Scholars at Risk in the Americas

Scholars at Risk (SAR) is an international network of higher education institutions dedicated to protecting threatened scholars, preventing attacks on higher education communities and promoting academic freedom worldwide. The network protects scholars suffering grave threats to their lives, liberty and well-being by arranging positions of sanctuary at institutions in the network. The University of Ottawa joined the Scholars at Risk Network in 2014.

Since January 2018, the Human Rights Clinic monitors situations that may affect academic freedom in Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and Venezuela as contributions to the SAR Academic Monitoring Project which publishes the Free to Think Reports every year. The group also participates in advocacy actions with Scholars at Risk.

Project Partner: Scholars at Risk

Academic Advisors : Professors Isaac Nahon-Serfaty and João Velloso

Project Coordinator: Catalina Arango, HRREC Member


Project activities include:

Annual Monitoring Reports to Analyze Regional Trends

Since January 2018, the team working in the Scholars at Risk (SAR) in the Americas Project has focused on identifying, verifying, and documenting incidents in seven countries of the Americas: Canada, Mexico, Haiti, Honduras, Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil. Based on the SAR Academic Monitoring Project methodology, the team analyzes regional trends to better understand the state of academic freedom in the Americas and supports initiatives to protect individuals and institutions affected by those threats and attacks.

New principles on Academic Freedom to Defend Universities

On December 9, 2021, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, together with the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (Redesca) and the Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression (RELE), adopted and presented the Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy (in Spanish only for the moment). These principles are the result of several months of work by members of the Academic Network, of which HRREC and the team working on this project is an active participant. The Centre's role was to ensure that the text included the regional reality that our team has monitored, studied, and analyzed over the years as it has tracked cases of academic freedom violations, created advocacy strategies to work with local and regional actors, and mobilized legal resources to protect the right to academic freedom in the region. Read the press release: Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Issues Declaration of Inter-American Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy

A New Hub to Protect Academic Freedom in the Americas

Our Centre, along with the University of Monterrey and Scholars at Risk, launched a two-year project to increase awareness and advocacy in defense of academic freedom across the Americas. The project will be rooted in the building of a sustainable network of advocates and experts throughout the hemisphere (the Americas Hub), which will be well-positioned to identify crises and situations of concern and help generate locally/regionally tailored advocacy responses. Learn more about this new hub here.

HRREC Signs MOU with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR)

Our Centre and the IACHR concluded an MOU to provide technical assistance and contribute to the development of the Inter-American Human Rights System (IAHRS) through the strengthening of the capacities of the rapporteurships, special rapporteurships and sections of the Commission. The agreement also seeks to promote the use of the IAHRS and its norms and standards through the implementation of an Academic Network. The Academic Network is to contribute with studies, research and other activities, to deepen knowledge and generate information that contributes to the promotion and defense of human rights in the region. The contributions from HRREC will focus on establishing guidelines pertaining to academic freedom in the Americas and enabling their implementation within the IAHRS. The work will be conducted in partnership with the University of Monterrey (Mexico) and the Scholars at Risk Network. More details about the signature of this MOU here.

Statement from HRREC and SAR uOttawa on the Court Case Against Professor Jan Grabowski

Professor Jan Grabowski, full Professor in the Department of History at the University of Ottawa, was sued for libel in a Polish court along with Prof. Barbara Engelking, a Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, for their research relating to the Holocaust in Poland. The case was based on the book Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland, a two-volume historical work in Polish, co-edited by Grabowski and Engelking. The court rendered its verdict on February 9, 2021 and ordered the scholars to apologize for defamation. Professors Engelking and Grabowski can appeal, however the outcome of this case could determine the fate of independent Holocaust research under Poland's nationalist government. The statement strongly condemned the decision of the Polish court and stressed the importance of protecting academic freedom in Canada and abroad, without fear of attacks on a person or his/her reputation. Read the full text of the statement. A statement issued by the University of Ottawa also stressed Professor Grabowski’s “right to pursue historical inquiry unencumbered by state pressure, free from legal sanction, and without fear of extrajudicial attack.”

Scholars At Risk (SAR) uOttawa Program Contributes to UNGA Report on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression

The UN Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression presented a report to the General Assembly on academic freedom on October 23rd 2020. The document includes legal arguments and findings submitted by our Clinic and summarized in a document titled "Threats to Academic Freedom in the Americas" (PDF in English). The UNSR report focuses on the freedom of opinion and expression aspects of academic freedom, highlighting the special role played by academics and academic institutions in democratic society. The text notes that, "without academic freedom, societies lose one of the essential elements of democratic self-governance: the capacity for self-reflection, for knowledge generation and for a constant search for improvements of people’s lives and social conditions". Read the UNSR Report in English and French.

The formal presentation was accompanied by a side event organized with the incoming Special Rapporteur, Irene Khan. During the virtual session, speakers discussed how the report’s findings and recommendations can be used to ensure the realization of the freedom of opinion and expression to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers as an integral aspect of academic freedom, and enhance the ability of academics and institutions to contribute to democracy and development around the world.

Submission of an Amicus curiae to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case Urrutia Laubreaux vs. Chile

On February 14, 2020, the Human Rights Clinic of the Human Rights Research and Education Centre and Scholars at Risk filed before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights an amicus curiae in the case Urrutia Laubreux vs. Chile. The case focuses on the alleged breach of the right of free speech and due process of judge Urrutia. He was administratively sanctioned by the Judiciary after writing an academic paper focusing on the lack of independence of the judiciary during the military dictatorship under Pinochet (1973-1990).

Our amicus argues that the sanctions received by judge Urrutia while pursuing an academic degree affect his right to academic freedom as well as his free speech. We ask the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to expand on the notion of the right to academic freedom under the American Convention on Human Rights.

Hearing before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on threats to academic freedom and university autonomy in the Americas

On February 15, 2019, the Human Rights Research and Education Centre of the University of Ottawa, in association with Scholars at Risk, presented a hearing before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) on threats to academic freedom and university autonomy in the Americas. This was the first time that this body held a hearing on academic freedom. Our organizations presented situations of violence against academics in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Brazil, as well as the persecution of students in Bolivia and Mexico. Our organizations respectfully request the following:

  1. Recommend measures for States to adopt specific policies to protect and guarantee academic freedom and university autonomy.
  2. Urge States to adopt mechanisms to prevent, investigate, and penalize cases of harassment and sexual violence at university campuses.
  3. Adopt measures so that potential cases of attacks against members of university communities be treated as violations of academic freedom.
  4. Adopt a resolution that establishes guidelines for universities and civil society organizations to protect academic freedom and university autonomy in their countries.
  5. Invite the IACHR to consider the possibility of elaborating a thematic report on Academic Freedom in the Americas.

Submission of an Amicus to the Constitutional Court of Colombia to protect the right to academic freedom of a University Professor

In May 2018, the Human Rights Clinic of the HRREC and Scholars at Risk submitted a joint amicus to advocate on behalf of Prof. Monica Godoy. She was dismissed by a public University due to her actions to address cases of violence against women (VAW) and sexual harassment in campus. In July 2018, the Court determined that Prof. Godoy was unduly dismissed and ordered the University to reinstate her.

Request of a thematic hearing to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights regarding attacks to academic freedom in the Americas

In September 2018, the HRREC Human Rights Clinic, Scholars at Risk and Aula Abierta submitted a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to testify on the attacks and threats on academic freedom in the Americas. The report presented findings on situations affecting academic freedom and university autonomy, as well as recommendations to prevent these violations of human rights.


Isaac Nahon-Serfaty, Viviana Fernandez, Catalina Arango, one student working on the project and Salvador Herencia
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