Our New Visiting Fellow: Steven L.B. Jensen

5 September 2022

Steven L. B. Jensen is a Senior Researcher at The Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen and the author of the multiple prize-winning book The Making of International Human Rights. His main areas of speciality are contemporary human rights history (diplomatic, legal and political) and global health and human rights.

He just started as Visiting Fellow at the Geneva Academy and will stay with us until early December.

What motivated you to carry out a fellowship at the Geneva Academy?

The Geneva Academy has a strong combined focus on human rights research and practice. This is something I share - also in my historically oriented research. I feel a close affinity to the Geneva Academy’s aims. I am convinced that the Geneva Academy can offer me a great base to do my research while getting fresh inspiration from what is currently going on in international human rights circles. It is really great to be so close to the United Nations (UN) human rights ecosystem for a period while working on my book as well as to have access to the great research facilities Geneva offers.

What will be the focus of your research during this fellowship?

I am currently working on a book on the history of social and economic human rights in 20th century international politics, supported by a research grant from the Carlsberg Foundation. I will be working on a couple of the chapters for this forthcoming book.

Why are these issues important?

Firstly, we lack a solid and well-documented history of social and economic rights in 20th century international politics. It is a real gap. These rights have been subject to misinterpretations that have limited our understanding of their importance for the evolution of both the larger human rights framework after 1945 and for international politics and international organizations more widely.

Secondly, this type of historical work can inform contemporary human rights debates and diplomacy where a greater appreciation and engagement with these rights are crucial. Quite simply, on both counts we deserve better and qualifying our knowledge and expertise is a good place to start.

What will be the impact of this research?

My first book on the history of international human rights has had quite some impact in many places from local actors to a Head of State paraphrasing its findings in his annual speech to the UN General Assembly. I have seen how a very new take on human rights history that is meticulously researched, solid and diverse in its source-base and more representative of what actually transpired can inspire new perspectives on human rights. I dream of sparking a similar renewed interest in how we engage with social and economic rights and through that human rights more widely. We need better histories – also for the benefit of the future.

What do you expect from your time at the Geneva Academy?

Firstly, I expect to have seriously advanced two key chapters in my book. Secondly, fresh impulses and new inspiration coming out of the Geneva Academy environment and networks. I hope to be able to engage in conversations about how we can advance the discussions about social and economic rights. The UN has a seriously good story to tell – if it would only own it.

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