Past projects at the Erik Castrén Institute

A list of past projects can be found here.

For more details please contact

Project publications are listed on researcher's University of Helsinki personal profiles.


Transparency in the EU - From Reaction to Manifesto? (TRUE)

Päivi Leino-Sandberg, Professor of Transantional European Law

Funder: Academy of Finland

Duration: 2017-2021

Description: The EU Treaties create a clear presumption for transparency and access to information which is assumed to lead to increased citizen participation. In reality, opposition seems to exist. The project aims to break down the practices assigned to ‘transparency’, in particular in regard to ‘participation’ and ‘efficiency’ in the EU. It will critically investigate the promise invested in transparency both on theoretical (what does the nexus between transparency and participation imply?) and practical level (does it work as it should? Is it changing?). This main objective is tackled from four different directions.

1) What Does the EU Think Transparency is? The project will investigate on how the EU institutions understand the role of transparency in legitimate governance. How does it relate to the globalized narrative of good governance? How did it change from reaction to a manifesto? How are transparency and participation linked with the institutional politics of decision-making and political accountability? Does the democratic deficit of the EU affect domestic constitutional arrangements of transparency and democracy?

2) Does Transparency Undermine Efficiency? What does the EU promise? Are there double standards in regard to transparency? The project will undertake a systematic legal analysis and critique of a range of arguments, constructions and doctrines that the EU institutions may resort to when seeking to justify limitations to the rights of access. What do the current accountability mechanisms deliver?

3) What is the Meaning of Legality? To what extent is transparency a legal concept? The project will investigate the question of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ law. Boosted by the 2001 Commission White Paper on Governance and the 2010 Lisbon Strategy, ‘soft law’ is present in nearly every EU policy. Whilst the principles of openness and transparency also apply to informal instruments (such as guidelines, comments and notices), their meaning in creating transparency as well as being subject to it remains elusive.

4) Do Transparency Practices Work? Does access to documents exist in practice? The project proposes an empirical approach to the questions relating to democratic decisionmaking in the EU. So called action research relies on a continuous interaction with EU institutions agencies and NGOs with the aim of influencing their practices in a positive

manner. This approach is also adopted to enrich the societal impact of legal scholarship.

Through its comprehensive makeup, the project contributes to operationalising and strengthening the fundamental objectives of the Lisbon Treaty as it attempts to make decision-making in the EU “as open as possible”. The project will challenge the current understanding of the limits of the ‘possible’. In other words, the project engages into the immanent critique of the EU and its mission. By doing so, it attempts to increase its institutional self-understanding and comprehensibility to the citizens.

Team members: Ida Koivisto, Maarten Hillebrandt, Päivi Neuvonen, Vesa Heikkinen, Daniel Wyatt, Maija Dahlberg, Liisa Leppävirta, Marta Maroni, Diliana Stoyanova


The Concept of Natural Rights

Mónica García-Salmones, Adjunct Professor of International Law 

Funder: Finnish Cultural Foundation, Osk. Huttunen Foundation

Duration: 2017-2020

The Concept of Natural Rights, is a study on the intellectual history of international law. The research analyses the perennial importance of subjective natural rights to any understanding of how the distribution of food, natural resources, land and property has taken place globally, at least within the last five centuries. Radical changes occurred in Europe in the fields of epistemology, economics and politics that prompted the first uses of the concept of natural rights during the late European Middle Ages, well into the 19th century globally. The outcome of these changes was a new form of natural law and then, in early modernity, the transformation of ius gentium, while material redistribution became sometimes divorced from actual equality and the justice of practical morality. The research arose from questions prompted by the Academy of Finland project, International Law: between Religion and Empire (2012-2016).

This topic of the global history on natural rights has suddenly risen to prominence in the international political sphere after the Secretary of State of the U.S., Mike Pompeo decided to establish a ‘Commission on Unalienable Rights’ (8th July 2019) (‘Secretary of State Establishes Commission on Unalienable Rights’, 113 American Journal of International Law (2019), 842-844). According to Pompeo the main aim of the commission is to establish the core meaning of the so-called natural rights or rights inherent in the nature of human beings.


The Necessary Evil - On Law, Power and Institutional Politics in the European Union

Professor Päivi Leino-Sandberg

Funded by the Academy of Finland

Duration 2015 - 2020

Description: The project was both on law and about law. ‘Law’ is linked to the legitimacy of the EU. It appeals to those wishing to limit power politics, integrationist ambitions and institutional discretion. But the way in which law is used also renders it an instrument in political contestation. It is traditional for lawyers to find politics a ‘necessary evil’: somewhat obstructive, perhaps even dangerous, but difficult to avoid. The project was not about politics intervening in the sphere of law, but addressed the way in which the EU decision-making process operates, and what factors and players influence decision-making. In particular, it examined how the balance between legal arguments and other considerations is drawn.

The Treaties establish only part the main building blocks of the decision-making process. Real life decision-making is multidimensional. It builds to a large extent on practice and interinstitutional agreements. These more informal arrangements are linked to the way in which ‘the EU institutions make conscious decisions about whether to be bound in their interactions by informal institutional rules or follow the normal constitutional paths prescribed by the Treaty.’ This decision-making framework could only be examined with an interdisciplinary approach. The roles allocated to law and politics are linked with questions of participation, accountability and democratic decision making.


“Between the Times”: Embattled Temporalities and Anti-Historicism in Interwar Europe

Liisi Keedus

Funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Intra-European Fellowships, European Commission

Duration 2015 - 2016

Description: The project traced the intersections between anti-teleological temporal imagination(s) and changes in the way the human world and the methods for its study were conceptualized in interwar European thought. Its primary emphasis was on the junctions between scholarly fields (theology, jurisprudence, classical studies, literary theory, linguistics, sociology, philosophy), and it focused on intellectual groupings, rather than individual authors, whose anti-historicisms – or so it hypothesized – provoked a spectrum of methodological revolutions. What were the aims of these humanist and social thinkers in creating novel visions of time and historicity? What was the role of anti-historicist impulses in the construction of the crisis ubiquitously present in the interwar discourses? How did their implications differ in different national contexts and why?


Order and Contestation in Islamic International Law and International Relations

Researchers Martti Koskenniemi & Walter Rech

Funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung

Duration 2015 - 2017

This interdisciplinary project explored Islamic legal narratives and practices of international law as well as the complex political structures characterizing the Arab-Muslim world, especially in the territories of the (former) Ottoman Empire. In its international legal prong, the project specifically examined the ways in which scholars of the Arab world have embraced or rejected international law. The project thereby critically engaged and added to the increasing stream of scholarship committed to making visible the voices, interests, defeats and victories of non-Western international lawyers. Here, the main goal was to foster intensified engagement with Muslim thought and practice of Islamic international law. It was done by not taking the ‘Arab’, the ‘Muslim’ and the ‘Islamic’ as givens, but as concepts and vocabularies in need of contextualization, to be explored within the political, religious and economic struggles – be it for empire or resistance – within which they are deployed. From the perspective of International Relations, the project called attention to the historical particularity of international relations in the Middle East. It examined the way in which political alliances stretch beyond national borders, include governments and non-state movements alike, and escape reductions to either ‘modern’ state formation and geopolitics or to ‘traditional’ sectarian strife. Political conflict and alignment in the region are products of complex interactions between Islamic histories and doctrines of oppression, rule, and resistance, on the one hand, and modernized concepts and practices of state and politics, on the other. The disciplinary and methodological plurality reflected in this project contributed to research that is self-confidently positioned at the crossroads of different academic perspectives and speaks to public interest in Islamic international law and regional politics that transcends disciplinary boundaries.


Towards a Credible Ethics for Global Governance

Researchers Jan Klabbers, Diliana Stoyanova, Tuomas Tiittala, Guilherme Vasconcelos Vilaça & Ville Kari

Funded by the Academy of Finland

Duration 2013 - 2018

Description: There has been no credible ethics of global governance, or even a credible ethics of international politics as traditionally conceived. The conduct of international politics is not often regarded as an ethical activity. While it is studied from a variety of angles, none of these has been deemed to be particularly 'ethical'. The project aimed to develop a virtue ethics of global governance by concentrating on the professional roles of relevant actors. Similar attempts have been undertaken in other decision-making settings: business school professors have applied virtue ethics to business decisions; public administration scholars have been working on public policy decisionmaking, and more generally, ethicists working within this tradition have come to apply it to a number of professions that have a public component, ranging from healthcare professionals to lawyers, including judges. The project contributed to the creation of such a credible ethics of global governance.


Management of the Sacred: A Critical Inquiry

Researcher Pamela Slotte

Funded by the Academy of Finland

Duration 2013 - 2018

Description: The project highlighted the normative implications of the human rights regime by studying how human rights as ‘values for a God-less age’ handle 'the sacred'. A central task was the study of normative foundations, so-called systemic prejudices, implicit in the attempts by human rights institutions to manage the sacred. Even the ‘egalitarian imaginary’ of human rights that is ostensibly neutral (agnostic) when it comes to religion carries normative assumptions about law and legal protection, about state, religion, and religious subjectivity. The project inquired into these ontological and epistemological assumptions and normative commitments. It worked on the hypothesis that historical notions influence the management of the sacred in contemporary human rights discourses; in doing so, the goal was to make assumptions and commitments visible, and propose an altered way to conceptualize the character of human rights, human rights institutions, and their engagement with the sacred.


Law and the Other in Post-Mul­ti­cul­tural Europe

Funded by the Research Fund of the University of Helsinki

Duration 2013 – 2015

Description: The objective of the 'Law and the Other in Post-Multicultural Europe' was to examine the recent legal and social developments and explore the claim that Europe has entered a new post-multicultural era. The research was carried out against the background of recent social, political and legal changes and its aim is to grasp the meaning of post-multiculturalism and its consequences for the citizens of Europe and those constructed as ‘Other’. Project researchers focused on rethinking how the criticism concerning essentialising human experiences and communities can be overcome by accommodation of more contextualized approaches reducing single axis analyses of culture, religion, gender or foreignness. Our team included researchers focusing on a range of topics related to post-multiculturalism such as the problematic of migration, accommodation of ethnic, religious and gender minorities, rights fostering cultural and religious diversity as well as the phenomena of xenophobia, racism and hate speech.

Research questions:

What is the characterization of a post-multicultural Europe and how it is reflected in legal regulations?

Who is currently constructed as the European other?

What is the role of European courts and other human rights bodies in development of post-multiculturalism?

Can human rights provide effective protection to the European others?


International Law, Religion and Empire

Researchers Martti Koskenniemi, Monica Garcia-Salmones, Walter Rech, Paolo Amorosa & Manuel Jiménez-Fonseca

Funded by the Academy of Finland

Duration 2012 - 2016

Description: The project focused on two dimensions of the history of international legal thought, namely the role of religion in the formation and application of legal concepts and institutions from early modernity (16th century) to the present, and the way those concepts and institutions have contributed to specifically imperial ideas about how the world ought to be governed. The project was divided into two streams, one on religion and the other on empire. Each researcher worked broadly focusing on either one of the other of the streams. These would also lend themselves to the organization of seminars and workshops with the eventual objective of producing collective works on the relations of international law to religion and empire.

A sizeable part of the project’s work materialized in two internationally constituted working groups, one on International Law and Empire and the other on International Law and Religion. The Empire group was coordinated by Rech and Jiménez Fonseca, and the Religion group by García-Salmones Rovira and Amorosa.


Equal Be­fore the Law

Duration 2012 – 2014

The Faculty of Law at the University of Helsinki and the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights were involved in the project Access to Justice in Central Asia. The overall objective of the program was to increase access to justice for vulnerable populations in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, in particular rural women, at-risk children and people with disabilities.

The Faculty of Law and the Erik Castrén Institute were invited to participate in the project as a partner with one law school in each Central Asian Countries. This partnership encompassed faculty and student exchanges to improve general teaching and instruction and assistance in developing courses on relevant international law. The aim of the program was to build awareness and expertise of access to justice among future legal practitioners and educators.

More information can be found on the Equal before the law webpages.


On "Glocal" governance: On the meanings and consequences of the "vernacularization" of Human Rights Concepts

Researcher Reetta Toivanen

Funded by the Academy of Finland

Duration 2011 - 2016

Description: The research project aimed at understanding how minority rights are vernacularized in municipalities where inhabitants belong to different majority and minority populations. The special interest was to consider the power of transnational networks influencing the local interpretations of international rights discourses. The anthropological field research was conducted in Inari, Laksev and Lovozero, which are all multiethnic and multilingual municipalities in the Barents Sea area.


Universal Jurisdiction: Scope and Application

Researcher Magdalena Kmak

Funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Human Rights and Crisis Management in the context of ESDP operations

Researcher Nina Nordberg


Computer Network Attacks and the Law of Armed Conflict

Researcher Piia Palojärvi

Legality of Kosovo Declaration of Independence in International Law

Researcher Magdalena Kmak

Funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Changing Futures? Science and International Law

The 3rd. ESIL Research Forum was held in Helsinki, Finland, on 2 - 3 October 2009. The Forum was the first academic conference organized jointly by the American Society of International Law (ASIL) and the European Society of International Law (ESIL) in cooperation with the Helsinki University Centre of Excellence in Global Governance Research, the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights and the Ius Gentium Association.


Corporations and Human Rights

Researcher Merja Pentikäinen

Legal Implications of NATO Membership

Researcher Juha Rainne

Report commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The Politics of Responsibility to Protect

Researcher Pekka Niemelä


Mainstreaming Human Rights in the Context of European Security and Defence Policy

Researcher Tiina Pajuste

Judges Online: Capacity building for the Judiciary through e-learning


Realizing Justice on the Spot – The Role of Hybrid Courts and Tribunals in Post-Conflict Societies

Researcher Taru Kuosmanen

Transnational Privatised Security and the International Protection of Human Rights

Researcher Katja Creutz

International Post-Conflict Situations: New Challenges for Co-Operative Governance

Researchers Outi Korhonen, Jutta Gras and Katja Creutz

The Human Rights-Based Approach to Development

Researcher Samuli Seppänen

Project commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland


Commercial Legal Disputes in the People's Republic of China

Researcher Samuli Seppänen

Project commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

WTO Dispute Settlement

Researcher Martin Björklund

Fragmentation of International Law

Researchers Martti Koskenniemi, Anja Lindroos and study group

Human Rights and Cultural Diversity

Researchers Eyassu Gayim, Miko Lempinen, Päivi Leino-Sandberg

Funded by the Academy of Finland


Good Governance in International Law

Researcher Samuli Seppänen

Rajavaltion toimivalta puuttua ydinjätteen kuljettamiseen itämerellä (Coastal States' Jurisdiction to Control Transportation of Nuclear Waste on the Baltic Sea)

Researcher Katja Keinänen

Study commissioned by the Finnish Ministry of Trade and Industry


Trade, Environment, and International Intellectual Property Rights

Researchers Kati Kulovesi, Sanna Koponen, Petra Hagelstam, Martin Björklund, Tapio Määttä

Director Outi Korhonen

Euroopan Unionin pakotepolitiikka (EU sanctions)

Researcher Martin Björklund

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Realizing the Global Compact

Researcher Viljam Engström

International Governance in Post-Conflict Situations

Researchers Outi Korhonen & Jutta Gras

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland


Monitoring the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Researchers Jutta Gras

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, human rights unit

Strengthening the Integration of International Legislation in Lao PDR

Consultancy mission by Juhani Kortteinen

The Concept of Law: translation into Finnish

Outi Korhonen

Funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation


Kosovo Human Rights Education

Pilot training session for human rights in Kosovo

Voimankäytön oikeuttaminen (Legitimacy of the Use of Force)

Researchers Miia Aro, Jarna Petman

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

European Citizenship

Researcher Jutta Pomoell

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

The EU and Human Rights Monitoring

Researcher Jutta Gras

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland


The Right to Development

Researcher Anja Lindroos

Commissioned by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland

Aspects of the Human Rights of Women

Researcher Merja Pentikäinen