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Amsterdam University Human Rights Center Disbanded After Close Ties With the CCP Surface

Victor resides in the Netherlands and writes about freedom and governmental and social changes to the democratic form of nations.
Published: July 18, 2022
A human rights center at the Amsterdam Vrije University has been shuttered after it was found to take money from the CCP and echo its narratives.
This picture taken on Sept. 1, 2020, shows a collapsed canal pier outside the University of Amsterdam. Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit housed the now-infamous Cross-Cultural Human Rights Center (CCHRC), which was shuttered after reports highlighted the bureau was bankrolled by the Chinese Communist Party. (Image: EVERT ELZINGA/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

Amsterdam’s Vrije Universiteit (VU) felt compelled to close down its human rights research institute after a devastating investigative report exposing its close ties with the Chinese communist regime surfaced.

In January, the case started to gain traction after journalists with Dutch national broadcaster NOS published a series of investigative articles into the Cross-Cultural Human Rights Center’s (CCHRC) alleged academic independence and shady financial resources.

It turned out those funds came from one source only: the Southwest University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, a mouthpiece of the communist regime in China. 

In return, it seems that the CCHRC developed a sharpened vision of human rights issues that assimilated to the concepts of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). 

Furthermore, several board members made trips to China and appeared on state propaganda outlets in support of the Party’s attitude towards human rights issues.

“We should not leave it to politicians, and especially not Western politicians, to determine what we think about human rights,” the institute’s Director, human rights professor Tom Zwart argued during an appearance on CGTN, the Chinese state television show. 

“The development of human rights in China should be seen in the context of domestic conditions and not be a copy of the West,” Zwart added.

After the revelation of the Center’s close ties with the CCP, the university made the decision to decline any further financial help from the regime and suspended all CCHRC programs.

Furthermore, the VU invited an independent committee to probe into both the university’s and the institute’s track records.

The judgment

The committee, chaired by former Rector Magnificus of Leiden University, Carel Stolker, concluded that the institute’s statements could be used to promote the Party’s interests.

These statements could be used “by the Chinese government to cast its own human rights policy in terms that seem better suited to global human rights debates,” the report stated. 

Moreover, according to the board, this “could lead to the legitimization and maintenance of the human rights policies of an autocratic regime.”


Additionally, Stolker and his team were very skeptical about the institute’s so-called “receptor” approach, which basically advocates applying double standards when it comes to human rights.

Those that apply to western countries, and those with autocratic traits should be interpreted within their historic-cultural context, the notion proposes.

The committee further judged that the institute had been way too careless about the risks of lack of objectivity that come with unilateral financing. Henceforth, the CCHRC had been far too surreptitious about the origins of their fundings; never once was it mentioned on their website or in their publications.

Center staff, however, said in a statement to be very pleased that there is “no evidence that individual researchers” at the organization “have had their views ‘bought’ by the Chinese partner university or have been guilty of self-censorship under pressure from this university.”

The statement, however, completely forewent the commission’s conclusion that such a degree of corruption is hard to prove and that it did not request insight into the researchers’ mailboxes or “versions of publications from personal file folders.”

Not the board’s opinion

When interviewed on camera in January by NOS reporters, Zwart contended the statements on the CCHRC’s website do not necessarily reflect the board’s opinion even if it says so, nor that of any of its associates even if no author claims such utterances were his.

On the contrary, Zwart argued that among his staff, he is the only one entitled to publish statements on behalf of the center, and even so, these statements do not reflect his own viewpoints. 

Zwart claimed he merely wanted to offer a platform for freely exchanging different ideas, and had no explanation for why the website only posted affirmations that seemed to align with the Party’s warped concepts on human rights.