Kristin Henrard’s research is focused on fundamental rights and minorities. Over time the focus of her work knew relative shifts in emphasis: from educational and linguistic rights, to equality and non-discrimination, political participation, socio-economic participation, religious minorities and finally/recently visions of integration.
The relationship between the prohibition of discrimination on the one hand and minority protection on the other
Concerning the relationship between the prohibition of discrimination on the one hand and minority protection on the other, it is helpful to consider the two foundational principles of minority protection, being the right to identity and substantive or real equality. The extent to which the prohibition of discrimination can contribute to the right to identity of minorities depends on the scope of application ratione materiae of the prohibition of discrimination, more particularly: does it apply to areas of special concern to minorities like education, language use etc. In addition it is essential that the prohibition of discrimination opens towards real or substantive equality: this depends inter alia on the extent to which the prohibition of discrimination is understood to cover also indirect discrimination, and duties of differential treatment, and duties of reasonable accommodation, and also on the relationship to positive action. It is furthermore important not to loose sight of the importance of an effective protection against discrimination for persons belonging to minorities. Issues that matter in this respect include the allocation of the burden of proof, the use of different levels of scrutiny (the recognition of ‘suspect’ grounds), and the nature of the remedies provided for.
The Interrelationship Between Minorities’ Right to Identity and Their Socio-Economic Participation
The socio-economic participation of minorities in relation to their right to (respect for) identity is a theme that has not been explored (in depth). One tends to be aware of the severe problems in terms of actual access to and enjoyment of (even very basic) social and economic rights by persons belonging to minorities. At the same time, there is ample awareness of controversies concerning prohibitions to wear the veil at school, and persons being fired because of unauthorized absences due to religious observances. Similarly, mismatches in linguistic proficiencies can also lead to flawed access to social services and public administration. When these problems are identified they are mostly seen as an interference with the right to identity of persons belonging to minorities. However, there is an equally important reduction in the enjoyment of socio-economic rights of the persons concerned, in terms of hindrance in de facto access to education (for religious and or linguistic reasons), access to employment (inflexible working schedules make it impossible for you to get a job because you are a devout believer), access to social services etc. It is important to unravel the different aspects and dimensions of the way in which and the extent to which regulations that at first sight hinder the right to identity of minorities, have repercussions for their de facto socio-economic participation.
The Protection of Religious Minorities
In her inaugural speech of 29 October 2010, entitled The Ambiguous Relationship between Religious Minorities and Fundamental (minority) Rights, Henrard first revisits the relationship between and temporal evolution of general human rights and special minority-specific rights, by showing how fundamental rights were originally conceived for and tailored towards the needs of religious minorities. In the second part, Henrard exposes the ambiguous relationship between religious minorities and fundamental rights. Indeed, while religious minorities, and the protection they were considered to need, may have triggered the emergence of both general human rights and special minority rights, subsequently their special needs – in terms of human dignity, identity, and substantive equality – were neglected. Henrard consequently calls for a redress of the current imbalance – more particularly by a refinement of the existing norms. This refinement would concern both the general standards (inter alia the recognition of duties of reasonable accommodation on the basis of religion) and the minority specific ones (more detail and elaboration in terms of minority specific rights pertaining to religion).
Visions of Integration and Fundamental Rights Obligations of States (in relation to integration)
Henrard is currently working on an application for funding for a project on integration, more particularly developing a multidisciplinary understanding of integration, what it means and what it takes, in order to subsequently define human rights obligations of states concerning ‘integration’. Her more recent publications already include the first building blocks for this new project.