Prof. Dr. Wouter Vandenhole


I hold the chair in human rights at the faculty of law of the University of Antwerp. Between 2007 and 2018, I also held the (part-time) UNICEF chair in children’s rights. Throughout my career, I have focused on two thematic issues (human rights and development; and transnational human rights obligations), and on two sub-sets of human rights (economic, social and cultural rights; and children’s rights). At the heart of my research is the question whether and how human rights law can contribute to questions of global justice.

In the thematic cluster on human rights and development, I focused initially on the role of innovative human rights litigation and on how the at the time seven UN human rights monitoring bodies were developing converging procedural approaches and adopting converging interpretations of equality law (PhD and postdoctoral research at the KULeuven, 1995-2004). In parallel, I provided academic support to international lobbying and negotiations on the establishment of a complaints procedure at the international level for economic, social and cultural rights (2001-2008). This led to a more general interest in economic, social and cultural rights, a category of rights that is still relatively underdeveloped in human rights scholarship. As the vice-chair of the COST Action on The Role of the EU in UN Human Rights Reform and as co-chair of its working group on development cooperation (2009-2013), I started to work on human rights-based approaches to development (HRBAD). The lead question for this interdisciplinary research was which theory of change (implicitly) informs HRBAD with regard to institutional and social change. In recent years, I have taken a renewed interest in law and development as a field of study, in particular on the need to cultivate dissident voices rather than to try and forge consensus thinking. This research has taken place as part of two research networks that I am a co-founder of, the Flemish inter-university Law and Development Network (Law&Dev) and the global Law and Development Research Network (LDRn). In parallel, I have also taken the lead in organizing a module on sustainable development and global justice, for which I secured funding from the Flemish Interuniversity Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS) between 2016 and 2022. In parallel with managerial responsibilities (I directed the Law and Development Research Group between 2013 and 2018, and have been vice-dean of research since October 2018), I initiated in 2018 a new focal area on (re-)distribution in response to challenges to balance environmental justice with social justice.

Building on my postdoctoral research as a Veni grantee of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research at Tilburg University (The Netherlands) on extraterritorial obligations (2005-2007) and on research conducted as part of a COST Action on Peace, Human Rights and Security in EU Foreign Policy (2009-2013), I have mainstreamed in collaboration with others the emerging debate on extraterritorial human rights obligations in human rights research through a five year long Research Networking Programme, Beyond Territoriality: Globalization and Transnational Human Rights Obligations (GLOTHRO), funded by the European Science Foundation (2010-2014), which I chaired. I was also deeply involved in the elaboration of a set of principles on extraterritorial human rights obligations in the area of economic, social and cultural rights (adopted in 2011), which continues to be the most authoritative statement on the topic. Gradually, I have expanded the research line on extraterritorial human rights obligations to transnational human rights obligations, so as to include human rights obligations of non-state actors. I have in particular focused on corporations and on climate change. In 2020, I launched a new FWO scientific research network with Flemish and international colleagues from the US and Germany on transnational human rights obligations, to take stock of developments and to strengthen their application in practice (Extraterritorial Human Rights Obligations in Practice).

My interest in children’s rights stems from my appointment as UNICEF Chair in Children’s Rights (part time) between 2007 and 2018. As a group that is often depicted as vulnerable, children and their human rights offer an exciting lens through which I study and apply the above-mentioned themes. The field of children’s rights is very interdisciplinary: I have learnt a lot about developing a common language, and about how to engage successfully with other disciplines to address wicked problems without compromising academic rigor within the own discipline. For about fifteen years, I was intensively involved in science communication through the Children’s Rights Knowledge Centre (KeKi), as founding chair and member of the executive board. My recent research on children’s rights has focused on intercountry adoption and child, early and forced marriage. I co-supervise the RE-EMPOWER TEAM project, funded by vlir-uos (2023-).

More details can be found here.

5 major achievements (publications and otherwise)

  1. I have taken on leadership roles in national and international research networks and initiatives: I chaired the Law and Development Research Group between 2013 and 2018 and the RNP Glothro (see above) between 2010 and 2015, and was one of the founders of the Law and Development Research Network (LDRn), a global research network in the field of Law and Development (2016-).
  2. I have secured over € 2,2 million as (co-)director of research projects. Funding has been provided by a diversity of sources, including the University of Antwerp Research Fund (BOF); Research Foundation Flanders (FWO); European, governmental (domestic and foreign) and non-governmental organizations, among which UNESCO, UNICEF, European Science Foundation, European Commission, European Parliament, NORAD, Enabel, the EU Fundamental Rights Agency, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, GiZ, the Flemish Interuniversity Development Cooperation (VLIR-UOS) and the Belgian and Flemish governments.
  3. I have published a considerable number of articles and chapters in leading journals (Human Rights Law Review; Journal of Human Rights Practice; BMC International Health and Human Rights) and with leading publishing houses (Elgar, Hart, OUP, Routledge), and co-published or co-edited with renown international scholars.
  4. My expertise is internationally recognized. In addition to being invited at conferences and for guest lectures, I am increasingly solicited by leading experts or publishing houses to contribute to research handbooks such as The Oxford Handbook of Children Rights Law, 2019; The Oxford Handbook of Jurisdiction in International Law, 2019; the Elgar Law and Development Encyclopedia (2020); the Elgar Research Handbook on Human Rights and Poverty (2021), the Elgar Handbook on the Politics of Human Rights (2022), and the Elgar Human Rights Encyclopedia
  5. I have become one of the leading legal scholars on children’s rights, and co-authored or co-edited two authoritative volumes on children’s rights: an interdisciplinary handbook (Routledge International Handbook of Children’s Rights Studies, co-editors D. Reynaert, E. Desmet & S. Lembrechts) and a legal commentary on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Children’s Rights: A Commentary on the CRC and its Protocols, Elgar Commentaries, 2019, Cheltenham, Edward Elgar, 518 p. (co-authors: Sara Lembrechts & Gamze Erdem Türkelli). A second edition of the latter is forthcoming.

Full list of publications available here.