The university of Leuven has introduced a new system to ensure that outside partners in future are not involved in any breach of human rights.
The university already has an ethics committee which deals with cases where a breach of human rights is suspected. Now that top-down approach to the issue will be reversed, and any department involved in relations with outside institutions, including foreign universities, will now be able to subject prospective partners to a human rights test.
The system works like this: A department looking to enter into a partnership will use a fixed list of questions to figure out if there is a possible risk to human rights on the part of the corresponding institution. An example might be where the products of a joint research project could potentially have a dual civilian-military application.
As well as that, the second half of the list looks at the project itself, and the potential for putting human rights at risk.
If there is a suspicion in either case, the matter can then be referred to the Human Rights Contact Point, which has experience in the field of its own, and which can always turn to the ethics committee for assistance.
“By setting up the Contact Point, we actually broaden the scope of the ethics committee,” said Leuven rector Luc Sels. “The ethics committee is already making judgments about certain research projects, and through the developed framework and the Contact Point, all cooperation agreements are now tested against human rights.”
“It is important to note that we will never identify an organisation with the country in which it operates,” said Peter Lievens, vice-rector for international policy.
“Just because a government is guilty of serious human rights violations does not mean that the same also applies to all organisations in that country. So collaborations remain possible, but of course only if the partner is not involved in such malpractices.”