Looking for something specific? Use our search engine!

The Many Faces of Special Protection

The Many Faces of Special Protection



Project coordinator

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University

Funded by

  • Academy of Finland
  • Budget

    714 285 euros

    Åbo Akademi University’s part of the budget

    214 283 euros (30%)

    The Many Faces of Special Protection: Unpacking the Roles of Vulnerability in Human Rights and Criminal Law

    With the amplified expectations on states to use their criminal law systems to protect human rights, international human rights law (IHRL) today interacts with national criminal law in an unprecedented manner. Often this takes place with the explicit aim of special protection of the rights of the ‘vulnerable’. Through such a focus, it can be said that the national criminal law systems have become extensions of the so-called ‘vulnerabilisation’ (or ‘special protection’) trend within IHRL. While the increased use of special protection and vulnerability rhetoric within human rights law has been researched from several perspectives, the implications that this development has for the build-up of the vulnerability rhetoric within national criminal law systems remain largely unchartered. ROVU contributes to narrowing this knowledge gap.

    Drawing on doctrinal research methods and interviews, the project aims at uncovering some of the embedded rationales and agendas of the special protection extended to the vulnerable through the structures of criminal law. This will be achieved by scrutinising the justifications for the turn to criminal law in IHRL and by identifying the opportunities and challenges it entails. In order to unpack the notion of special protection as a structural factor in the interaction between IHRL and criminal law, ROVU researches the vulnerabilisation as a transformative element within criminal law and the construction of vulnerable legal identities.

    Shedding light on some of the intrinsic power structures and politicisation guiding vulnerabilisation processes in IHRL and criminal law, ROVU is expected to contribute to a novel conceptualisation of vulnerability as a legal variable within criminal law. This is anticipated to have both scientific and societal impact, leading in the long term to a more nuanced and analytical approach to the vulnerability narrative as a tool for equality in law and policy-making.


    Elina Pirjatanniemi, Professor, Director of the Institute for Human Rights
    Lisa Grans, Postdoctoral Researcher
    Mikaela Heikkilä, University Teacher
    Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso, PhD Candidate