International students of human rights converge in Tampere

Doctoral students from six countries studying human rights in Europe met at a workshop organised by the School of Management at the University of Tampere. - Photo: Elina Todorov

Doctoral students from six countries studying human rights in Europe met at a workshop organised by the School of Management at the University of Tampere. – Photo: Elina Todorov

At the end of October, the School of Management and the Public Law Research Group organised an international workshop for doctoral students on the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).
In addition to the Finnish participants, the two-day workshop brought eleven international doctoral students and two renowned scholars to Tampere. These participants represented eleven universities from six countries.

“We got the idea of organising this seminar two years ago at another successful seminar called Taking the Doctrines of the ECtHR Seriously. The doctoral students I supervise also wanted to organise an event that would support their dissertation work,” says University Lecturer Jukka Viljanen, adjunct professor of human rights law and the chief organiser of the workshop.

“We now have several doctoral students working on their dissertations on the ECtHR, so it is very important for them to create contacts with other young researchers who work on similar themes. It is also essential to have international scholars review their research already in the early stages.”

From environmental questions to paperless immigrants

The students working on the dissertations related to ECtHR study public law at the School of Management. They include Heta Heiskanen, Kristiina Honko, Reija Knuutila, Emma Lehtinen, Jaana Palander, Elina Pekkarinen and Elina Todorov.

Their studies are all related to current human rights issues.

Heiskanen’s research deals with environmental issues, Knuutila investigates the rights of vulnerable groups, and Honko studies the rules that concern war and the privatisation of military interventions. Todorov is examining the legal status of paperless individuals and Palander is researching the reunification of families. Lehtinen’s dissertation work analyses the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and the European Court of Human Rights, while Pekkarinen is undertaking a more theoretical approach to the contextual interpretation of the ECtHR.

Tensions between the courts

The lectures given at the workshop dealt with, among other things, the current British administration’s negative stance to the ECtHR. Senior Lecturer Ed Bates from the University of Leicester gave an overview of the historical development of the situation, and he identified euroscepticism as the most important aspect in the current debate. Senior Lecturer Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou from the University of Liverpool reminded the audience that a European consensus is crucial for the legitimacy of the ECtHR.

Matti Pellonpää, a former ECtHR judge, opened the second day of the workshop. Pellonpää concentrated on the tensions between the two European courts, namely the ECtHR and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The CJEU, which is based in Luxembourg, surprised many last December by issuing statements that advanced its own position. Finding a solution to this dispute over the EU’s accession to the European Convention on Human Rights may take a long time.

Pellonpää also emphasised the correspondence between the quality of ECtHR judges and the court’s rulings. He is now a member of a Council of Europe appointed expert panel whose task is to examine candidates for the post of ECtHR judge.

A comprehensive range of ECtHR research on show

“I decided that the topics of the workshop sessions should be ‘a living instrument’, ‘emerging consensus’ and ‘effective and practical’, which are concepts mentioned in the judgments of the ECtHR,” says Viljanen.

“We were thus able to include the full range of ECtHR research – the traditional issues of free speech and religion and the margin of appreciation doctrine, but also issues that were related to economic, social and educational rights. It was also interesting to analyse the judgments of the Grand Chamber and to discuss the significance of the pilot-judgments procedure and inter-state applications.”

Heta Heiskanen, one of the attendees of the workshop, is writing her doctoral dissertation on environmental cases.

“In my own presentation, I systemised the way in which certain legal cases are chosen. Selecting the cases and presenting them in the dissertation are essential for the dissertation’s quality,” she says.

Young voices heard

Viljanen considers the workshop to have been a success.

“It is often postdoctoral researchers who have the floor in international seminars. We were able to bring together a group of young and promising doctoral researchers, so young voices were heard. Each researcher also received personal feedback, and everyone had the opportunity to present their research in a poster session.”

“Our aim is to make this network a permanent research community. My doctoral students met international guests and made contacts that they will need in their future careers. They will hopefully remember Kanstantsin Dzehtsiarou’s instructions to authors: it is very important to figure out what one wants to say with one’s research, and all claims must always be diligently grounded. Researchers should not settle for reiterating what someone else has said about the illogicality of the case-law.”

The research group’s new blog will publish the participants’ papers.