Reaction of Rector Rik Van de Walle to open letter to the Board of Governors and Rector

(06-05-2024) Rector Rik Van de Walle:

The signatories of the open letter address the violence of war in Gaza. It goes without saying that I too am concerned about the underlying issues in the region, and their consequences as we see them to this day. 

The signatories denounce the university collaborations with Israel. I will  explain the way Ghent University deals with collaborations with third parties.  

Every new or renewed collaboration that Ghent University plans to enter into with another university, company or research institute is subjected to a thorough human rights test beforehand. It is checked whether 

  1. Human rights may be violated during the activities.
  2. The research results can later be used for human rights violations.
  3. The partner may be involved in human rights violations. 

If the answer to any of the above questions is positive, advice is requested from the Committee on Human Rights Policy and Dual Use Research of Ghent University. This committee investigates the matter in depth and advises researchers and the board on the desirability of cooperation and on possible measures to reduce the risk of human rights violations. 

In addition, cooperation agreements concluded by Ghent University contain a human rights clause, which allows the cooperation to be terminated when there are clear indications that one of the parties is involved in a serious or systematic violation of human rights. 

The clause is only applied as a last resort, after entering into dialogue with the partner institution. As a result of the escalation of violence in Israel and Gaza, Ghent University is obviously also scrutinizing its (collaborations with) partners from that region. 

More information on the human rights policy can be found at 

During its meeting of 3 May 2024, Ghent University's Board of Governors decided that the policy on human rights will remain as it is at present, and that no deviation from the existing human rights policy will be made with regard to one particular country, in this case Israel. 

During that same meeting, the Board of Governors decided that Ghent University, noting that there is a societal need to do so, will communicate transparently about the positive and negative decisions regarding the screened collaborations with Israeli partners (since the implementation of Ghent University's human rights policy in 2018). That communication will happen later today, on 6 May 2024. 

Finally, the open letter mentions that  the initiators of the protests have been threatened. This is obviously not acceptable. At Ghent University, freedom of speech is possible at all times. In my communication to the initiators, I have made it clear that the administration of Ghent University never gives permission to activists to occupy a building, and that if, against this prohibition, such an action is taken, general rules apply at Ghent University which must be respected at all times. 

These rules include the following: 

  • The action can only take place in a defined area of a building 
  • Evacuations must be possible and respected 
  • Furniture cannot be moved or damaged 
  • A sanitary area will be indicated which must be used (not all over the building) 
  • Own stewards will be provided, e.g. for crowd control 
  • Dogs or other animals are not allowed (unless official guide dogs) 
  • Own waste management and waste disposal is provided 
  • No masked persons (except medical mask) 
  • No alcohol or drugs in the building 
  • No open fire 
  • In case of violence, police will be called immediately 
  • All academic and other activities in the building must continue without any problem 
  • There must always be at least one person in charge present who can speak for the group regarding safety 
  • The building will be left clean 

These rules show that there are no threats. 

As always, the safety of students (and staff) is our main concern. Ghent University never gives permission to occupy buildings, but if it does happen, a general framework of agreements applies. Among other things, these agreements aim to keep the action safe for everyone. This applies both to the activists and to Ghent University students, staff and any visitors using the occupied building during the action. 


Rik Van de Walle