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Concept Note of the Conference

Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration in 1948, human rights are experiencing one of their most regressive periods worldwide concerning both the general support for their fundamental principles and infrastructure and for their implementation. As plainly acknowledged by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres addressing the Human Rights Council at its 34th session, ‘disregard for human rights is a disease, and it is a disease that is spreading – north, south, east and west’. Thus, the fact of human rights as a compass for building world order is increasingly being questioned.

Research stands among the elements that can significantly contribute to inverting this daunting trend. Thorough, sound and comprehensive human rights research can provide original data, ideas, visions and methods to develop a more effective policy agenda in a multi-level governance perspective. In other words, it can guide and support policy-makers, officials within international organisations, law-makers as well as activists, NGOs and educators in their shared commitment to increase the understanding, respect and enjoyment of universal human rights locally to globally. From this perspective, human rights research can positively affect a number of variables that represent the potential drivers to the effectiveness of human rights implementation: the quality of leadership, the degree of international and transnational cooperation, a better functioning of mechanisms for the protection of human rights, the advancement of human rights education, and so forth.

In spite of this potential, current human rights research is also facing a number of challenges and shortcomings. On one hand, its quality and usefulness is being questioned. Issues such as multi- and inter-disciplinarity are increasingly referred to as almost inevitable features of rigorous research in this domain. However, these remain open and disputed concepts, which are often employed as empty catchwords rather than being used to create meaningful correlations among a variety of datasets. On the other hand, there is often little correspondence between the interests and questions investigated by human rights researchers and the types of outputs that practitioners, human rights bodies and communities expect. Tensions between ‘critical’ and ‘mainstream’ approaches risk undermining the overall human rights discourse, and eventually weaken the capacity of societies and epistemic communities to resist oppression and violence.

This International Conference aims to delve into the various facets of this debate, which is crucial for the present and future of human rights, with the goal of providing an original contribution to discuss the role of human rights research and improve its policy- and action-oriented effectiveness. The Conference also aims at strengthening networking and cooperation among research centres committed to these themes worldwide.

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