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Intellectual-Human Rights Defenders and Claims for Academic Freedom under Human Rights Law

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Human rights claims arising out of attacks on intellectual-human rights defenders (hrds), if brought, typically do not include claims for violations of academic freedom. As a result the standards are underdeveloped relative to other human rights claims and the scope of academic freedom violations globally. This may be in part due to a negatively reinforcing lack of familiarity with issues of academic freedom and the available standards for protection among human rights advocates, and in part to the fact that attacks on academic freedom often manifest as violations of other rights under which claims are brought (e.g. wrongful detention or torture). This article argues that existing human rights law would sustain claims for violations of academic freedom as independently and interdependently derived from the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the right to education. The article argues that including academic freedom claims in such cases has the benefit of providing an additional basis for relief while strengthening the claim for relief on a manifested violation by providing evidence of motive and intent. Including academic freedom claims also has the independent value of addressing the wider harms to the claimant-victim and society that result from attacks on intellectual expression and are not reached by relief on the manifested violation alone, including harms to a claimant-victim’s creative, intellectual or expressive work, and widespread chilling effects on creativity, teaching, publication and the free exchange of ideas in society.

Affiliations: 1: Founding Executive Director of the Scholars at Risk Network based at New York University, New York, ny, 10012 USA,; 2: Human rights lawyer based in New York,


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