Looking for something specific? Use our search engine!

Press Release

Press Release

Doctoral thesis on states’ human rights accountability within development cooperation

M.Soc.Sc. Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso’s doctoral thesis in law will be put forth for public defence at The Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and Law at Åbo Akademi University.

The thesis is entitled From Charity to Legal Accountability? A Study on Extraterritorial Human Rights Accountability within Bilateral Development Cooperation.

The public defence of the doctoral thesis takes place on 9 February 2024 at 1PM in Stora auditoriet, ASA, Vänrikinkatu 3, Turku. Professor Wouter Vandenhole, University of Antwerp, Belgium, will serve as opponent and Professor Elina Pirjatanniemi, Åbo Akademi University, as custos.


Since the 1990s, demands are increasingly made for greater normative accountability within development cooperation, especially accountability based on human rights. Several different perspectives have emerged as to the systematic linkage of the human rights framework and the development discourse. These perspectives that have come to be known as human rights-based approaches to development (HRBADs) differ slightly in their emphasis and detail but typically advocate an approach to development that is both structurally and in terms of objectives based on human rights. In parallel, in human rights scholarship and jurisprudence, territorial limitations of states’ human rights obligations are being increasingly challenged. As a result, it is being gradually acknowledged that human rights also give rise to what have come to be known as extraterritorial obligations (ETOs), i.e. human rights obligations that a state owes to individuals beyond its boundaries. 

This intersection between the ETOs and the HRBADs is something that this thesis problematises and addresses. With a focus on bilateral development cooperation, it studies extraterritorial human rights accountability as a structural element of development efforts. It asks, in essence, what it is that we mean when we speak of states’ human rights accountability within development cooperation and how this should guide states’ conduct. 

Guided by a modern legal dogmatic method and the tools of discourse analysis, the thesis arrives at the conclusion that much of the accountability requirement in the development cooperation context may remain at the level of ‘rights-washing’ of the development policies, whereby the rhetoric of rights-based accountability seemingly guides the interventions but often without clear plans for its operationalisation. To bring the human rights accountability within the development cooperation context beyond the level of rhetoric, it argues that states need to recognise the changing landscape of human rights obligations that responds to the realities of global interaction and to the rising calls for accountability.

Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso can be reached by email maija.mustaniemi-laakso@abo.fi.

A Swedish summary of the doctoral thesis can be read online through the Doria publication archive