Sonya Rahaman, MPhil/PhD research student at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies and coordinator of its Human Rights Researchers’ Network, discusses the current challenges facing the human rights movement and explains why more academics are engaging in activism to voice their opposition to restrictions on fundamental freedoms.  

For the past months the Human Rights Researchers’ Network (HRRN) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, has focused on the global phenomenon surrounding the rise of the populist movement and the increasing marginalisation of human rights internationally, regionally and domestically.

Ongoing challenges from governments has intensified the need to defend human rights, which are there to protect ordinary people and uphold the basic standards of a civilised society, and this has taken a more activist turn. Academics are increasingly engaging in activism to voice their opposition to restrictions on fundamental freedoms and human rights and to further social justice. Indeed, human rights organisations have documented significantly increased attacks on higher education committees around the world, and pressure on academics. These attacks include widespread arrests, prosecutions, travel restrictions, loss of position and threats against peaceful student expression.

Furthermore, the UK’s dramatic step to leave the European Union, having formally given notice of its intention to leave the community, poses new challenges to the future of research funding and exchange of knowledge across the region. In addition, constitutional and human rights lawyers and practitioners face uncertainty over the future of the Human Rights Act and non-discrimination laws, regulations and policies. This concern about Brexit’s impact on the human rights framework and protection of human rights law in the UK has been highlighted by the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights. It is awaiting the UK government’s response to its inquiry.

In Hungary, the Central European University (CEU) also faces an uncertain future. This is due to politics and to a curtailing of academic freedoms through proposed amendments to Act CCIV of 2011 on National Higher Education, which will make it impossible for the CEU to function in a way commensurate with its values.

Bearing these global factors in mind and the increasing restrictions being placed on academia and research, the HRRN has focused this year’s conference (28 June) on activist scholarship and the epistemological, methodological and ethical challenges it poses for academics and activists alike. As such, we encourage those who are interested in the current challenges faced by the human rights movement from a range of disciplines to attend this conference, to facilitate a productive discourse on human rights from multiple perspectives and consider how to protect and promulgate human rights.

The conference is organised by the Human Rights Consortium, School of Advanced Study, University of London, as part of its Human Rights Researchers’ Network (HRRN) event series, and places can be booked here. The HRRN, affiliated with the International Journal of Human Rights, is a distinctive platform designed to promote and facilitate research and debate on the issues concerning academics and practitioners engaging in human rights research and activism.

The HRRN annual conference takes place on 28 June (8.45–5.45pm) at Senate House, Senate Room, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU.