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VU closes human rights centre after external investigation

11 July 2022
The Cross Cultural Human Rights Centre (CCHRC), the centre of VU Amsterdam that conducted research on human rights, will be disbanded.

This decision was taken by the Executive Board together with the faculties involved and in coordination with the centre based on the findings of the Stolker Committee, which was asked to investigate the centre. The centre's activities had already been suspended earlier.

Rector Magnificus Jeroen Geurts: “The Committee found no evidence that individual researchers had had their views 'bought' or that self-censorship had occurred under pressure from Chinese financiers. To be able to carry out its investigation into the centre's independence properly, the Committee also looked at the soundness of the centre's research, its possible vulnerability to political influence and the scientific methods used. The Committee is critical of all of this. In addition, it concluded that there had been insufficient openness and transparency regarding the way in which the centre was financed. As far as VU Amsterdam is concerned, this makes it clear that the centre cannot be continued in its current form and under the current conditions.

The centre was insufficiently embedded in the university in terms of content. Although we were already aware of the vulnerability of single funding (by the Chinese partner), VU Amsterdam was not sufficiently alert to this. In the future, we will look more critically at the risks of single funding and involve the VU ethics committees more actively in this”.

How Dutch universities can cooperate with 'non-free countries' and how we can make ourselves less vulnerable as knowledge institutions is currently the subject of national debate. We are already working with the national Guideline on Knowledge Security, which will now be implemented at an accelerated pace. Within VU Amsterdam, faculties will examine whether and in what way the scientific relationship with Chinese partners can be advanced. In any case, in the area of human rights, funding from China will no longer be used in the future.

The Committee also notes the statements made by an employee concerning the position of the Uighurs. These statements were made in a non-scientific context and therefore fall under freedom of expression. VU Amsterdam distances itself from these statements. The condoning or even denial of the situation of the Uyghur Muslims is particularly inappropriate and in no way contributes positively to improving the plight of this population group,” says Geurts.

The Executive Board and the faculties agree with the Committee's conclusion that the investigation by the NOS has contributed to an accelerated awareness of the risks concerning the unilateral funding of the centre. The journalistic critical assessment of what happened in the centre confirms the value of an independent and free press, which holds up a mirror to us in various areas of society, politics and certainly science.

Final report Stolker Committee investigation CCHRC

English translation of conclusions, findings and recommendations

Reaction of employees and former employees CCHRC (in Dutch)

Information for the press
The complete Stolker Committee report is available on the VU Amsterdam website. As soon as the full report is available in English, that version will also be posted on the website. Employees and former employees of the centre have given their reactions to the report and the findings of the committee. This response is also available on the website. An earlier reaction of the staff to the draft final report had already been included by the Committee itself in the annexes to the report.

For questions: Jaap Stuurwold: 0651850704