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

Project Details


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.
Effective start/end date01/09/2131/08/25


  • Research Council of Finland

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities