Objectives and Focus

The Human Rights Law Clinic has been operating since the academic year 2014/2015. The Clinic, which is incorporated in the curriculum of the Faculty of Law and Criminology, has a dual objective:

  • To provide Master students with intensive, hands-on, practical education in the form of Clinical Legal Education in the field of human rights law; and
  • To fulfil a central social justice role by contributing to the effective protection of human rights, in particular those of disadvantaged persons and groups.

To achieve the dual objective of the Human Rights Law Clinic, the Human Rights Centre cooperates with a number of partners from civil society that work on human rights issues. On a yearly basis, organisations can submit potential projects, out of which the Centre selects the most suitable ones, in light of the Clinic’s dual objective of education and social justice promotion. The selected projects are then distributed among the students, who – divided in small groups – do all the work on these real life case files themselves, from contacting the partner, over analysing the problem in human rights terms and doing intensive research, to delivering the end product to the partner. The students perform these tasks under the intense educational supervision of two clinicians: Benoit Dhondt (laywer) and Bruno Lietaert (judge) (2014-2016) and Elke Van de Cotte (2016-). The students’ main aim is to deliver a comprehensive end product of high quality to the partners, in the form of a written report, legal advice, brochure in layman’s terms, etc. These end products are then used by the partner to fulfil their societal role in the promotion and protection of human rights, for instance through strategic litigation, lobby work, and information and advocacy campaigns.

Information for Prospective Partners

The Human Rights Law Clinic offers invaluable benefits to both its students and its partners, by forging successful synergies between civil society organisations, the Clinic’s students, and the Human Rights Centre’s academic staff.  Students benefit from receiving intensive, practical and hands-on education aimed at preparing them for their future professional careers, potentially in the field of human rights (law). Their work for the Clinic also instills a sense of social justice in the students. The Clinic’s partners, conversely, gain access to high quality human rights analyses, drafted by students under the intense supervision of academic staff. These analyses assist the Clinic’s partners in furthering their societal objectives of human rights protection and promotion.

The Human Rights Centre aims to bolster and consolidate the Clinic’s work in the coming years and is always open to considering requests for partnerships by civil society organisations committed to the protection and promotion of human rights. Interested organisations are kindly requested to contact the Human Rights Law Clinic’s directors – Professors Eva Brems and Ellen Desmet – and/or the Clinic’s coordinator – Dr. Saïla Ouald Chaib – in order to obtain further information on the submission of project proposals.

Academic Year 2016-2017 Projects

Full body swimwear

For a project on bans on the wearing of full body swimwear in municipal swimming pools in Flanders (Belgium), students will engage in two activities. Students will analyse a broad spectrum of swimming pool regulations to identify different types of formulations of the ban (ranging from ‘neutral’ to explicitly mentioning the term ‘burkini’). Students will also support a number of Muslim women in bringing discrimination claims – on the basis of religion, gender and/or race – before the Belgian courts.

Monitoring academic freedom

In collaboration with the Scholars at Risk network, legal clinic students will monitor attacks on higher education communities. The project sets up a regular monitoring system in relation to selected countries. Students will monitor and report on specific incidents of attacks on higher education in the selected countries. The project also explores advocacy avenues, including preparing a stakeholder submission for one of the upcoming Universal Periodic Review sessions of the UN Human Rights Council and/or drafting model legal arguments in preparation of future strategic litigation.

Migration law projects

For the migration law component of the legal clinic, students will work with UNHCR and its operational partner, the Belgian Refugee Council (CBAR-BCHV), on files of actual refugees. This year, students will concentrate on three themes: statelessness, detention and humanitarian visa.

  • Based on contact with stateless persons and thorough research, students will work on the dual challenges stateless persons face: being recognized as stateless persons and securing one’s residency on that basis.
  • For the highly vulnerable group of asylum seekers in detention, students will learn how to make use of national and EU legislation to draft requests that challenge the legality of the detention decision.
  • Students will also help draft humanitarian visa requests for the family members of recognized refugees so that they can get access to Belgian territory in a safe and legal fashion.

The students of the migration law component of the legal clinic will be coached intensively by two experienced migration lawyers, Benoit Dhondt and Elke Van de Cotte.

Academic Year 2015-2016 Projects

Pregnancy-related Discrimination of Women

In partnership with the independent governmental Instituut voor de Gelijkheid van Vrouwen en Mannen (‘Institute for the Equality of Women and Men’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the right of women to be protected from pregnancy-related discrimination on the labour market. Students design a “how to build a case” guide to be used by the Institute in dealing with the large number of pregnancy-related discrimination complaints it receives annually. Students will also prepare a shorter version of the guide for women who are or wish to become pregnant.

Monitoring Academic Freedom

In collaboration with the Scholars at Risk Network, the Human Rights Law Clinic monitors attacks on higher education communities. The project aims to identify areas (both geographic and topical) in which law on academic freedom has yet to be developed, and to set up a regular monitoring system for selected countries. Students conduct research, monitor and report on attacks on higher education in the selected countries, and identify potential advocacy activities on the basis of these reports.

The Right to Health Care of Transgender Persons

In partnership with the independent governmental Instituut voor de Gelijkheid van Vrouwen en Mannen (‘Institute for the Equality of Women and Men’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the rights of transgender persons in the health care context. Students will deliver a human rights analysis of the difficulties transgender persons in transition face in obtaining adequate access to health care. The project will focus on two particular sets of areas in which transgender persons are confronted with obstacles: service provision in hospitals and government refunding of medical procedures.

The Right to Inclusion of Persons with a Disability

 

In partnership with the non-profit organisation Ouders voor Inclusie (‘Parents for Inclusion’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the right to inclusion of persons with a disability in Flanders. The project analyses recent Flemish legislation on the right to (financial) assistance for persons with a disability. Students analyse to what extent the new legislation is compatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and, in particular, with the right of persons with a disability to live independently and participate fully in all aspects of life.

 

The Right to Private Life of Vulnerable Families

In partnership with the non-profit organisation Minderhedenforum (‘Minority Forum’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the right to private life of vulnerable families in the context of tutoring provided to their children by a private organisation. Students analyse to what extent the tutoring contracts supplied by the private organisation infringe the right to private life of families that are socio-economically and/or ethnic-culturally disadvantaged, and in a weak negotiation position towards the private organisation. The objective is to propose ways to achieve a better balance between the commitments of parents, schools and the private organisation.

Acadmic Year 2014-2015 Projects

In the academic year 2014/2015, the Human Rights Law Clinic worked on six projects, in partnership with six different civil society organisations.

The Right to Inclusive Education of Children with a Disability 

In partnership with the non-profit organisation Ouders voor Inclusie (‘Parents for Inclusion’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the right to inclusive education of children with a disability in Flanders. The project focuses on analysing the Flemish government’s so-called M-Decreet (‘M-Decree’) of 12 March 2014, intended to progressively move Flemish educational practice towards guaranteeing children with a disability a right to inclusive education (Art. 24 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; CRPD). The aim of the project is to analyse to what extent the M-Decreet complies with Belgium’s human rights obligations under the CRPD, primarily in terms of duties of reasonable accommodation.

The Social and Economic Rights of Travellers 

In partnership with the non-profit organisation Minderhedenforum (‘Minority Forum’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the social and economic rights of travellers in Flanders. The project aims to present a human rights analysis of the situation of travellers in Flanders, who are a distinctly disadvantaged group in Flemish society. Travellers and their way of life are often regarded with disdain by persons in their surrounding environment. Places where they can stay legally are moreover vastly insufficient in terms of both numbers and provided services. The combination of both factors leads the relevant authorities (mostly at the municipal level) to force travellers to continuously be on the move, constantly relocating to new places. As a result, travellers face a particular risk of suffering human rights violations, especially in the area of social and economic rights. The objective of the project is to provide the partner with a comprehensive human rights analysis of the current situation of travellers in Flanders, particularly in terms of their human rights to housing, education, health care, and social security. The students will further provide the partner with legal advice in terms of strategic litigation and will also work on the production of a brochure in which their human rights analysis is explained in laymen’s terms, to be distributed among travellers.

Muslim Women’s Right to Manifest their Freedom of Religion 

In partnership with the Belgian equality body Interfederaal Gelijkekansencentrum (‘Interfederal Centre for Equal Opportunities’), the Human Rights Law clinic addresses a number of specific cases in which Muslim women have been prohibited from wearing their headscarf, in the context of (public) employment and in the context of private service delivery. The project aims to analyse to what extent the contested practices constitute a violation of these women’s human rights, primarily in terms of their right to manifest their freedom of religion and their right to be free from discrimination on the basis of religion. The project consists of three smaller case files, addressing the same general issue in three different contexts. The objective of the project is to deliver relevant end products to the partner in each of the three case files, ranging from an initial legal analysis of the issue – where the partner has not yet formulated recommendations on the matter – to providing in depth recommendations for governmental authorities, where the partner has already formulated initial recommendations on the matter.

The Social and Economic Rights of Detainees 

In partnership with the NGO Liga voor Mensenrechten (‘League for Human Rights’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the social and economic rights of detainees in Belgian prisons, focusing in particular on working conditions and the right to work. The objective of the project is to assist the partner, through the provision of legal advice in terms of both procedure and substance, in the submission of a complaint to the European Committee of Social Rights, alleging a violation of the relevant provisions of the European Social Charter.

The Right to a Fair Trial and Evidence Obtained through Torture 

In partnership with the NGO Amnesty International Vlaanderen (‘Amnesty International Flanders’), the Human Rights Law clinic addresses the absolute prohibition of torture and its effect on the right to a fair trial. The project aims to particularly analyse to what extent Belgian criminal procedural law currently complies with Article 15 of the UN Convention against Torture (CAT), which stipulates that statements obtained through torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, and similar human rights provisions. According to initial analyses by the partner, Belgian criminal procedural law is  insufficiently explicit on the matter. The project aims to deepen the legal analysis, also in light of relevant case law of the European Court of Human Rights. The objective of the project is dual: (i) to formulate a legal opinion advocating for the explicit inclusion of the exclusionary rule for torture tainted evidence in Belgian criminal procedural law, to be used by the partner in its political advocacy work; and (ii) to deliver a legal analysis of all relevant issues to be used by the partner for internal purposes, for instance in the preparation of shadow reports.

Life in Limbo’ of Persons Excluded from Refugee Status 

In partnership with the Dutch NGO Stichting 1F (‘Foundation 1F’), the Human Rights Law Clinic addresses the issue of persons who have been permanently excluded from refugee status in the Netherlands on the basis of Article 1 (f) of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, which stipulates that the Convention does not apply to persons with respect to whom there are serious reasons for considering that they have committed, inter alia, war crimes and crimes against humanity. Such persons can often not be sent back to their country of origin either, because they would run a real risk of being tortured there. Their expulsion would thus violate Art. 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). As a result, the partner submits, such persons live in a constant state of ‘limbo’ in the Netherlands, never really sure about what will happen to them. Evidence suggests that this causes deep psychological problems, leading – in extreme cases – to suicide attempts. The aim of the project is to determine whether or not this situation of ‘life in limbo’ constitutes itself a violation of Art. 3 ECHR. The ultimate objective of the project is to examine avenues for strategic litigation at the European Court of Human Rights.