Vulnerabilisation: Between mainstreaming and human rights overreach

Viljam Engström*, Mikaela Heikkilä, Maija Mustaniemi-Laakso

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


There is an ongoing process of ‘vulnerabilisation’ of international protection. This process is the outcome of the establishment of special protection regimes within human rights law and of extending and specifying the scope of existing norms. Vulnerabilisation also increasingly takes place through the expansion of the sphere of international actors embedding the protection of vulnerable groups as a core element of their policymaking. This article takes hold of this ongoing vulnerabilisation and sets out to explore some of its consequences. Vulnerabilisation, the article claims, is a necessary and important element of ensuring protection of those most in need. However, the development also comes with possible downsides. Vulnerability-reasoning enables selectivity and prioritisation, which can turn into exclusion and politicisation. The vulnerabilisation phenomenon also comes with compartmentalisation and potential instrumentalisation of protection. As such, vulnerabilisation walks a tightrope between mainstreaming and overreach.
Original languageEnglish
JournalNetherlands Quarterly of Human Rights
Volumeonline first
Publication statusAccepted/In press - Apr 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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