shift in how facts are made, by whom and the types of facts available. He ended his presentation with three main observations on the use of open-source information: the limits of ‘open verification’, the emulation of the aesthetic language as a way to cast doubt on any emerging narratives of what might actually have happened, and bystander complacency and complicity.

The next presentation was given by Bruno Braak, a Post-doctoral Researcher on the project ‘Access to Justice in Libya’ (2021–2025) at the Van Vollenhoven Institute for Law, Governance and Society. His presentation was entitled ‘Justice Systems and Non-Violent Dispute Resolution in New Wars: Insights from Libya and South Sudan’. He argued that in Libya and South Sudan, dispute resolution forums remained operational in the geographical and temporal proximity of war. He elaborated on three insights: (1) on war, by highlighting that peace is often quite local and war is not constant; (2) on legal pluralism, where fragmented conjuncture of war results in highly localised legal pluralism configurations; (3) on power and accountability, which places people below, before or beyond the law.

Giulia Pinzauti, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Public Law and at the Grotius Centre for International Legal Studies, moderated the session.

Introducing new EPFR members

After the break, three EPFR members who have joined the programme in the past year introduced themselves and their research, and how it connects to the EPFR research programme. First, Carlotta Rigotti, a Post-doctoral Researcher in eLaw, presented her work on the intersection between law, technology, gender and sexuality. She is currently working on the Horizon Europe Bias project which explores the diversity biases of AI in the labour market. She is also part of the NWA project on vulnerability and social media. Then, Elias Tissandier-Nasom, a PhD candidate at Child Law, gave a snapshot of his comparative research on asylum applications of LGBTQIA+ in the Netherlands and France. He is working on the credibility assessment of asylum claims lodged by minors on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity, and will soon start his fieldwork. Lastly, Masha Medvedeva, Assistant Professor in eLaw and Business Law, explained her research on legal judgment prediction, explaining the limitations of AI.

Screening of ‘Searching for Justice’

The last part of the Research Day was devoted to a poignant documentary called ‘Searching for Justice.’ Before the screening, the film’s director, Ado Hasanović,  and writer and producer, Nadia Sonneveld, explained how the idea for the documentary emerged and how it became a reality. The film was produced as part of the honours course ‘Using the Rule of Law to Close Dark Chapters of History? The Case of Bosnia-Herzegovina’ at Leiden Law School. It showcases students from Leiden University and Sarajevo University who conducted interviews with war and genocide survivors from Bosnia and Herzegovina in order to explore their perspectives on justice. After the screening, Ado, Nadia and two students from the honours course who participated in making the documentary, Kaat Hogendoorn and Xinyi Zhang, held a Q&A session where the audience was able to ask them questions about the content, the process, as well as their narrative choices.

Related research

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