From now on, KU Leuven will assess cooperation agreements against human rights

On the occasion of Human Rights Day on December 10, KU Leuven is launching a human rights test that applies to all international agreements in the context of education, research and services. In this way, the university wants to prevent it from cooperating with parties involved in recent serious violations of human rights.


Collaboration, solidarity, academic freedom and attention to the most vulnerable are core values of KU Leuven. | © Shutterstock
Collaboration, solidarity, academic freedom and attention to the most vulnerable are core values of KU Leuven. In order to also be able to guarantee these values in international partnerships, the university is introducing a human rights test. This concerns, for example, cooperation and exchange agreements with foreign universities or research projects with international partners. The decision is in line with the agreement reached earlier by the Flemish rectors to introduce a human rights test in all universities.

In the field of human rights, a number of legal provisions already apply to KU Leuven. In existing ethics committees, the university has been looking at the possible implications of cooperation agreements for human rights for some time. This additional human rights test is intended as a practical tool with which employees and support services can check whether a partner or potential partner has recently been involved in serious and / or systematic violations of human rights. The project on which the partners (want to) collaborate must also not lead to human rights violations.

KU Leuven bases its assessment mainly on two UN conventions that are internationally recognized: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“With these guidelines we want to offer our faculties, departments, services and employees a clear framework and ensure that human rights are well anchored in setting up international partnerships. To be clear, the vast majority of the agreements are unproblematic ”, says Luc Sels, rector of KU Leuven.

The employee who wants to enter into the collaboration does a first check on the basis of a fixed questionnaire. In case of doubt, he or she can submit the file to the Contact Point on Human Rights, a low-threshold point of contact that KU Leuven employees can turn to with questions about human rights and violations. If there are indications of possible serious violations of human rights, the Contact Point appeals to the ethics committee that is dealing with the abuse, dual and military use of research and will now also build expertise in human rights.

“It is important that we will never identify an organization with the country in which it operates,” explains Peter Lievens, vice-rector for international policy. “Just because a government is guilty of serious violations of human rights does not mean that it is the same for all organizations in that country. Collaborations therefore remain possible, but of course only if the partner is not involved in such malpractices. ”

Ambassador’s Lecture
On December 10, Koen Doens, Director-General of the Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development, will give an (online) Ambassador’s Lecture at KU Leuven. After the lecture, Minister of Development Cooperation Meryame Kitir will give a brief explanation of human rights and university cooperation. Participation is free, although registration is required.

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