MCfHR Research areas and projects

The Maastricht Centre for Human Rights facilitates and supports research in the field of human rights at Maastricht University’s Faculty of Law.

Regional human rights systems and comparative human rights law

The members of the Maastricht Centre for Human Rights share a strong interest in comparative research and the examination of human rights issues arising in domestic, regional and international legal systems. This interest is reflected in the Centre’s research, which explores the intersections between jurisprudential developments emerging from various national and supranational courts as well as bodies involved in interpreting and implementing human rights norms. 

Researchers in the Centre examine the case law of regional human rights courts, including the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, as well as the work of United Nations (UN) treaty bodies, such as the Human Rights Committee, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In doing so, they look for instances of convergence and divergence in the jurisprudence of regional and UN human rights bodies, with the aim of identifying opportunities and challenges posed by fragmentation within the international human rights system.

Some of our researchers also scrutinize the role of other types of regional and international courts, such as the Court of Justice of the European Union, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, in addressing human rights issues. While these courts have mandates that go beyond human rights, their influence on the development of international human rights law is assessed. Likewise, the Centre’s research also investigates the contributions of domestic case law to the interpretation of human rights norms and their potential for inspiring changes in how supranational courts construe and balance societal and human rights interests.

The comparative legal approach adopted by some of the Centre’s researchers builds on the acknowledgement that different jurisdictions may offer diverse interpretations of human rights. As such, the Centre's research oscillates between universalism and regionalism. For instance, research on non-discrimination and socio-economic rights may demonstrate that certain bodies operating in specific fields, or in institutional, social, political or regional contexts, may take a different approach to the intersection of different forms of discrimination as well as their effects on vulnerable and marginalized communities. By exploring how human rights laws and policies differ across different legal frameworks, the Centre seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the nuances and complexities of human rights law and emerging concepts.

Human rights, non-discrimination and inclusion

The theme ‘’human rights, non-discrimination and inclusion’’ brings together research on groups or individuals suffering from unjustifiable differential treatment and ingrained patterns of discrimination in society. Members investigate how legal rules and instruments can be used to address political, economic, criminal, environmental and social challenges by promoting equality and inclusion in society. Some of the research under this theme also tends to be comparative in nature, focusing on the integration and interaction between different legal orders operating at the national, supranational (European Union) and international levels.

Part of the research within the Centre has included projects that look into ways to support the participation of people with disabilities in political and public life, as well as one project examining the role of social movements led by persons with disabilities in the monitoring of UN legislation.

Another area of research within the Centre relates to women’s rights. Central topics concern the influence that culture (tradition/religion) has on women’s land rights and violence against women, as well as women's participation in the international judiciary and in international relations.

Individual research projects devote specific attention to the promotion of socio-economic rights. Examples include research on the right to health and how it can contribute to social justice; on intersectional discrimination within the EU and how it affects the disparaged socio-economic status of marginalized groups; research on developmental rights, particularly the economic development of the people affected by climate change.

Part of the research activity relates to the challenges arising from the rights of people coming into contact with criminal justice systems, such as the protection of juvenile suspects within criminal proceedings, or the impact of human smuggling laws and policies on the rights of asylum seekers and irregular migrants.

The research methods adopted are both descriptive, looking into the existing legal and policy frameworks; and evaluative/normative, assessing the existing status quo and suggesting improvement for the effective protection and equal treatment of marginalized groups and individuals.

Human rights, conflict and transitional justice

The perpetration of international crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression usually cause extensive harm to individuals, communities and societies more broadly.  Such crimes have occurred in different parts of the world since time immemorial, and they are likely to reoccur. Therefore, research on the relations and interplay between human rights, conflict and transitional justice (i.e., the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses) is crucial to achieving accountability, promoting reconciliation and preventing future harm.

Within our Centre, we focus on both historical and contemporary cases of gross human rights violations. In that regard, we have developed a variety of lines of research to explore these issues. One area of research within our Centre focuses on the development of rules and principles related to the law of armed conflict, i.e. international humanitarian law, international criminal law, and related issues – such as the understanding of peace and justice. Individual research projects explore issues such as the use of force.

Another area of research focuses on the aftermath of conflict, including international and domestic prosecutions for international crimes, as well as the question of remedies and reparation for victims of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

A significant portion of our research activity aims to enable a better understanding of the causes of gross or systematic human rights violations and their effects on individuals, communities and societies. Our researchers examine these issues on different levels of analysis. They also pay close attention to the gender dynamics of violence and the position of children in conflict zones. Researchers engage with different fields – from social and psychological perspectives, to explore determinants of behaviour, manipulation, propaganda and public opinion; to political science and international relations, which explore the role of democracy, democratization, civil society, authoritarianism, and various forms of insecurities, such as economic, political and social insecurities.