Welcome to the homepage of the ROVU and RELAY research projects hosted by the Åbo Akademi Institute for Human Rights and funded by the Academy of Finland. The ongoing ROVU project (2021-2025) studies the roles of vulnerability in human rights and criminal law, building on the results of the now completed RELAY project (2017-2021) that analysed vulnerability as a human rights concept. For brief project presentations, please see below. For more information and updates, please see the publications, activities and news sections on this website, or the ROVU page in the Åbo Akademi University Research Portal.
The many faces of special protection: Unpacking the roles of vulnerability in human rights and criminal law (ROVU)
A research project funded by the Academy of Finland, September 2021 – August 2025, Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights
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.
Vulnerability as Particularity — Towards Relativizing the Universality of Human Rights? (RELAY)
A research project funded by the Academy of Finland, September 2017 – August 2021, Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights
While ‘vulnerability’ has become a regularly used notion in human rights law, as a legal concept it remains ambiguous and contested. It is now necessary to take a critical look at the vulnerability reasoning as a structural element in human rights law. Is the expansion of vulnerability reasoning indicative of a trend towards particularisation of human rights?
The aim of the project Vulnerability as Particularity — Towards Relativizing the Universality of Human Rights? is to unpack the notion of vulnerability in order to analyse its function in the interpretation of law and to problematize its use as an operative principle in the implementation of policies and laws. Drawing on discourse analysis and interviews, the project addresses vulnerability from three angles: particularity, exclusion and inclusion, and power. The project contributes to an analytically critical understanding and operationalisation of the notion of vulnerability.