Online workshop on approaches to vulnerability in times of crisis

19 February 2021, Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights, Turku/Åbo, Finland

The beginning of the 21st century has been a time of nearby-constant crisis. The global financial crisis was followed by the so-called refugee crisis, only to be followed by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a consequence to this, the capacity of many welfare states to protect the rights of individuals has been put to test. Combined with future challenges long foreseen such as an ageing population, altering nature of work, and climate change, there is good reason to engage in a critical debate on the role of the welfare state in protecting individuals, in particular as regards the most vulnerable within societies.

While ‘vulnerability’ has become something of a catchword in protection discourse, its function remains ambiguous and challenged. The workshop identifies uses of the vulnerability concept in the context of crises in welfare states, and takes a critical look at vulnerability reasoning as a structural element in law and politics.

Call for papers

Paper proposals are invited on any theme relating to welfare state approaches to vulnerability and crisis. Papers can engage with the concept of vulnerability both on a more practical or principled level. Questions of special interest for the workshop are (non-exclusively):

    • How are individuals in vulnerable situtations affected by crises such as the COVID-19? (How) do authorities make use of the vulnerability reasoning in such contexts (e.g. with regard to individuals living in institutions)?
    • What is the function of the vulnerability con­cept in various societal areas affected by different crises (such as migra­tion management or child protection)?
    • (How) is vulnerability dealt with as a legal and/or as a political concept?
    • Has the ECtHR’s case  law and/or UN treaty body practice  on vulnerability had an impact on the laws and practices and if so, in which ways?
    • Can/do different vulnerability theories inform thinking and policies on vulnerability during crises?
Timeline  and submissions

Abstracts of no more than 400 words should be submitted before 11 December 2020 at The aim is to publish a selection of the papers presented at the workshop in an edited volume or in an international peer-reviewed journal.

The authors of selected papers will be informed by the end of December 2020. In order to enable an in-depth discussion at the workshop, paper presenters are asked to submit draft papers of around 3000-5000 words by 10 February 2021.

More information

For information on the workshop and the project, please see For questions, please contact

New article on disability and vulnerability

Mikaela Heikkilä, Hisayo Katsui & Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso, A human rights reading of the responsive state, in International Journal of Human Rights: Disability and vulnerability, published online 22 January 2020


Universal human rights of all are complemented with particular, targeted protection of some, especially those that traditionally have been left behind. By juxtaposing the ideas of universality and particularity, the article studies vulnerability as a particularising tool within human rights with a comparative approach to the influential vulnerability theory by Martha Fineman. By outlining the similarities and the differences between the two approaches of vulnerability theory and human rights project, the article sheds light on how the particular protection needs of persons with disabilities play out in the universalistic logic of vulnerability. The article argues that both universal and particular obligations of responsive states – and responsive humans – are needed as a way of materialising substantive equality for persons with disabilities as vulnerable legal subjects. Such obligations cannot be codified in full detail, but the intrinsic essence of rights requires each right to be interpreted in context and with regard to the particular individual vulnerabilities and resilience of each person. In operationalising the obligations arising from such rights, the human rights project and the vulnerability theory complement and reinforce each other in terms of specifying the rationale and the detailed benchmarks for state action.

New article on Unpacking the Debate on Social Protection Floors

Viljam Engström, ‘Unpacking the Debate on Social Protection Floors’, Goettingen Journal of International Law 9 (2019) 3.

For full text, see here


Social protection policies have been adopted by numerous international actors and are embedded in a wide array of policy and legislative instruments. Conceptually, social protection is ambiguous. This is also true of its different embodiments, such as the concept of vulnerability, and the idea of protection floors. This article looks at social protection floors as manifested in a human rights-based approach and in the context of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The article situates protection floors in the protection of socio-economic rights, and uses that regime as a reference point for examining the materialization of protection floors in IMF policy-making. Against this background, this article revisits two ongoing debates around social protection: the dichotomy between universalism and targeting, and the capacity to induce change. The article calls for a more nuanced debate on protection floors.

New article on the recognition of the vulnerability of asylum-seekers in the Finnish asylum law and practices (in Finnish)

Mikaela Heikkilä and Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso, ‘Turvapaikanhakijoiden haavoittuvuuden huomioiminen Suomen ulkomaalaisoikeudessa ja käytänteissä’ [The recognition of the vulnerability of asylum-seekers in the Finnish asylum law and practices] in Eveliina Lyytinen (ed.), Turvapaikanhaku ja pakolaisuus Suomessa (Siirtolaisuusinstituutti 2019)

For full text, see here


New article by Elina Pirjatanniemi on Pathways for Future Generations in Existing Legal Human Rights Provisions

Elina Pirjatanniemi, ‘Pathways for Future Generations in Existing Legal Human Rights Provisions’ in Marcus Düwell, Gerhard Bos, Naomi van Steenbergen (eds.) Pathways for Future Generations in Existing Legal Human Rights Provisions (Routledge 2018)

For full text, see here


Human rights comprise a powerful message for humankind. This chapter introduces the state of the art regarding the relationship between human rights and duties to protect the environment for the sake of future people. It develops some arguments in favour of the legal rights of future generations. In addition, the question of the operationalisation of the rights is examined. Environmental issues coincide with the general efforts to strengthen people’s participation already imbedded in human rights law. The chapter focuses on these two dimensions of the relationship between human rights and the environment. It concludes with a discussion on the limits and possibilities of law in protecting the rights of future generations. It embodies the basic status of a human being, which means that it is fully plausible to argue that generations to come will also have an intrinsic worth.

New pilot study on the positive and negative decisions regarding Iraqi citizens aged 18–34 (in Finnish)

Saarikkomäki Elsa, Oljakka Nea, Vanto Johanna, Pirjatanniemi Elina, Lavapuro Juha, Alvesalo- Kuusi Anne, ‘Kansainvälistä suojelua koskevat päätökset Maahanmuuttovirastossa 2015-2017. Pilottitutkimus 18-34-vuotiaita Irakin kansalaisia koskevista myönteisistä ja kielteisistä päätöksistä 2015-2017‘ [Decisions of the Finnish Immigration Service concerning international protection in 2015–2017. Pilot study] (2018).

For full text, see here


Law and Development Research Network (LDRN) PhD Course 2018 on Resilience and Equality: Questions for the North and the South

11-15 June 2018 | Åbo Akademi University | Institute for Human Rights | Åbo, Finland


The position and empowerment of vulnerable individuals, as well as issues related to equality and non-discrimination are central to many branches of the law and development research field. Such research addresses, for example, questions on whether and in which ways different human rights, social services and legal remedies are made, or should be made, accessible to all on an equal basis. Issues related to accountability, rethinking of societal structures and distribution of resources often form a part of such scholarly debates.

About the course

The 2018 LDRN PhD Course invites doctoral candidates from different legal (and related) disciplines to discuss the role of law in addressing vulnerability, inequality and discrimination in the north and in the south. The course aims to provide the participants with insights on some of the methodological, ethical and theoretical considerations relevant for this research field. Based on interactive methods of teaching, the curriculum consists of lectures, a methods clinic, group work sessions and paper workshops.

The course will be taught by a group of experts, including

    • Koen de Feyter (Professor, International Law, University of Antwerp)
    • Viljam Engström (Post-Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University)
    • Dorota Gozdecka (Senior Lecturer, ANU Law School, Adj. Prof., University of Helsinki)
    • Mikaela Heikkilä (Post-Doctoral Researcher, Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University)
    • Carolien Jacobs (Assistant Professor, Van Vollenhoven Institute, University of Leiden)
    • Hisayo Katsui (Adjunct Professor, Disability Studies, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki)
    • Magdalena Kmak (Associate Professor in Minority Studies, Åbo Akademi University)
    • Atieno Mboya Samandari (Adjunct Professor, Vulnerability and the Human Condition Initiative, Emory University School of Law)
    • Johanna Niemi (Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Turku)
    • Elina Pirjatanniemi (Professor of Constitutional and International Law, Director of the Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University)
    • Celine Tan (Associate Professor, School of Law, University of Warwick)
    • Salla Tuori (Associate Professor, Gender Studies, Åbo Akademi University)

The course is organised jointly by the Åbo Akademi Institute for Human Rights, the Academy of Finland Project “Vulnerability as Particularity – Towards Relativizing the Universality of Human Rights?” and the Law and Development Research Network

Venue: Auditorium Aura, Arken, Tehtaankatu/Fabriksgatan 2, 20500 Turku/Åbo

To apply

Application time closed 30 March 2018.