The University of Tartu has conferred the degree of Honorary Doctor of Legal Studies on Professor Martti Antero Koskenniemi for his outstanding achievements in law and years of successful cooperation with the University of Tartu School of Law in forming the new generation of legal scholars.
Martti Antero Koskenniemi was born on 18 March 1953 in Turku, Finland. He got his legal education also in Turku, acquiring his bachelor’s in law in 1977 and master’s in 1982. A year later, he earned Diploma in Law at the University of Oxford and defended his doctoral degree in law at the University of Turku in 1989.
In 1978–1994, Koskenniemi gained experience as an international lawyer working at Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. During this period, he worked at Finland’s permanent representation in the UN in New York in 1989–1991. As the acting director of the international law department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1991–1994, he sometimes also negotiated with Estonia. Later, he has been also active at the UN, for example, as a member of the International Law Commission in 2002–2006.
In 1994, Koskenniemi was elected Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki. He became the founder and the first director of the Erik Castrén Institute of International Law and Human Rights. Several Estonians have studied international law at that institute. Koskenniemi has been elected twice as the Academy of Finland Professor. In 2021, he became professor emeritus at the University of Helsinki.
Koskenniemi has often been considered the leading international law researcher of his generation. He is one of the most cited scholars in his field and a highly demanded speaker in the whole world. In addition to Helsinki, he has taught international law, its theory and history at leading universities in Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Already his 1989 book From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument gained global prominence as it taught readers to see international law less deterministically than previous generations of lawyers had been used to.
Koskenniemi has been one of the main founders of the historiographical turn in the study of international law. His monographs Gentle Civilizer of Nations: The Rise and Fall of International Law 1870-1960 (2001) and the recent To the Uttermost Parts of the Earth. Legal Imagination and International Power 1300-1870 (2021) have decisively influenced our understanding of the past of international law and the history of ideas generally.
In a way, Koskenniemi’s connection with Estonia and the University of Tartu reaches back already to his university years in Turku. One of his best university-time friends was Juhan Kristjan Talve, who had also studied law and later became an important publicist and contributed to the restoration of the independence of Estonia as a political activist. Juhan Kristjan Talve’s father Ilmar Talve was an ethnology professor at Turku but also a graduate of the University of Tartu from 1942.
As Professor of International Law at the University of Helsinki, Martti Antero Koskenniemi has benevolently supported the career of international law scholars at Tartu, inviting them to international networks and inspiring them also to study the history of international law, which was a popular field of study at the University of Tartu already in the 19th century. In 2011, Martti Antero Koskenniemi spoke at the research forum of the European Society of International Law in Tallinn which our faculty members organised, thus contributing to the success of this international conference.
With his global career in international law, Koskenniemi has proven that one can come from a small country and make it to the absolute top of one’s academic field in the world. His achievements continue to be an inspiration in Estonia, too, where his influence on the development of international law research over the last two decades has been well recognisable.