Maria Grahn-Farley in front of a blue wall
Professor Maria Grahn-Farley coordinates the project Human Rights Justifications
Photo: Isac Lundmark

International research project to study States’ use of human rights


Democracy is no longer a given. Instead there are competing views on how countries and societies should be governed and act on the global stage. A new, large-scale, international research project will investigate how the geopolitical situation of existing in the shadow of a country with ambitions to become a world power affects how states utilise human rights in order to justify their actions and decisions.

“There is an increased anxiety over the tendency towards a decline of democracy and human rights which is sweeping over Europe, inside and outside of EU borders. The clearest example of the threat against democracy is the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but the humanitarian concept of equal worth is being questioned even in Sweden,” says Maria Grahn-Farley, professor at the Department of Law at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg, and the project coordinator. 

Over the course of three years more than 40 researchers in the fields of law, anthropology, sociology, and political theory, along with human rights activists from ten countries - from east to west, from north to south - will study how states justify their use of human rights to motivate their actions and decisions (that is to say what in the project will be referred to as Human Rights Justifications, HRJ). Gaps appear in individual protections when human rights are used by states to explain and justify themselves, instead of being used by individuals to hold states accountable. It is these gaps which the researchers in the project are now attempting to close. 

“Our research will act as consulting material for the EU when it comes to the Union’s global strategy for strengthening democracy and human rights. We hope to find a way of encouraging the use of human rights to the benefit of individuals, rather than for the protection of state authority,” says Maria Grahn-Farley.

The research spans three areas - covid, migration, and the climate crisis - with studies conducted in five countries; Sweden, Finland, India, Taiwan, and Ukraine. 

The researches will also identify geopolitical elements, how decisions in the regions which the researchers will study are affected by their relationship to nearby countries with ambitions of becoming world powers. These kinds of both external and internal threats affect how states utilise human rights to explain their actions. 

About the project Human Rights Justifications 
  • Financed by Horizon Europe, EU:s framing program for research and innovation, with a budget of about 33 million SEK (3 million Euro)
  • Will be conducted over the course of 3 year, 2023-2026
  • An international collaboration between 15 partners in 10 countries, with inside and outside Europe, both academics and human rights activists
  • Coordinated by Gothenburg University via the Department of Law at the School of Business, Economics and Law
  • Overarching themes: EU as a global human rights actor in the treatment of covid, migration, and climate

Professor Maria Grahn-Farley, Department of Law, School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg