Skip to content

Finnish Science Award awarded to Professor Martti Koskenniemi

Ministry of Education and Culture
Publication date 1.6.2021 9.00
Press release
Martti Koskenniemi. Photo: Linda Tammisto, University of Helsinki

The Finnish Science Award 2021 was granted to Martti Koskenniemi, Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki. In his research, Koskenniemi brings together in a unique way the practical understanding of international law, emanating from his diplomatic background, with wide-ranging theoretical thinking and critical examination. Over the past three decades, Koskenniemi has significantly influenced the theoretical discussion in the field of international law.

Martti Koskenniemi (born in 1953) is one of the founders and Director of the Eric Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights at the University of Helsinki (since 1997). Koskenniemi served as Academy Professor in 2005–2009 and 2013–2017.

“At a time when the principle of ‘might is right’ seems to prevail in international relations and world politics, it has become more imperative than ever before to resolve issues by means of international law. Since Koskenniemi’s work is broad-based, he has been able to focus on questions that have been overlooked within the traditional doctrine of international law. Koskenniemi’s examination shows that international law can easily limited to being an instrument of power politics or utopian idealism,” said Minister of Science and Culture Antti Kurvinen.

Minister Kurvinen presented the award at the Science Forum held on 1 June. The Finnish Science Award is granted to a Finland-based researcher or research group in recognition of significant scientific achievements. The award is granted by the Ministry of Education and Culture based on the proposal of the Board of the Academy of Finland.

The Science Award, which amounts to EUR 100,000, was established in 1987 and is granted every second year. This was the thirteenth time it was awarded, taking place during the Science Forum. This year, the Science Forum forms part of the national Year of Research-Based Knowledge.

Grounds for the award

After completing his law studies at the University of Turku, Koskenniemi made rapid headway in the diplomatic corps. His interest in international law, and especially in the critical theory of the researchers at the University of Harvard, led him to publish his doctoral thesis in 1989. In his dissertation, he showed how argumentation in international law invariably branches out into non-judicial directions. His research soon became a classic and reached a wide audience around the world.

For the professorship of international law at the University of Helsinki, Koskenniemi qualified with his research on international sanctions. The work was awarded with the K.G. Idman Prize. Koskenniemi concentrated on researching the idea of international law: how it has evolved and how it eventually lost credibility. By this second comprehensive international monograph, Koskenniemi ultimately became one of the leading researchers in the field worldwide.

Koskenniemi is widely published, including monographs, edited books and a substantial number of articles. Critical theory has made it possible for Koskenniemi to focus on questions that have been disregarded within the traditional doctrine of international law. Koskenniemi’s examination demonstrated that international law can be a delicate subject that easily remains an instrument of power politics or utopian idealism. International law is used to operate in an imperfect world.

As a researcher, Koskenniemi has always also embarked on examining new issues boldly, such as his interest in the politics of international law and the early European roots of international law.

Over the past thirty years, he has contributed to the theoretical discussion within the framework of international law in many ways. His studies have inspired many researchers of the younger generation from across the world, and as a critical researcher by nature, Koskenniemi does not hesitate to take part in public debate.

Koskenniemi’s influence is manifest in practical terms too. He is a member of the International Law Commission of the United Nations, and an eminent report on the fragmentation of international law was prepared under his leadership for the organisation in 2006.

Koskenniemi has held visiting or part-time professorships at the University of Cambridge, the Université libre de Bruxelles, New York University, the University of Melbourne and the Université de Paris I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). He holds an honorary doctorate at McGill University, the University of Uppsala and the University of Frankfurt and was invited to become a Corresponding Fellow at the British Academy and a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Related links


  • Paavo-Petri Ahonen, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Ministry of Education and Culture, tel. +358 295 330247
  • Heikki Mannila, President, Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335001
Antti Kurvinen Higher education and research Research