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Get involved in GHLG: ‘Vulnerability and Migration in International Human Rights Law’

Date:17 November 2015
Author:GHLG Blog

Do you want to find out more about human rights in the context of migration? Are you interested in learning about social scientific research methods and qualitative content analysis programmes and their application in the legal field? Join the project ‘Vulnerability and Migration in International Human Rights Law’ as a research assistant or thesis student!

What is the research about? The universality of human rights is commonly challenged in the context of migration: asylum seekers have to be recognized as refugees before enjoying all possible rights, migrants may not have the same rights as nationals and undocumented migrants may enjoy almost no rights at all. Yet, international human rights law treaties time and again recognize the inalienable and inherent human rights of all human beings. How can we solve this paradox? The concept of vulnerability has recently been suggested to contribute to a more holistic approach of human rights. However, whether, to what extent and how vulnerability is also recognized in the context of migration has hitherto not been investigated.

We can think of many possible situations in which universal human rights seem to not fully apply in the context of migration. In the field of health you could think of undocumented migrants being unable to enjoy the social determinants of health such as food, shelter and water or of asylum seekers who may not be granted sufficient mental health care. Yet, the issue is much broader than health alone and also involves the deportation of persons without a residence permit, insufficient criminal investigations, the lack of an effective remedy and the conditions of detention in cases involving migrants. In all of these issues the central question is: who is seen as vulnerable in the context of migration and on what basis?

What will you do? Vulnerability is used as a concept in many different contexts by international human rights bodies. The study aims to provide an overview of when, where and how vulnerability is referred to in international legal documents that refer to issues of migration. You will search these documents and code them according to a predetermined coding scheme (using the programme atlas.ti). Based on the format provided, you will write a synopsis of the several aspects of vulnerability that come to the fore.

The key areas on which this research focuses are:

  • The United Nations (UN) system
  • The Council of Europe
  • The Inter-American human rights system

Documents that will be analyzed include:

  • International treaties
  • The General Comments and Concluding Observations of the UN treaty bodies (such as the Committee against Torture or the Committee on the Rights of the Child)
  • Case law of UN treaty bodies, the European Court of Human Rights, the European Social Committee and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights
  • UN Declarations and Resolutions and official statements and reports of UN-agencies (such as the UN High Commissioner for Refugees)

Who should apply? This research is well suited for anyone seeking a voluntary research assistantship or a thesis topic that contributes to the current debate on migration and human rights. This holds equally true for students from international relations, (international) law, history, political science, sociology or anthropology. Students interested in multidisciplinary research and particularly in the application of social scientific methods to the legal field are especially encouraged to apply. Previous coding experience or knowledge of atlas.ti is desirable but no prerequisite.

How will the research activities be organized? After an initial meeting to discuss the research topic, scope and strategy, you will conduct research independently on your own time with periodic contact via Skype and in person with the contact person. Ideally, you would be able to spend at least 3 hours per week on this research. The coding envisages several phases so you should be available for at least six months.

How to apply? Interested students should send a brief email to Veronika Flegar, Please mention any relevant experience and /or interest in this work.


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