Guide on the Human Rights Impact Assessment

The human rights impact assessment helps you determine whether:

  1. Human rights might be violated during the planned activities.
  2. The research results may be misused for human rights violations at a later stage.
  3. The partner may be involved in human rights violations.

Are you planning a cooperation with a new or existing partner? Are you starting a new project? Then you must check the aforementioned issues first. The step-by-step guide hereunder helps you conducting the human rights impact assessment.

Answering the question step-by-step

You are not expected to know about all human rights violations in the world, and in most cases there is no cause for concern. Ghent University does not expect an in-depth analysis of the situation by the promoter either: this is done by the Committee on Human Rights Policy and Dual-Use Research. Nevertheless, you are expected to check whether there are any allegations or reports about a partner or the region in which you will be active.

  1. Check whether a partner is being criticised for its policy or actions. You can do this by:


  1. Check whether the industrial sector or country in which you’ll work is notorious for human rights violations:


  1. Reflect on whether human rights may be violated during or as a result of your research. Some human rights can be restricted, but only in strictly defined circumstances. The following human rights are most well-known:
    • The prohibition of torture and inhuman treatment or punishment
    • The prohibition of forced labour and human trafficking
    • The prohibition of discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ...
    • The prohibition of arbitrary arrest
    • The right to live, to be free and to be safe
    • The right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence
    • The right to a private and family life
    • The right to work in just and favourable conditions
    • The right to education
    • The freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and association
    • The freedom of thought and religion
    • The freedom to participate in elections
    • The freedom of researchers to conduct research freely in any field based on scientific methods and to share the results (academic freedom)


  1. Have you come across possible human rights violations of the partner, or is the partner the subject of criticism? Do you doubt whether human rights violations may occur during your project? Then you should submit the project to the Committee Human Rights Policy and Dual-Use Research, using the 'Human Rights Assessment Notification Form'.


  1. If necessary, the Committee on Human Rights Policy and Dual-Use Research will conduct a thorough analysis of the project and advise the staff member on the cooperation. In certain cases, measures can be taken to minimise the risk of human rights violations. In other cases, cooperation will not be possible.

Examples of problematic activities

  • Activities for which child, forced or slave labour is used by the partner(s).
  • Activities involving discrimination. E.g., an exchange agreement, 'joint PhD', training, education or research activity that is not open to certain categories of people because of their gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, etc., without legitimate reason (such as positive discrimination).
  • Activities with harmful side effects. For instance:
    • The damage or destruction of land and/or cultural property of indigenous peoples.
    • The expulsion of people from their land for the construction of a field experiment.
    • The risk that research results are misused against vulnerable communities with harmful effects (e.g., tobacco producers identifying vulnerable communities or technology for profiling vulnerable minorities).

Examples of problematic partners

  • Organisations that systematically discriminate based on gender, ethnicity, political opinion, nationality, religion, etc., by denying them access to university.
  • Organisations that regularly dismiss employees for criticizing government policies.
  • Organisations where security personnel use excessive force against students who demonstrate.
  • Organisations that systematically refuse to grant employees a fair remuneration according to local standards, and employ employees in problematic circumstances (e.g., the mining sector, clothing industry and large-scale plantations).
  • Organisations that produce goods that are likely to be used for human rights violations (e.g., certain weapon producers).

The assessment is limited to whether a partner violates human rights. A partner is not responsible for human rights violations by the government in which it is not involved, or for the mere implementation of a problematic law. However, collaborations with organisations that actively contribute to serious human rights violations by a national government are excluded. Think of:

  • Operating detention centres in which refugees are held in inhuman conditions and/or for an indefinite period.
  • The unlawful destruction of homes to oppress a part of the population.
  • The drastic reduction of health care in already disadvantaged parts of a country.
  • Setting up torture programmes for terrorist suspects.
  • Organizing death squads in a war on drugs.
  • Mandatory sterilisation of certain groups of people (e.g., persons with disabilities or Roma).
  • Testing experimental drugs on an impoverished part of the population.

Examples of non-problematic collaborations

  • The collaboration involves a partner from a country where human rights are seriously violated. For example, political activists are systematically imprisoned, large parts of the population die of malnutrition, minorities are systematically discriminated against, or terrorist suspects are tortured. However, the partner is in no way involved in these human rights violations, nor do the activities of the proposed cooperation involve human rights violations.
  • Due to a temporary shortage of funds, which is not caused by systematic misuse of funds, a commercial partner occasionally fails to pay the salaries of his/her employees on time.
  • A university partner exceptionally refuses an academic access to the university buildings because of his/her controversial political opinion, without this opinion being punishable.