Doctoral fellow

Last application date
Mar 14, 2021 00:00
RE22 - Department of European, Public and International Law
Limited duration
PhD: MA degree in SPS, law, anthropology or a related discipline -- Postdoc: PhD in human rights or other relevant field
Occupancy rate
Vacancy type
Research staff

Job description


We are seeking a researcher for a fully-funded PhD or postdoctoral fellowship as part of the iBOF project “Future-proofing human rights. Developing thicker forms of accountability” (see below).

The selected candidate will examine the empirical relevance of new human rights duty-bearer concepts in a specific geographical and thematic context, which they can propose themselves. The project’s research design requires the researcher to engage in fieldwork (including participant observation, interviews, document collection, focus groups etc) in the Global South for approximately 2-3 months per year.

The selected candidate will be supervised by prof. dr. Tine Destrooper and will primarily be based at the Human Rights Centre at the Faculty of Law and Criminology of Ghent University, but will (remotely) collaborate with colleagues at other Flemish Universities.

We are looking for a mature PhD candidate or established postdoctoral researcher.

  • PhD candidates who apply should ideally have a research degree and/or experience of doing fieldwork or research on the topic of human rights accountability.
  • Postdoctoral researchers should hold a PhD in human rights or other relevant fields and have a proven track record of working on related topics.

Only one candidate will be selected for this position.

  • If the selected candidate is at the pre-doctoral level, they will be offered a full-time, fully-funded PhD fellowship (4 years).
  • If the selected candidate is at the postdoctoral level, they will be offered a full-time or part-time employment contract of limited duration (2 years, based on 1.0 FTE – employment percentage is open to negotiation).

All candidates for this position will be evaluated jointly (see details below).

We encourage candidates who self-identify as belonging to a minority group to apply and have a recruitment process aimed at ensuring inclusion and diversity.


The position is one of seven research positions that we are currently seeking to fill in the context of a new research project on accountability for human rights.

For more information about the other positions (including at other universities), please see this page.

The overall research project is a multi-disciplinary and multi-method study that seeks to identify a variety of avenues for achieving better human rights protection that can provide the basis for a thicker conceptualization of the notion of (human rights) accountability. It seeks to strengthen human rights law by identifying means or mechanisms that ensure a thicker form of accountability.

This project proposes to further develop the concept of accountability so that it can face up to current social challenges, such as COVID-19, corporate abuse or surveillance dilemmas.

Our particular concern is with the disconnect between the formal legal system and the lived experiences of those who suffer harms that could logically be – but are not yet - understood as a human rights violation.

Our overarching research question is: How can thicker accountability for human rights violations be achieved, so as to ensure better human rights protection in line with the everyday experience of rights holders?

This question breaks down into three sub-questions:

  1. What counts/should count, as a human rights violation, i.e. what types of substantive wrongs (do not) trigger accountability in practice?
  2. Who can/should be held accountable (i.e. who is a duty-bearer), but now slips through the net?
  3. How can the human rights framework be altered to accommodate this, i.e. what are good practices?


Within this broader project, the candidate will be working on a specific work package that looks beyond the law and asks how we can learn from other disciplines and from human rights practice to thicken accountability.

To do this, the candidate collaborates closely with a postdoc who examines what we can we learn from neighboring fields to revisit our understanding of who is a human rights duty-bearer?

They examine the relevance of these legal and theoretical proposals in an empirical manner. The exclusive focus on states as human rights duty-bearers can be disempowering for rights-holders and victims of human rights violations and is out of sync with a reality in which states increasingly delegate certain powers and authorities to private actors; corporate actors amassed an unseen kind and amount of power; international and supranational organizations assume state functions; etc.

In response to this, several – legal – initiatives have been taken, and several avenues explored, to identify ‘new’ human rights duty-bearers, with some seeking to reinforce the state and to strengthen state duties, while others seek to allocate obligations to other actors.

This research consists of an empirical analysis of how rights-holders themselves understand who can be held legally accountable and how relevant proposed solutions are thought to be in their lived experience.

The geographic scope of the case study can be determined by the PhD and PI.

For more information, see WP2.2. in the document with this link: .

Job profile


In order to be eligible, applicants must

  • hold a (research) master’s degree in social and political sciences, law, anthropology or a related discipline;
  • have obtained their degree at the time of application or demonstrate convincingly that they will have that degree in hand by August 1, 2021;
  • be fluent in English as their primary working language and as their primary publication language, and be fluent in the official language of the case study they propose;
  • be willing to spend longer periods of time abroad for fieldwork and to participate in international conferences.

Furthermore, applicants who meet the following conditions will be ranked higher during the assessment procedure

  • good knowledge of human rights protection and accountability, new duty-bearers or related fields relevant to the project;
  • experience with fieldwork, ideally in the Global South, or specifically in the case study proposed;
  • experience with qualitative research methods (such as participant-observation, interpretive research design)
  • knowledge of and experience with legal research and/or quantitative research is an added value;
  • pre-existing networks relevant to the research and fieldwork.

In addition to these project specific elements, we expect candidates to

  • have the ability to work independently and in a multi-disciplinary and international team;
  • have excellent academic writing/presentation skills;
  • contribute towards the general well-functioning of the team and project;
  • have some social media experience, or interest therein;
  • work in a meticulous way and be able to manage deadlines.


In addition to the above requirements, postdoctoral researchers must also meet the following minimum requirements:

  • hold a PhD in human rights or other relevant field at the time of application or demonstrate that you will have the degree in hand by August 1, 2021;
  • have a proven track record (including through publications) on the protection of ESC rights Postdoctoral researchers who meet several of the following desired qualities will be ranked higher during the assessment procedure:
  • have multidisciplinary training (e.g. as demonstrated through multiple degrees) and/or a proven track record in multidisciplinary research, as relevant to the iBOF research project;
  • have a proven track record (including publications) in the domain of the WP;
  • have demonstrable expertise with socio-legal or legal anthropological fieldwork, especially in the Global South;
  • have demonstrable expertise in human rights accountability;
  • have demonstrable expertise in or familiarity with actor-oriented perspectives and/or users’ perspectives on human rights;
  • have experience with taking on a proactive and coordinating role within a collaborative research project and to take up a supportive role towards junior team members;
  • be fluent in at least one other language, in addition to English (notably a language dominant in the proposed case study).

How to apply

To apply, please send us:

  • A cover letter (maximum 500 words) outlining how your professional and/or research experience is relevant for this project, your motivation, and which case study you would want to examine;
  • a detailed CV (including publication list, presentation and fieldwork experience if available);
  • a transcript of your degree(s) and grades
    • If you have a foreign diploma in a language other than Belgium’s national languages (Dutch, French or German) or English, please add a translation in one of the mentioned languages;
    • a ‘Certificate of equivalence’ is required for diplomas awarded outside the European Union (This can be requested via
  • Two academic letters of recommendation (e.g. from your MA supervisor); and
  • a writing sample on a related topic (10.000 words maximum, in English, ideally an academic or research paper or MA dissertation).

Applicants should submit these documents as one pdf file via email to with the subject line “Application iBOF WP2.2”.

We may not be able to process applications that do not follow these formal requirements.

The deadline for submission is March 14, 2021. The foreseen starting date is November 1, 2021.

For inquiries, please contact prof. dr. Tine Destrooper at