Recent shifts in parts of the world towards populism and authoritarianism require broadened attention to an increasingly wide range of contexts in which human rights are being curtailed. While major conflicts, such as the war in Ukraine, are glaring environments where abuse of power has impacted human rights, social justice is currently at stake in a variety of arenas even in established democracies, from migration and women’s health, to debates over censorship in education.
To address such shifts, CEU’s Shattuck Center for Human Rights has broadened its focus from primarily post-conflict and post-authoritarian environments, to include more established democratic environments where human rights are under threat. The center focuses on studying, researching and engaging with policy and institutions that promote social justice.
“While there are many challenges that stem from conflicts and violent events, there are additional current issues that are important for us to address, including democratic backsliding, human migration and climate change, which are linked to human rights and social justice,” said Martin Kahanec, Director of the Shattuck Center. “Many of these issues put pressure on administrations and democratic institutions, even in long-established democracies. This makes it necessary to thoroughly revisit how they can adapt, enhance their capabilities, and foster stronger connections with civil society toward democratic resilience.”
With the guidance and support of John Shattuck, former Rector and President of CEU (2009-2016) after whom the center is named, the Shattuck Center has over the last year introduced the study of strategies through which democratic institutions can be strengthened, so that they are both resistant and resilient to attacks by those who support exclusionary populism, authoritarianism and illiberalism. It has also begun directing particular attention towards local and municipal-level institutions that contribute to creating environments that foster both democracy and respect for human rights and social justice.
The center, housed within CEU’s Department of Public Policy, offers a hub for practical engagement on issues related to social justice in global governance and civic administration. Its activities include joint research, curriculum development and teacher training in these areas.
Among the Shattuck Center’s team of faculty researchers is Associate Professor Kirsten Roberts Lyer, who was appointed this month as Vice Chair of the Scientific Committee of the EU Fundamental Human Rights Agency, which protects and advances fundamental rights across the EU. “The rigorous, data-backed work of the agency supports democratic institutions by promoting accountability, transparency, inclusivity, rule of law, social cohesion and citizen participation,” she said, adding that “these goals are very much in alignment with the Shattuck Center’s focus on strengthening democratic institutions.” She has recently written about the necessity of transitional leadership provisions in the laws of independent state-based institutions and authored a toolkit for “Effective Human Rights Engagement for Parliamentary Bodies”.
Another publication that speaks to the work of the center is Shattuck’s latest book “Holding Together: The Hijacking of Rights in America and How to Reclaim Them for Everyone” co-authored with Sushma Raman and Mathias Risse. The book is a road map for an American rights revival, with insights vital to democracies. Shattuck visited CEU for his book launch last year (video here), which also marked the Shattuck Center’s new focus on human rights and social justice. It included a discussion with CEU President and Rector, Shalini Randeria, as well as a panel with students from the Department of Public Policy and Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy and International Relations.
Within the Shattuck Center’s evolving activities, Kahanec looks forward to involving master’s and PhD students in further networking and internship opportunities. Students working with CEU’s Applied Policy Project and Policy Lab are candidates to become research assistants and organizers for some of the Shattuck Center’s curricular components currently in development.
A significant current project also associated with the center is the 2022-2025 BRRIDGE project, a collaboration under Horizon Europe led by Kahanec, which focuses on the European Research Area – the ambition to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across the EU. The BRRIDGE project aims to reduce gaps in national research systems, contributing to this goal initially through efforts to increase the research and administrative capacity of Matej Bel University (UMB), an emerging Slovak public university located in a country that is struggling to improve its research and innovation performance.
To advance the research management and administrative capacity of UMB, the project brings together three leading research partners in Europe: CEU, the European University Institute and the National University of Ireland, Galway. The partners are working with UMB in the field of democracy and policy, with a focus on knowledge transfer, exchange of best practices and networking, as well as community and policy engagement.
Also, as part of the BRRIDGE project, the Democracy Living Lab has been established in the Banska Bystrica Self-Governing Region in Slovakia. “The Living Lab serves as a physical meeting space for activists to convene. It also provides an intersectional site for the research of social movements, for example, to study how contemporary climate movements cooperate with local political actors,” said Felix Butzlaff, a CEU Postdoctoral Fellow working on the BRRIDGE project at the Shattuck Center. “Here, activists discuss mobilization repertoires and coalitions with other movements, and academics engage with activists and movements for their research.” By connecting stakeholders engaged in civic struggles, the Living Lab fosters more efficient and powerful activities in the region promoting social justice and human rights.
Looking ahead to the 2023-24 academic year, the Shattuck Center will be hosting the next Lemkin Reunion at CEU – a gathering of policymakers named in honor of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who lost his family in the Holocaust and first coined the word genocide. The Lemkin Reunion is focused on responding to atrocity crimes and assessing lessons learned.