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Janna Wessels receives Veni funding from NWO

25 April 2022
The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) awarded Migration Law researcher Janna Wessels of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with a Veni funding of 280.000 euros for her research: Speaking Human Rights. Translating Migration Control Measures into Human Rights Language.

Does migration policy rhyme with human rights?
Imagine the situation in refugee camps at the borders of Europe, the de facto detention of asylum seekers, or push backs at the Mediterranean Sea. From the outset it seems that human rights norms forbid such practices. However, States often successfully litigate before the European Court of Human Rights to ensure that their migration control practices are not unlawful under human rights law. Human rights seem to backlash when migrants seek protection before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Court tends to rule against the migrants and in favour of the State.

Previous research has blamed the Court, for example, biases of judges. Previous research has also looked at strategic litigation by migrant advocacy groups and its limitations and shortcomings. According to Wessels, this analysis is incomplete. ‘’There is in fact a triangular relationship between migrants, the Court – and States. But we know nothing about how States as the responding party influence the jurisprudence. If we want to understand the jurisprudence regarding migrants, we need to reinsert States into the picture.’’

The research of Wessels is the first to provide a comprehensive analysis of the legal techniques that governments strategically deploy to use human rights litigation in their favour. To do this, she will use the methodological approach of ‘discourse analysis of legal doctrine’. Wessels developed this approach while writing her book on refugee law. In her Veni research, Wessels will expand this approach, which enables a two-stage analysis. ‘’At the first level, I can find out what kind of doctrinal arguments States make. At the second level, I can explore the tensions underlying human rights legal discourse’’.

Contribution to science and society
Wessels' research aims to explain how states shape migration-related jurisprudence to meet their migration control interests. In doing so, the research makes a major contribution at the scientific level. The Veni research will also make a contribution at the methodological level. ‘’It will develop and make explicit the novel approach of discourse analysis of legal doctrine – and thus contribute to the socio-legal methods in the field.’’ At a societal level, Wessels hopes her project will break open space for alternative legal arguments to be made, and thus, potentially, improve the protection of migrant rights.