Research Projects


Prof. Paul De Hert, Amy Weatherburn and Carlotta Rigotti

January 2019 - December 2020

Right now Europe is facing an increasing risk of radicalisation; consequently a common infrastructure is required in order to effectively intervene against all forms of violent extremism.

The EXIT Europe project aims at developing locally embedded exit programs across Europe, especially where they are most lacking, such as in the Southern and Eastern regions. To achieve this, the local programs will be civil-society based, have a cross-extremisms perspective, be multi-agency and directly embedded in local community PVE networks as well as connected to security agencies. Furthermore existing expertise on de-radicalisation practice from RAN, Efus, EENeT, the Austrian exit pilot and the German “Live Democracy!” program will be mustered; whereas the so-called "triangular exit facilitation approach" (AT) and elements from restorative justice and gender-focus work will be introduced in this field. The project involves the following partners:

*Bundesministerium für Inneres (Austria)

* Mladez ulice (Slovakia)

* Association pour le developpement des initiatives citoyennes et européennes (France)

* Fondazione benvenuti in italia (italy)

* Ayuntamiento de Malaga (Spain)

* Cultures Interactive e.v. - Vereinzur Interkulturellen Bildung und Gewaltpravention (Germany)

* Türkische Gemeinde in Schleswig-Holstein e.v. (Germany)

* Österreichisches Institut für internationale Politik (Austria)

* Verein fur Rechts-und Kriminalsoziologie (Austria).

FRANET: Fundamental Rights in Belgium

Professor Paul De Hert (FRC Co-Director) and Professor Serge Gutwirth, with expertise from Professor Ilke Adam, Professor Els Dumortier, Professor Richard Lewis, Dr Rosamunde Van Brakel, Professor Stefaan Smis, and Amy Weatherburn

December 2019 - November 2023

FRC is the national contractor for FRANET, the multi-disciplinary research network of FRA, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. Over the course of the next four years, FRC will be providing research services on nine key fundamental rights themes that are at the heart of the FRA’s work programme in relation to Belgium on

Access to justice;

Asylum, migration & borders;


Hate crime;

Information society, privacy and data protection;


People with disabilities;

Racism & related intolerances;

Rights of the child and Roma.

REBUILD: ICT-enabled integration facilitator and life rebuilding guidance

Prof. Paul de Hert, Julia Zomignani Barboza, Sergi Vazquez Maymir

January 2019 - December 2021

The European Union is experiencing large migrant and refugee flows. Consequently, local authorities and communities need to address the challenges that come with managing and integrating the newly arrived. The REBUILD project aims to provide a toolbox of ICT-based solutions that will improve the management procedures for local authorities and assist migrants to build a new life and integrate with the local society. To achieve this, REBUILD seeks to develop tools that will gather information on the needs and skills of migrants and match them with the needs emerging in local labour markets and the services provided by local stakeholders. At the same time, migrants will have access to a digital companion, which will help them in the integration process by facilitating the search and contact with local services and obtaining feedback from the users to improve the tool.

The key technology solutions proposed by REBUILD are:

GDPR compliant migrants’ integration related background information gathering with user consent and anonymization of personal information;

AI-based profile analysis to enable both personalized support and policy making on migration-related issues;

AI-based needs matching tool, to match migrant needs and skills with services provided at local level in EU countries and labor market needs at local and regional level;

a digital companion for migrants enabling personalized two-way communication using chatbots to provide them information about available services, smart support for easy access and interaction with those services (e.g. training, health, employment, welfare) and collect feedback to assist in the assessment of the level of integration and understanding of the new society, while providing to local authorities data-driven, easy to use decision supporting tools for enhancing capacities and effectiveness in service provision, as well as to improve the usability of the tool.

The project involves the following partners:

* Università Telematica Internazionale (Italy) (Coordinator)

* Engineering Ingengeria Informatica (Italy)

* Centre For Research and Technology Hellas (Greece)

* Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (Spain)

* Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (Spain)

* DEN Institute asbl (Belgium)

* Societa' Cooperativa Sociale Camelot A R.L (Italy)

* Syllogos Ethelonton Kilkis (Greece)

* Metropolitan Development Agency of Thessaloniki (Greece)

* United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - UNESCO

EduLAw: Law and Rights Modules in Teacher Training Programmes: Erasmus+ Programme 2016-2019

Prof. Gracienne Lauwers, Georgia Du Plessis, Charlotte Mbuyi, Martijn Roelen, en Ielizavieta Kovalska

October 2016 - October 2019

The EduLAw project underlining assumption is that collaboration between educators and lawyers can promote effective teaching, learning, school leadership, and educational innovation. What are the trends in law and education that make effective collaboration increasingly necessary? Many court decisions introduced by individual students or staff members are held to reduce educational discretion on central questions of education and school leadership. Therefore, an effective collaboration between educators and their lawyers increasingly influences such central educational matters as school governance, school reform, equality of educational opportunity, school leadership, and allocation of scarce resources.

Such an interdisciplinarity would not only improve lawyer-educator interactions, but could also reduce litigation in educational issues, and finally use the law to support and advance educational policy objectives.

The project objectives are:

•to redesign courses and programs in teacher training and educational sciences programmes to include modules that transfer a basic knowledge of (education) law to the students in teacher education and educational sciences with or without a previous legal education;
•to develop learning (for students) and teaching (for staff) tools on education law and rights in education;
•to create Open Educational Resources and an online testing system;
•to enhance multidisciplinarity and interdisciplinarity consisting of effective collaboration between educators and lawyers specialising in different fields of law.

More information about the project and about the project outputs can be found at the EDULawEU website

DESIrE: Demand for sexual exploitation in Europe

Prof. Paul de Hert, Amy Weatherburn, Chloé Brière, Sibel Top, Lisa Staxang

From: January 2017 - December 2018

DESIrE, aims to generate a better understanding of the impact of sex work legislation on the prevalence of trafficking in human beings. DESIrE contributes to the fight against trafficking in human beings by equipping stakeholders with up-to-date knowledge on how to reduce trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation as a means of prevention. The DESIrE project comprises the following components.

•Development of a working understanding of the key terms, such as sexual exploitation, prevention, and demand.
•Mapping of the laws and policies addressing sex work, with a particular focus on the Netherlands, Croatia, Poland and Sweden. Examination of the impact of law and policy on trafficking in human beings.
•Determination of the perceptions of sex workers, consumers, law enforcers and the general public as to the different existing laws and policies, through empirical research.
•Analysis of alternative approaches that can facilitate prevention of trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation.
The project is based on the presumption that not all prostitution is sexual exploitation and a form of trafficking in human beings. Instead there is a link between trafficking in human beings and prostitution when others exploit the prostitution combined with an action and means element of the human trafficking offence.

The project involves the following partners:

*International Victimology Institute Tilburg (INTERVICT), Tilburg University, The Netherlands;

*International Maternal and Child Health (IMCH) Unit, Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Uppsala University, Sweden;

*Human Trafficking Studies Center (HTSC), Department of Criminology, Warsaw University, Poland;

*FLIGHT, Croatia.

Keep updated from the DESIrE project by visiting DESIrE Website, following us on Twitter @project_desire_ or on Linkedin and Facebook

DESIrE is co-financed by the European Commission: Internal Security Fund Police (2014-2020) under grant agreement no. 4000008408

LIVE FOR: Criminal Justice Access to Digital Evidences in the Cloud - LIVE_FORensics

Prof. Paul de Hert, Cihan Parlar (2016-2017), Sergi Vazquez Maymir (2017-) Amy Weatherburn

From: November 2016- October 2018

LIVE_FOR is a two-year European Commission project, which began on 1 November 2016. LIVE_FOR aims to boost the use and application of Directive 2014/14/EU concerning the European Investigation Order (EIO) in criminal matters, especially in the context of digital evidence located in the cloud. LIVE_FOR has the following objectives:

1. To identify the state of the art in relation with the implementation of Directive 2014/14/EU
2. To establish a collection of best practices and lessons to be reused as inputs for the new curriculums within the higher-level institutions with programs in the area of Law and Technology
3. To upgrade the competence of executive authorities in the field of EIO use and cloud forensics
4. To develop training programs for efficient EIO implementation and Live forensics investigation methods Activities
5. Analytical activities consisting of data collection from the authorities appointed under EU legislation in cases that involve cyber cybercrime
6. Educational activities for upgrading the targeted groups knowledge about the legal and technical challenges of EIO use and awareness building about the Directive 2014/14/EU

The project involves the following partners:

- Institut Jozef Stefan (Slovenia) (coordinator)

- Universitat Politecnica de Catalunya (Spain)

- Fachhochschule Albstadt-Sigmaringen (Germany)

- Masarykova Univerzita (Czech Republic)

- Universidad Autoonma de Madrid (Spain)

Live_For is co-financed by the European Union's Justice Programme (2014-2020).

COST Action “IS1402: Ageism from a multinational, interdisciplinary perspective”

Prof. Paul de Hert,Marijke de Pauw, Eugenio Mantovani

From: 2015-2018

The < ahref="">COST Action has the overall goal to improve the lives of older adults by enhancing scientific knowledge and attention to the phenomenon of ageism, by integrating the different disciplines of research currently involved in the field of ageism and by developing collaborations with public policy officials and non-academic professionals responsible for the care and wellbeing of older adults as well as with older adults themselves.

Members from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), research Group Fundamental Rights & Constitutionalism (FRC) and Research Group on Law, Science, Technology & Society (LSTS) are part of Work Group 2 (WG2) on Judicial/Legal Ageism. This WG focuses on legislations, judicial decisions and court rulings at the local and international levels and their implications for the rights and lives of older adults. The WG is chaired by prof. Israel (issi) Doron (Haifa University) and Nena Georgantzi (AGE Platform)

The book of Working Group Aging, Ageism and Law in Europe will be presented in the final conference in Brussels in October 2018

FRA - Biometric data in large EU IT systems in the areas of borders, visa and asylum – fundamental rights implications

Prof. Paul de Hert, Amy Weatherburn, Jozefien van Caeneghem, Marijke de Pauw, Ines Gallala, Ramon Lathouwers

From: December 2015 - December 2016

The FRA research project will analyse the fundamental rights implications of inserting, storing and using biometric data – such as fingerprints – in these IT systems. Both the negative as well as the positive fundamental rights implications will be studied. The FRC team will determine the practices used in Belgium and how these impact on fundamental rights. This research will consider the potential vulnerabilities of those concerned, such as asylum seekers, refugees, irregular immigrants, or third-country nationals that applied for a visa or were banned from entering the EU. In addition, the project can look at issues related to the general population, as data on EU citizens may also be included in some systems.

The project is co-ordinated by Eticas Research and Consulting and consists of research teams in Poland, Germany, Sweden, Spain, Italy and Belgium.

EU FP7 project: TRACE (TRafficking as A Criminal Enterprise)

Prof. Paul de Hert, Julia Muraszkiewicz, Amy Weatherburn

From: 2014-2016

TRACE is a two-year FP7 project which began on 1 May 2014. TRACE aims to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting human trafficking by assessing and consolidating information surrounding the perpetrators and the wider trafficking enterprise. TRACE has the following objectives:

1. Develop a theory-driven understanding of trafficking as a criminal enterprise;

2. Acquire a part-theory, part-evidence-based understanding of the specific characteristics of the traffickers: who are they and why do they become traffickers? Coupled with developing an understanding of why some victims become traffickers. Lastly understand the nature of the interaction amongst, traffickers, victims and third parties who facilitate human trafficking, e.g., other criminals or corrupt officials;

3. Develop a framework of the factors influencing the trends in trafficking of human beings, e.g., technology, economic and political trends;

4. Develop a theory-driven understanding of the policies in place and provide a framework of what further policy actions are available for stakeholders.

In order to address these objectives, TRACE will focus on the activities of the perpetrators by developing an understanding of the structure, social relationships, modus operandi, travel routes and technologies associated with different types of human trafficking. Based on the analysis of perpetrators’ behaviour TRACE seeks to be able to better identify who is in danger of being trafficked and furthermore, who is vulnerable to becoming involved in human trafficking (including those who may have been victims themselves). TRACE acknowledges that human trafficking involves a chain of criminal behaviours, activities and processes and will consolidate up-to-date information, good practice and expert opinion to provide stakeholders with an intervention strategy based on policy recommendations for disrupting the trafficking chain.

The Project includes the following partners:

  • Trilateral Research & Consulting
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Stichting Katholieke Universiteit Brabant Universiteit Van Tilburg
  • The Council Of The Baltic Sea States Secretariat
  • Agentia Nationala Impotriva Traficului De Persoane
  • Animus Association Foundation
  • Cyprus Police Cy Pol - THB
  • The International La Strada Association

For more information on the project, please visit the TRACE website.

The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective (HRI)

Prof. Dr. Paul de Hert, Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis,Marijke De Pauw, Derek Innman, Mathias Holvoet

From: 2012 - 2017

The Human Rights Integration Research Network (HRI) is an Interuniversity Attraction Pole (IAP) funded by the Belgian Science Policy Office (BELSPO). It runs from October 2012 until October 2017 and consists of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), Universiteit Gent (UGent), Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB), Universiteit Antwerpen (UAntwerp), Université Saint-Louis - Bruxelles (USL-B) & Universiteit Utrecht (UU).

Starting point of the research is the finding that both rights holders and duty bearers under human rights norms are confronted simultaneously with a multitude of human rights provisions differing as to their scope, focus, legal force and level of governance. This non-hierarchical accumulation of human rights provisions has resulted in a complex and uncoordinated legal architecture that may in some circumstances create obstacles for effective human rights protection. The central research objective of the HRI Research Network is the study of human rights law as an integrated whole from a users’ perspective.

Three members of the FRC Research Group are undertaking their doctoral research within the framework of the HRI Network, under promotorship of Prof. Dr. Paul De Hert and Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis.

PhD researcher Marijke De Pauw is working within Work Package 3: “Building bridges between different layers of human rights”. Her research assesses potential human rights integration through holistic treaty interpretation, based on a case study of the emerging rights of older persons.
PhD researcher Derek Inman is conducting his research within Work Package 6: “Divergence and coherence in human rights law”, under promotorship of Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis and Prof. Dr. Paul De Hert. His thesis focuses on Indigenous peoples' rights to traditional lands, territories and resources.
Finally, doctoral researcher Mathias Holvoet is part of Work Package 7: “Clarifying the grey zone between internal human rights abuses and crimes against humanity”, under promotorship of Prof. Dr. Paul De Hert. Mathias researches the various aspects and dimensions of the controversial and contested requirement of a 'policy' as an element of the definition of crimes against humanity. The provisional working title of his PhD is 'The Policy Behind the Atrocity. An Inquiry into the Status and Substance of the ‘Policy Element’ under the Law of Crimes against Humanity’

For more information on the project, please visit the HRI Project website.

FWO Project: Processing of personal data regarding ethnic origin and disability for statistical purposes to combat discrimination

Prof. Dr. Paul de Hert, Jozefien Van Caeneghem, Charlotte Cornelis, Ronny Saelens

From: June 2011-December 2015 (extended with self-funding until December 2016)

The project looks at a societal problem (two vulnerable groups: ethnic minorities and people with disabilities) from a legal perspective. The main research aim is to determine whether the vulnerability of these groups can be reduced by creating a legal framework to collect and process sensitive data on ethnicity and disability respectively. The objective is to identify legal obstacles and the formulate recommendations to improve the legal framework.

The project team each work on particular areas of focus for the project, Jozefien Van Caeneghem is working on a PhD due at the end of 2016, on ethnic data collection the title of her PhD is 'The use of a controversial human rights instrument and tool in Roma policy making in Belgium: ethnic data collection and positive action measures', Charlotte Cornelis is doing research on disability data and Ronny Saelens' research focuses on privacy and data protection.

The project has, to date, had the following outputs:

(1) Conference ‘Europe and the Roma: Where Do We Stand Now?’ in Brussels, Belgium (16.03.2012) organized by Institute for European Studies and Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism Research Group at Vrije Universiteit Brussel;

(2) Ÿ ‘Roma Empowerment in the Digital Era’ in Brussels, Belgium (24.01.2014) – organized by the Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism research group of Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the framework of the 2014 Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference;

(3) European Roma Integration Efforts – A Snapshot , Morag Goodwin and Paul De Hert (eds.), Institute for European Studies, 276 p., 2013.

(4) 'Ethnic Data Collection and Positive Action for Roma' in Brussels, Belgium (26.01.17) organised by the Fundamental Rights and Constitutionalism research group of Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the framework of the 2017 Computers, Privacy and Data Protection Conference.

FRA-project: FRC awarded research contract from FRA with regard to the implementation of fundamental rights in Belgium

From: 2011-2014

FRC has been awarded a prestigious research contract from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in cooperation with consultancy group Milieu Ltd. FRC will be working as legal experts on country reports and other requests of the FRA with regard to the implementation of fundamental rights in Belgium. The first service request is well on its way and consists of a study of the human rights track record of Belgium in the period between October 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011. Nine human rights domains are being investigated: (1) asylum, immigration and integration; (2) border control and visa policy; (3) information society and data protection; (4) the rights of the child and protection of children; (5) equality and non-discrimination; (6) racism and ethnic discrimination; (7) participation of EU-citizens in the Union’s democratic functioning; (8) access to efficient and independent justice; (9) protection of victims.

FWO-project: Rekenschapsplichtigheid voor mensenrechtenschendingen door internationale organisaties

Prof. Dr. Jan Wouters (KULeuven), Prof. Dr. Eva Brems (UGent) en Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis (VUB)

Het project heeft als doel te onderzoeken via welke technieken, mechanismen en fora internationale organisaties en/of hun lidstaten rekenschapsplichtig (kunnen) gemaakt worden voor schendingen van mensenrechten gepleegd door, of toe te schrijven aan, deze internationale organisaties. Er wordt in het bijzonder nagegaan worden hoe bestaande mechanismen voor het direct of indirect aansprakelijk stellen van internationale organisaties kunnen verbeterd worden, en welke nieuwe mechanismen kunnen/moeten ontwikkeld worden om die aansprakelijkheid te versterken.

VLIR-UOS project: Projet portant à la création d’un 3ième cycle (D.E.S.) en droits de l’homme à l’Université Catholique de Bukavu (RDC)

Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis

Ce projet entend:

  • Organiser au sein de la Faculté de droit de l’UCB un programme de troisième cycle en droits de l’homme en vue de former dans le cadre d’un Diplôme d’études spécialisées (D.E.S. ou Master complémentaire) des cadres congolais hautement qualifiés en droits de l’homme, possédant une maîtrise des droits de l’homme et des mécanismes pour leur protection aussi bien au plan national, que régional et international. Ces diplômés seront capables d’œuvrer, avec une compétence accrue, à l’effectivité desdits droits. Chaque année le troisième cycle en droits de l’homme veut délivrer 30 diplômes D.E.S. à des professionnels et jeunes assistants, soit 150 diplômés d’études spécialisées en droits de l’homme seront formés sur cinq ans.
  • Former dans des universités flamandes, suivant la formule de bourses en sandwich, une poignée de jeunes docteurs capables d’assurer la relève académique à l’UCB mais éventuellement aussi dans d’autres universités congolaises quant à l’enseignement et la recherche en matière des droits de l’homme. Le projet veut former quatre docteurs en droit spécialisés dans le domaine des droits de l’homme.
  • Promouvoir l’accès des étudiants, chercheurs et des acteurs des droits de l’homme congolais aux ressources documentaires spécialisées en droits de l’homme. Un nombre encore inconnu d’acteurs auront accès aux ressources documentaires.