Professors call for human rights review committee on cooperation

Universities have ethics committees for all kinds of things, but not for research on cooperation partners who may be involved in human rights violations. This has to change, argue ten UG professors.

In an open letter published in newspaper Trouw on June 7, the rectors of Dutch universities took a stand against breaking off cooperation with Israeli universities. They did so by repeatedly appealing to academic freedom.

In doing so, they also stressed their academic responsibility, namely in those cases where law and peace are violated. The rectors wrote: ‘To properly assume this responsibility, we carefully consider our collaborations.’

However, it remains unclear how they made that consideration and by whom the rectors were supported. Universities watch out for any abuse of knowledge by certain regimes that could harm Dutch interests.

They also have ethics committees on issues such as scientific integrity, privacy, and data management. However, they lack committees for research on partners directly or indirectly involved in serious human rights violations.

The government determines university policy, which runs counter to the academic freedom that rectors emphasise.

The lack of such a committee earlier led to issues with regard to Russian partners. The rectors state: ‘In any case, we will never break ties with an entire country. We only consider this if the central government forces or advises us to do so, as was the case with Russia.’

This means university policy is determined by the government, which is remarkably at odds with the academic freedom the rectors so strongly emphasise in their letter.

We advocate the establishment of university review committees to investigate the extent to which cooperation partners are directly or indirectly involved in serious human rights violations.

The Netherlands has signed several human rights treaties, both in a European and international context. These treaties can be the starting point for a shared assessment framework.

Only by complying with agreements resulting from international treaties can universities seriously shape both their responsibility and their freedom.

M.M.T.A. Brus, C.G.C. Dehue, N. Kalantar-Nayestanaki, A.R. Mackor, M. Mendez, P. Merkouris, G.P. Mifsud-Bonnici, A. Smeulers, B.C.A. Toebes, P.C. Westerman (all professors at the UG)


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