Doctoral dissertation: Objectives and effects of changes to international law conflict

The reformation of international law must not get stuck on the level of conceptual definition. Consideration must be given to the application of these concepts in global governance and related consequences.

Ukri Soirila, LLM, has studied the use of the concept of humanity in international law in his doctoral dissertation.

In his research, Soirila examines a notion that gained prevalence in the field of international law in the 1990s and early 2000s, according to which law is either changing or needs to be changed to substitute governments with individuals as the principal agents in international law. In a similar manner, human rights and human dignity were seen to displace state sovereignty as the most important concepts of the field.

Soirila’s dissertation classifies theories advocating this line of thought under the ‘law of humanity project’.

“At the moment, it seems this project has failed. Instead of establishing a ‘law of humanity’, we have come face to face with a populist reaction and the re-emergence of nationalism,” the doctoral candidate states.

The dissertation investigates the fundamental assumptions of the law of humanity project and reasons for its failure in achieving its objectives.

“The main reason is that even in countries where the standard of living has improved, economic inequality has increased in tandem. In other words, the language and concepts of the law of humanity project have been used primarily in a fight for the nature of the state and its role both nationally and internationally. Although this has had its occasional benefits, governments have been forced to adopt changes that are entirely incompatible with their prevailing situation or that prevent them from looking after their citizens,” Soirila assesses.

According to the doctoral candidate, the failure of the law of humanity project does not in any way make it necessary to revert to nationalism, close the borders or aim at reducing international collaboration.

“Actually, the law of humanity project and nationalism perceive the world through largely similar established conceptual pairs, although favouring the opposite sides of the pairings. Indeed, scholars of international law should next dismantle these conceptual pairs and reassess the effects of various projects pertaining to the future of international law, taking into account the interconnections between theories and new forms of power.”


Ukri Soirila, will defend the doctoral dissertation entitled "The Law of Humanity Project: An Immanent Critique" in the Faculty of Law, University of Helsinki, on 11 December 2018 at 12:00. The public examination will take place at the following address: Porthania, P674, Yliopistonkatu 3.

Professor Samuel Moyn, Yale University, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Martti Koskenniemi as the custos.

The dissertation is also available in electronic form through the E-thesis service.