'With a deep sense of hurt and disappointment, my conscience compels me to commemorate the removal from the exercise of their office of several Dutch colleagues, purely on the grounds of origin or faith.' It was with this sentence that Utrecht scholar Prof Victor Koningsberger opened his public address in support of his Jewish colleagues who had been banned from the university by the German occupiers. He was the first professor in the Netherlands to voice his support in this way, on 25 November 1940.


In honour of Prof Victor Koningsberger, Utrecht University decided to institute the annual Koningsberger Lecture. By doing so, the University aims to keep the memory alive of Koningsberger's act of conscientious objection against the German occupiers, as an example to current and future generations of the need for acts of resistance to guarantee the upholding of fundamental rights. These include fundamental human rights, such as the equal rights of all people, irrespective of race and creed, and the importance of constitutional democracy and democratic principles. Every year, someone who has made his or her name in this area is invited to give the Koningsberger lecture.


On 15 December 2014 Martha Minow, the Dean of Harvard Law School, gave the fifth Koningsberger Lecture, entitled 'Upstanders, Whistleblowers, and Rescuers: Who are They and Who are We?' Upstanders are people who make a stand for what they believe in, even if they do so alone. For example, they openly speak out against discrimination and injustice or reveal abuses and malpractice (whistleblowers). These people take risks, for example of rejection or reprisals, and it can take an enormous toll on them, in terms of time, money and emotion. What is it that motivates some people to act in this way? And can we encourage such conduct, for example through education?

About Martha Minow

Martha Minow is the Morgan and Helen Chu Professor of Law and Dean of Harvard Law School. She is an expert in human rights and advocacy for racial and religious minorities, women, children and the disabled. She publishes and teaches on the subject of privatisation, military law and ethnic and religious conflicts. In 2009 Minow, who once taught Barack Obama at Harvard, was nominated by the US President for the Board of the Legal Services Corporation, where she now serves as vice-president.