Skip to main content

Research Projects


HEROES: Novel Strategies to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation and Human Trafficking Crimes and Protect their Victims

Prof. Paul De Hert, Carlotta Rigotti, Júlia Zomignani Barboza

01/12/2021 - 30/11/2024

Project: Fundamental



The number of people, including children, falling victim to human trafficking and CSA/CSE around the world continues to grow, despite increased international attention and resources. In Europe, sexually exploited women and girls make up the majority of human trafficking victims. The EU-funded HEROES project will explore how to use the latest technological advances and strategies to prevent and combat CSA/CSE and human trafficking, support investigation into these crimes and their victims' protection. It will develop an ambitious, interdisciplinary, international and victim-centred approach. HEROES aims to establish a coordinated contribution with law enforcement agencies to address the specific needs of victims and provide protection which currently is often limited by lack of coordination among stakeholders.


Arbeidsmigratie en werknemersbescherming (Labour migration and workers protection)

Prof. Christophe Vanroelen (VUB Interface Demography Research Group), Dr. Amy Weatherburn

01/06/2021 - 31/12/2021

Project: Fundamental



This project will provide a long-term outlook on labour migration needs in Belgium with a dualist evaluation of the extent to which the current labour migration policy (i) corresponds to labour market demands and (ii) ensures protection of social and labour rights of migrant workers. The research will outline the implementation of the new Single Permit since 2019 and determine to what extent it responds to the need of the Flemish labour market. Interviews with single permit holders will then identify the key conditions that must be met to ensure that workers are able to enjoy decent work, equal treatment and means of enforcing their rights. The findings of the research will seek to provide recommendations on the future of the Belgian labour market in the long-term.


OPTED: Observatory for Political Texts in European Democracies: A European research infrastructure 

Prof. Rosamunde van Brakel, prof. Paul De Hert, Hripsime Asatryan & Bianca-Ioana Marcu

01/10/20 → 31/10/23 

Project: Fundamental 



Nowadays, with the advancement of digital development, we live in the era when it is possible to observe and understand political processes by the texts produced directly by its actors

The awareness of political process in Europe on time and more holistically invests to European citizens’ participation and activism on different topics of political matter in the continent. 

The challenges to full and ethical exploitation of European Research framework lie behind the dispersion of research field, research technology and operative methods, and the unclear legal and ethical frameworks. 


The OPTED infrastructure, pushes the boundaries of political text analysis by addressing both the development and the application of tools and techniques, the standardization of measurement quality and legal and ethical frameworks for research data mining . 

It will take to more institutionalization in the field of political text analysis by means of a common European infrastructure, which, in its part, will produce more possibilities for impactful, sustainable, resource saving, innovative, democratic, non-discriminatory and substantially meaningful research landscape. 



Future-proofing human rights. Developing thicker forms of accountability

Prof. Paul De Hert & Prof. Rosamunde Van Brakel 

1/01/21 → 31/12/24 

Project: Fundamental iBof Project



This 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 overall projectt FRC is responsible for work package (WP) 3.3.. See for more information the whole the project desription here: 



Prof. Paul De Hert, Carlotta Rigotti & Dr. Amy Weatherburn 

1/01/19 → 31/03/21 

Project: Fundamental



Right now Europe is facing an increasing risk of radicalisation; consequently a common infrastructure is required in order to effectively intervene against all forms of violent extremism.

The EXIT Europe project aims at developing locally embedded exit programs across Europe, especially where they are most lacking, such as in the Southern and Eastern regions. To achieve this, the local programs will be civil-society based, have a cross-extremisms perspective, be multi-agency and directly embedded in local community PVE networks as well as connected to security agencies. Furthermore existing expertise on de-radicalisation practice from RAN, Efus, EENeT, the Austrian exit pilot and the German “Live Democracy!” program will be mustered; whereas the so-called "triangular exit facilitation approach" (AT) and elements from restorative justice and gender-focus work will be introduced in this field.


REBUILD: ICT-enabled integration facilitator and life rebuilding guidance

Prof. Paul de Hert, Julia Zomignani Barboza & Sergi Vazquez Maymir 

01/01/2019 - 31/12/2021

Project: Fundamental



The European Union is experiencing large migrant and refugee flows. Consequently, local authorities and communities need to address the challenges that come with managing and integrating the newly arrived. The REBUILD project aims to provide a toolbox of ICTbased solutions that will improve the management procedures for local authorities and assist migrants to build a new life and integrate with the local society. To achieve this, REBUILD seeks to develop tools that will gather information on the needs and skills of migrants and match them with the needs emerging in local labour markets and the services provided by local stakeholders. At the same time, migrants will have access to a digital companion, which will help them in the integration process by facilitating the search and contact with local services and obtaining feedback from the users to improve the tool.


EduLAw: Law and Rights Modules in Teacher Training Programmes: Erasmus+ Programme 2016-2019

Prof. Gracienne Lauwers, Georgia Du Plessis, Charlotte Mbuyi, Martijn Roelen, en Ielizavieta Kovalska

01/10/2016 - 31/10/2019

Project: Fundamental



The EduLAw project underlining assumption is that collaboration between educators and lawyers can promote effective teaching, learning, school leadership, and educational innovation. What are the trends in law and education that make effective collaboration increasingly necessary? Many court decisions introduced by individual students or staff members are held to reduce educational discretion on central questions of education and school leadership. Therefore, an effective collaboration between educators and their lawyers increasingly influences such central educational matters as school governance, school reform, equality of educational opportunity, school leadership, and allocation of scarce resources.

Such an interdisciplinarity would not only improve lawyer-educator interactions, but could also reduce litigation in educational issues, and finally use the law to support and advance educational policy objectives.

DESIrE: Demand for sexual exploitation in Europe

Prof. Paul De Hert, Dr. Amy Weatherburn, Sibel Top, Carlotta Rigotti, Els Enhus, Margo De Koster & Chloé Briére

02/01/17 → 01/01/19 

Project : Fundamental



DESIrE, aims to generate a better understanding of the impact of sex work legislation on the prevalence of trafficking in human beings. DESIrE contributes to the fight against trafficking in human beings by equipping stakeholders with up-to-date knowledge on how to reduce trafficking in human beings for sexual exploitation as a means of prevention. The DESIrE project comprises the following components.


LIVE FOR: Criminal Justice Access to Digital Evidences in the Cloud - LIVE_FORensics 

Prof. Paul de Hert, Cihan Parlar, Sergi Vazquez Maymir & dr. Amy Weatherburn 

01/11/16 → 31/10/2018

Project : Fundamental



LIVE_FOR is a two-year European Commission project, which began on 1 November 2016. LIVE_FOR aims to boost the use and application of Directive 2014/14/EU concerning the European Investigation Order (EIO) in criminal matters, especially in the context of digital evidence located in the cloud.

COST logo

COST Action: Ageism from a multinational, interdisciplinary perspective

Prof. Paul de Hert, Marijke de PauwEugenio Mantovani

01/11/15 → 31/11/18

Project : Fundamental



The COST Action has the overall goal to improve the lives of older adults by enhancing scientific knowledge and attention to the phenomenon of ageism, by integrating the different disciplines of research currently involved in the field of ageism and by developing collaborations with public policy officials and non-academic professionals responsible for the care and wellbeing of older adults as well as with older adults themselves.
Members from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), research Group Fundamental Rights & Constitutionalism (FRC) and Research Group on Law, Science, Technology & Society (LSTS) are part of Work Group 2 (WG2) on Judicial/Legal Ageism. This WG focuses on legislations, judicial decisions and court rulings at the local and
international levels and their implications for the rights and lives of older adults. The WG is chaired by prof. Israel (issi) Doron (Haifa University) and Nena Georgantzi (AGE Platform).

FRA logo

FRA: Biometric data in large EU IT systems in the areas of borders, visa and asylum – fundamental rights implications

Prof. Paul de Hert, dr. Amy Weatherburn, Jozefien van Caeneghem, Marijke de Pauw, Ines Gallala & Ramon Lathouwers

01/12/14 → 31/12/16 

Project : Fundamental



The FRA research project will analyse the fundamental rights implications of inserting, storing and using biometric data – such as fingerprints – in these IT systems. Both the negative as well as the positive fundamental rights implications will be studied. The FRC team will determine the practices used in Belgium and how these impact on fundamental rights. This research will consider the potential vulnerabilities of those concerned, such as asylum seekers, refugees, irregular immigrants, or third-country nationals that applied for a visa or were banned from entering the EU. In addition, the project can look at issues related to the general population, as data on EU citizens may also be included in some systems.



Prof. Paul De HertJulia Muraszkiewicz & dr. Amy Weatherburn

01/05/14 → 30/04/16 

Project : Fundamental



TRACE is a two-year FP7 project which began on 1 May 2014. TRACE aims to support stakeholders in combating and disrupting human trafficking by assessing and consolidating information surrounding the perpetrators and the wider trafficking enterprise. TRACE has the following objectives:

  1. Develop a theory-driven understanding of trafficking as a criminal enterprise;
  2. Acquire a part-theory, part-evidence-based understanding of the specific characteristics of the traffickers: who are they and why do they become traffickers? Coupled with developing an understanding of why some victims become traffickers. Lastly understand the nature of the interaction amongst, traffickers, victims and third parties who facilitate human trafficking, e.g., other criminals or corrupt officials;
  3. Develop a framework of the factors influencing the trends in trafficking of human beings, e.g., technology, economic and political trends;
  4. Develop a theory-driven understanding of the policies in place and provide a framework of what further policy actions are available for stakeholders.
HRI logo

HRI: The Global Challenge of Human Rights Integration: Towards a Users’ Perspective

Prof. Dr. Paul de Hert, Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis, Marijke De Pauw, Derek Innman & Mathias Holvoet

01/10/12 → 30/09/17 

Project : Fundamental



Starting point of the research is the finding that both rights holders and duty bearers under human rights norms are confronted simultaneously with a multitude of human rights provisions differing as to their scope, focus, legal force and level of governance. This non-hierarchical accumulation of human rights provisions has resulted in a complex and uncoordinated legal architecture that may in some circumstances create obstacles for effective human rights protection. The central research objective of the HRI Research Network is the study of human rights law as an integrated whole from a users’ perspective.

Fwo logo

FWO Project: Processing of personal data regarding ethnic origin and disability for statistical purposes to combat discrimination

Prof. Paul de Hert, Jozefien Van Caeneghem, Charlotte Cornelis & Ronny Saelens

01/06/11 → 31/12/15 (extended with self-funding until December 2016)

Project : Fundamental



The project looks at a societal problem (two vulnerable groups: ethnic minorities and people with disabilities) from a legal perspective. The main research aim is to determine whether the vulnerability of these groups can be reduced by creating a legal framework to collect and process sensitive data on ethnicity and disability respectively. The objective is to identify legal obstacles and the formulate recommendations to improve the legal framework.

FRA logo

FRA-project: FRC awarded research contract from FRA with regard to the implementation of fundamental rights in Belgium

2011 → 2014 

Project : Fundamental



FRC has been awarded a prestigious research contract from the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA) in cooperation with consultancy group Milieu Ltd. FRC will be working as legal experts on country reports and other requests of the FRA with regard to the implementation of fundamental rights in Belgium. The first service request is well on its way and consists of a study of the human rights track record of Belgium in the period between October 1, 2010 and October 31, 2011. Nine human rights domains are being investigated: (1) asylum, immigration and integration; (2) border control and visa policy; (3) information society and data protection; (4) the rights of the child and protection of children; (5) equality and non-discrimination; (6) racism and ethnic discrimination; (7) participation of EU-citizens in the Union’s democratic functioning; (8) access to efficient and independent justice; (9) protection of victims.

Fwo logo

FWO-project: Rekenschapsplichtigheid voor mensenrechtenschendingen door internationale organisaties

Prof. Stefaan Smis, Prof. Jan Wouters & Prof. Eva Brems 

Project : Fundamental



Het project heeft als doel te onderzoeken via welke technieken, mechanismen en fora internationale organisaties en/of hun lidstaten rekenschapsplichtig (kunnen) gemaakt worden voor schendingen van mensenrechten gepleegd door, of toe te schrijven aan, deze internationale organisaties. Er wordt in het bijzonder nagegaan worden hoe bestaande mechanismen voor het direct of indirect aansprakelijk stellen van internationale organisaties kunnen verbeterd worden, en welke nieuwe mechanismen kunnen/moeten ontwikkeld worden om die aansprakelijkheid te versterken.


VLIR-UOS project: Projet portant à la création d’un 3ième cycle (D.E.S.) en droits de l’homme à l’Université Catholique de Bukavu (RDC)

Prof. Dr. Stefaan Smis

Project : Fundamental



Ce projet entend:

  • Organiser au sein de la Faculté de droit de l’UCB un programme de troisième cycle en droits de l’homme en vue de former dans le cadre d’un Diplôme d’études spécialisées (D.E.S. ou Master complémentaire) des cadres congolais hautement qualifiés en droits de l’homme, possédant une maîtrise des droits de l’homme et des mécanismes pour leur protection aussi bien au plan national, que régional et international. Ces diplômés seront capables d’oeuvrer, avec une compétence accrue, à l’effectivité desdits droits. Chaque année le troisième cycle en droits de l’homme veut délivrer 30 diplômes D.E.S. à des professionnels et jeunes assistants, soit 150 diplômés d’études spécialisées en droits de l’homme seront formés sur cinq ans.
  • Former dans des universités flamandes, suivant la formule de bourses en sandwich, une poignée de jeunes docteurs capables d’assurer la relève académique à l’UCB mais éventuellement aussi dans d’autres universités congolaises quant à l’enseignement et la recherche en matière des droits de l’homme. Le projet veut former quatre docteurs en droit spécialisés dans le domaine des droits de l’homme.
  • Promouvoir l’accès des étudiants, chercheurs et des acteurs des droits de l’homme congolais aux ressources documentaires spécialisées en droits de l’homme. Un nombre encore inconnu d’acteurs auront accès aux ressources documentaires.


Prof. Paul De Hert, Jozefien Van Caeneghem & E. Ignatoiu-Sora

1/01/11 → 31/12/14 

Project : Fundamental



This proposal focuses on the use of sensitive data for the implementation of anti-discrimination policies. It takes Belgium as its focus and seeks to develop an understanding - a model or system - for the reconciliation of privacy rights and other concerned with the promotion of equality. It takes as its basis the growing consensus at both the international and European level on the importance of detailed statistics on the composition of a given population in orde to render existing anti-discrimination and diversity policies fully operational.



Prof. Paul de Hert, Serge Gutwirth, Sonja Snacken, Wim Distelmans & Johan Bilsen

1/01/11 → 31/12/14 

Project : Fundamental



The aim of this research proposal is to analyse the dynamics of relations of (extreme) institutional dependency and the influence of human rights standards and legislation on these relations. It will focus on two case studies, health care institutions and prisons, through an integration of different scientific disciplines: human rights, legal theory, sociology of law, criminology, forensic psychology, end of life care and decisions, oncology. In doing so, it will bring together the expertise of different VUB-research teams in a true attempt at integrated interdisciplinary research about a very timely subject matter of high social, legal, ethical and medical pertinence.