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Picture of the "Küpperstift" building

Photo: Sharon Nathan

Academy for European Human Rights Protection

Human rights have developed into a cross-cutting issue in jurisprudence, initially in a slow process, but with increasing accelerando over the last three decades. In practice, legal questions of fundamental importance are often no longer conclusively decided by specialised courts, but are referred to constitutional courts as well as the European Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Justice. These courts rule on the basis of fundamental and human rights, which are open to interpretation, and thus exert a formative influence in all specialised areas of law, from labour law to medical law to family law.

The task of the Academy for European Human Rights Protection, which was solemly opened in autumn 2022 at the University of Cologne, is to reflect in research and teaching the importance the jurisprudence on human rights has gained in recent years and, in doing so, also to make it possible to build a bridge to practice.

In the area of research, the Academy combines the two different approaches that have existed in the past - on the one hand, subject-specific analysis on individual issues (such as the right of civil servants to strike, the problem of the "agent provocateur" or new forms of reproductive medicine), and on the other hand, analysis of jurisprudential developments in the light of comparative constitutional law and public international law. What is needed is an interdisciplinary discussion, the search for connecting lines between the different approaches and also a comparison of methodological approaches.

As the different developments in Western and Eastern Europe make clear, human rights cannot be understood in isolation from their historical and political context. The great interdisciplinary potential of the topic must be exploited; human rights have in the meantime also become a central subject for history and political science as well as philosophy and theology. The task of the new Academy is to create a research network within the University of Cologne and beyond.

The new significance of the topic of "human rights" is also not sufficiently reflected in teaching at German universities. Fundamental rights are the subject of the (introductory) lecture on constitutional law; international human rights codifications are addressed as a sub-area of international law and thus of an elective subject. In addition, individual judicial decisions on fundamental and human rights are taken into account as "sprinkles" in specialised lectures. Due to this fragmentation, however, the interdisciplinary dynamics of fundamental and human rights for the development of law as a whole cannot really be grasped. Legal thinking continues to move within the predefined structures of civil law, criminal law and public law, even though fundamental and human rights could be used as a model for problem- and topic-oriented teaching and learning and thus as an alternative and supplement to traditional forms of teaching. 

European human rights protection is thus not just one topic among many others, but a methodologically and substantively highly exciting "bracket topic" for the various legal disciplines.

However, fundamental and human rights must not only be analysed across disciplines and topics, but also at different levels - at the level of state law, at the level of federal law, at the European level and at the international level.

The Academy's focus is on developments in Europe taking them deliberately as a starting point for comparison with what is happening in other regions of the world. It is precisely from comparison that inspiration and insights can be gained in many ways.

The Academy is built on three pillars:

The topic of European human rights protection is seen as a long-term project, and this quite deliberately so with a view to the current turn-arounds in various parts of Europe. From the post-war period to the present, there has been a steady development in one direction - which can be seen as progress. However, this unilinearity is no longer obvious in present times; there are backward developments towards a re-nationalisation of questions of human rights protection, not only in countries such as Poland and Hungary (as part of the EU) or Russia and Turkey (as part of the Council of Europe), but also in states that were traditionally open to the internationalisation of law.

Against this background, the founding of the Academy means setting an example and actively standing up for European human rights protection. The Academy sees itself as part of the internationalisation strategy of the University of Cologne and also as a commitment to a Europe that will continue to be built on human rights in the future.


Institute for International Peace and Security Law (Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Claus Kreß)

Chair for International History and Historical Peace and Conflict Research (Prof. Dr. Fabian Klose)

Center for Human Rights Studies and Research | Bilkent University (Prof. Dr. Ece Göztepe Çelebi)

Kolleg Forschungsgruppe (KFG) "Universalism and Particularism in European Contemporary History"