Human Rights Research Program (HRP)

Populism today constitutes one of the major threats to universal human rights. Far from being limited to the so-called “illiberal,” “undemocratic,” and “authoritarian” regimes, populism and populist tactics have also penetrated the so-called “consolidated” democracies. While populist governments do not usually reject human rights expressly, they utilize rather selective and instrumental policies and resort to seemingly legitimate means to achieve anti-democratic purposes, aiming to dilute the concept of human rights in line with their domestic and global political needs. This clearly undermines the normative foundations of human rights as well as the effectiveness of the worldwide human rights systems. Against this backdrop, HRP aims to focus on the multi-dimensional challenges populism poses to the rule of law, democracy, and human rights, with a particular emphasis on the socio-legal implications. 

In line with ECPS’ general vision and mission, HRP examines the interplay between populism and human rights and seeks to bring together theory-informed and policy-relevant analysis. Some of the key research questions HRP will confront are:

  • How does populism effect, shape, and navigate the processes of justice?  How does populism damage liberal democracies and the rule of law? 
  • What can the rule of law or human rights theory offer as a solution to competing populisms, especially within the political ideologies of liberal, socialist, or capitalist systems, or various types of democracies?
  • What are the main populist threats to the rule of law and liberal democracies in the 21st century?
  • What is the role of the rule of law and the judiciary against populist trends and populist movements violating human rights, committing hate crimes, and producing racist attacks?
  • What is/are the populist response(s) to judicial decisions and the rule of law?
  • How do populist movements erode our right to agree and disagree, a fundamental principle in any liberal democracy?
  • In what ways and to what extent does populism recognise universal values such as freedom from harassment and the will of “the people”?
  • How do populist discourses increase the hegemony of the status quo and its global influence by lobbying, disrupting the rule of law, and diluting the concept of universal human rights?
  • How do populist discourses that lack evidence or an intellectual basis emerge, materialise, disseminate, and legitimise mass human rights violations?
  • How does the ethos of a country, as well as specific locations and times, shape the widely shared populist or not-populist views? Can the ethos of a time and space, as well as cultural codes or nationalist discourses and nationalist trends, lead to human rights violations? Can the same factors shape a society where various interest groups support one another’s rights irrespective of their individual gains and losses? 

Research Themes

I. Populism and Human Rights

  • Populism as a Human Rights Problem
  • Populist View(s) on Human Rights 
  • The Democratic Potential of Populism

II. Populism and Liberal Democracy & the Rule of Law

  • Freedom of Expression
  • Freedom of the Press and Media
  • Minority Rights
  • Hate Speech / Hate Crimes 
  • Majoritarianism
  • Polarization
  • Civil/Civic Death

III. Populism and Courts

  • Judicial Responses to Populism
  • The Role and Limits of Courts 
  • Judicialization of Politics vs. the Politicization of Judiciary
  • Populist Backlashes against Judicial Independence