Online Symposium: Futureproofing human rights, developing thicker forms of accountability

Brigitte Herremans Bram Visser Cristina Cocito Elif Durmus Harriet Ní Chinnéide Marion Sandner Prof. Dr. Marie-Bénédicte Dembour Prof. Dr. Paul De Hert Prof. Dr. Rosamunde Van Brakel Prof. Dr. Tine Destrooper Prof. Dr. Wouter Vandenhole Sarah Kerremans 18 June 2024 18 June 2024


Human rights are increasingly described as in crisis. One reason for this is that current accountability mechanisms cannot adequately deal with intricate and multilayered human rights violations that occur in rapidly changing and vastly complex social contexts. In spite of a relatively robust legal framework, there is a continued reality of human rights violations and rather low degrees of accountability. If human rights are to continue to offer a widely accepted framework for thinking about (social) justice, we urgently need to reconstruct the very notion of accountability on which it is pinned, so that better protection is offered.  

To engage in this exercise, we need to revisit questions of what qualifies as a human rights violation, who holds human rights duties and how to actually deliver human rights accountability, in the context of pressing and complex challenges. To answer these questions, we need to look within the domain of human rights law, but also in other domains of the law, and even beyond the legal realm.  

With this symposium, we aim to strengthen human rights law by identifying means or mechanisms that ensure a thicker form of accountability that it can face up to current social challenges. This ambition is rooted in the disconnect between the formal legal system and the lived experiences of those who suffer harms that could logically be – but are not (yet) – understood as a human rights violation. The overarching question we seek to answer throughout the symposium is: How can thicker accountability for human rights violations be achieved, so as to ensure better human rights protection in line with the everyday experience of rights holders?

We search for answers to these questions within, around and beyond human rights law: we do not believe that legal structures can or should be bypassed in the quest for thicker accountability, yet by looking beyond human rights law and even beyond the legal domain we aim to identify approaches to accountability that capture the experiences and lived realities of rights-holders who have been bypassed by the legal framework altogether.  Through this symposium we seek to arrive at a conceptualization of accountability that is more reflective of rights-holders’ lived experiences of injustice.


11:30 – 11:45: Welcome and presentation of the ‘Futureproofing Human Rights’-project, Tine Destrooper (Ghent University)

11:45 – 13:15: Panel 1: Layers, relations and networks of accountability, Chair: Rosamunde Van Brakel (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

  • Human Rights Accountability in Polycentric Systems: Lessons from Blockchain Governance, Gustavo Prieto (Ghent University)
  • Strengthening Human Rights Compliance: Towards a Relational Normativity, Matthias Vanhullebusch (Hasselt University)
  • Living up to obligations through the ICRC? A critique of state’s attempts to shift obligations when addressing missing persons, Grażyna Baranowka (Hertie School) and Nasia Hadjigeorgiou (University of Central Lancashire)

11:45 – 13:15: Panel 2: Threads of responsibility: Diverse pathways to state accountability, Chair: Elif Durmuş (University of Antwerp)

  • Rethinking accountability from the bottom: Setting a research agenda on traditional grassroots justice mechanisms, Piergiuseppe Parisi (University of York)
  • The Escazú Agreement as an accountability mechanism to protect Indigenous human rights defenders, Cesar Gamboa (Universidad de Salamanca)
  • Human rights law approach to address socioeconomic segregation in education in Flanders: the challenging road ahead, Merel Vrancken (Hasselt University)

15:30 – 16:45: Panel 3: How the formal human rights architecture may generate erasure in the quest for accountability, Chair: Marie-Bénédicte Dembour (Ghent University)

  • How Rude? Prohibitions on Insults and Abuse in International Human Rights Complaint Proceedings, Lisa Reinsberg (Leiden University)
  • Magnitsky sanctions: A Dual Accountability Framework for Human Rights Violations, Yifan Jia (King’s College London)
  • Beyond the Binary: Unveiling and Addressing Grey Areas in Accountability in the 21st Century, Jorge Peniche (Universidad Iberoamericana de México, Guernica Centre for International Justice)

16:45 – 17:15: Closing remarks, Wouter Vandenhole (University of Antwerp)

Check out the full program.


Register until 14 June via this link.