International Law and Human Rights

Andrea Rotenberg

2 January

Application system opens

15 March

Application deadline

30 April

Admission results

2 September

Academic year starts
Level of study
Study language
Duration and credits
2 years , 120 ECTS
Form of study
Regular study
Student places
Tuition fee
4,200 EUR/year
Tuition waivers
There are no tuition waivers
  • The University of Tartu is ranked in the top 350 universities in the world (see Rankings and Surveys).
  • Studies take place in the capital of Estonia, Tallinn. Besides our law school’s professors of international law and human rights, representatives from various branches of the Estonian government participate in the teaching process.
  • Graduates are well-prepared to work for international or state institutions and organisations in the private sector or pursue a further academic career at the doctoral level.
  • An internship is a compulsory part of the programme.
  • International law has been taught at the University of Tartu since the 17th century. Many School of Law graduates have become outstanding international law scholars and practitioners. 
  • Students and alumni come from a diverse range of countries from all over the world.


International Law and Human Rights is a 2-year master's programme providing comprehensive knowledge of the principles, regulations, subjects and practice in the field of international law and human rights.

Why study International Law and Human Rights at the University of Tartu?

  • Students can obtain comprehensive knowledge of international law and human rights. All students are given strong ground knowledge in international law and human rights. Then they can expand their expertise in specific areas, depending on their needs and interests, by taking various elective courses.
  • The programme aims to provide an excellent comparative perspective on the issues of international law and human rights, relying on our historical experience and geographical position — Estonia is located where the "West" and the "East" meet.
  • Practice is a compulsory component of the programme, allowing students to apply acquired knowledge in different practical situations and develop practical skills in a professional environment.
  • The School of Law is one of the oldest faculties of the University of Tartu, where lawyers have been educated since the university was founded in 1632. Our alumni form 87% of the attorneys-at-law, 95% of the prosecutors and nearly all of the judges in Estonia. Also, Estonia's previous and current judges at the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the European Union obtained their degrees at the University of Tartu.
  • Studies take place in the capital, Tallinn, where various international organisations and relevant state institutions are located, allowing us to incorporate their representatives and experience into the teaching process and find practice places with them.
Lauri Mälksoo, Professor of International Law at the University of Tartu

Professor Mälksoo, how would you characterise the aims and achievements of the University of Tartu’s ILHR MA programme?

Of course, the primary aim of any higher education programme is to offer the best education possible. In our case, it is to do so in the fields of international law and human rights, the latter being understood in our context primarily as a special interest area within international law. We conceived the MA programme together with René Värk, Associate Professor in International Law, who teaches various core courses related to international law in our programme. The first intake of students was in 2016, so the programme has run for more than four years already.

A specific feature of our MA programme is that it is taught in the University of Tartu Law School’s building in Tallinn. Tallinn is Estonia’s capital city, we can see how it creates additional advantages for the programme – the proximity to practitioners in key Estonian ministries and elsewhere, the advantages of a bigger city in order to find part-time jobs for funding one’s studies, places of internship, etc.

I think our programme has contributed significantly to the internationalisation of academic life at our law school, especially in our Tallinn location. We have an English-language sister programme in Tartu too, in IT Law – and I believe they have had a similar impact in terms of the internationalisation of academic life in our historic location in Tartu. Of course, it makes us proud when we see our students succeeding in their countries or internationally. We have and have had, students from essentially all over the world. I am particularly happy when I see very well researched and written master’s theses defended at the end of the academic year. By the way, master’s thesis defences happen typically in May each year but also, if a student needs more than two years to complete his or her studies, in December.

For me, an important part of specialised studies is a great library that students can use for writing their master’s thesis. Over the years, we have managed to accumulate the best academic library of international law and human rights in Estonia, and the National Library is also nearby in Tallinn.

The connection between "International Law" and "Human Rights" in the title of the programme, is it random to an extent or is it conscious, perhaps ideologically chosen even? If human rights law is part of international law, why emphasise this part of international law and not, for example, international economic law?

A fair question. One answer is pragmatic: we do have a group of scholars who have a particular background in international and European human rights law, especially our Senior Research Fellow in International Law Merilin Kiviorg and Lecturer in European Law and in International Law Katre Luhamaa. In 2004, our Law School became a member of EMA, The European Master’s Programme in Human Rights and Democratisation. Ever since, our core staff has taught in this European programme as well as supervised student theses when the EMA programme students have come to the University of Tartu. For the EU countries, human rights are and remain, of course, a very important part of international law, also politically and ideologically if one wants to put it like this. This is particularly relevant for Eastern Europe where there are countries in which civil and political rights are still not self-evident and the governments are concerned about state sovereignty rather than the advancement of individual rights and democracy. Thus, I realise that emphasising human rights as part of international law is in itself inevitably political, in a way. However, at the same time, I must emphasise that ours is an academic programme and we are not human rights activists – although we do work together with local NGOs such as the Estonian Institute of Human Rights.

In a way, there is a tension between classical international law and human rights as the former is still based on state sovereignty and countries interpret their sovereignty largely based on their perceived national interests. Yet we cannot deny that since the mid-20th century and at least in the Western world, human rights have managed to transform how we understand international law and even state sovereignty as one of its foundations. The point of the title and direction of our MA programme is that all this deserves to be noticed and studied.

What plans do you have for coming years, related to the master’s programme in International Law and Human Rights?

The current challenge of COVID-19 makes one explore further possibilities of distance learning. While I personally prefer face-to-face interaction with students, I think some parts of online learning have come to stay. They create flexibility and offer new opportunities.

Moreover, it is my firm belief that the key element of the long-term success of academic programmes such as ours is the research and teaching excellence of its staff. Currently and until 2024, our academic team is conducting a study on international law in post-Soviet Eurasia. The research project is funded by the Estonian Research Council under its very competitive and prestigious individual grant scheme. We want to learn to what extent there is regional international law (also as opposed to universal international law), as a replacement for the previous Russian/Soviet Empire. Generally, if you’d ask me whether there is any comparative advantage of doing research about international law and human rights in Estonia, I would point at this new catchy direction called comparative international law. Estonian universities cannot compete with the New Yorks and Oxfords in the Western world but one of our advantages is our location at the intersection between the East and the West. For example, scholars or my generation know the Russian language as well. It so happens that with some students whom I supervise, I also discuss international law and human rights in the Russian language. I see it as a cultural advantage that creates more diversity in the academic life.

In September 2022, we’ll take in the first students from another related master’s programme that we have developed in cooperation with the University of Glasgow. It is called International Law of Global Security, Peace and Development (Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degree). This cooperation will lead to further synergies in our own master’s in International Law and Human Rights as well.

Of course, our aim is also to develop further the Martens Summer School on International Law, which will take place for the ninth time at the University of Tartu Pärnu College in 2021. Pärnu is Estonia’s best summer resort but it also happens to be the birth town of Friedrich Martens, the prominent Russian Baltic international lawyer.

What we see over time is also that our successful MA students are increasingly interested in our Law School’s PhD programme in law. The University of Tartu is the only university in Estonia to offer a PhD programme in law.

Overall, I would like to encourage qualified students from any country to apply to our master’s programme in International Law and Human Rights. The programme has been of interest not only to students from foreign countries but also from Estonia.

The specialised master’s programme will soon be five years old. However, the study of international law and human rights have long-established traditions at the University of Tartu. Can you tell us more about this history?

Indeed, this is quite a fascinating history. The University of Tartu was founded in 1632. At the end of the 17th century, Swedish scholars Olaus Hermelin and Gabriel Sjöberg taught various courses related to natural law at our university, and dissertations drew on the writings of Grotius and Pufendorf. When the Great Nordic War broke out in 1700, Hermelin semi-officially presented Swedish legal and political arguments in the war.

A great time for the study of international law at our university was the second half of the 19th century. We had Baltic German scholars such as August von Bulmerincq and Carl Bergbohm as professors at our university who both became well-known in Europe for their works on international legal theory, in the spirit of legal positivism. Their successor as professor of international law at our university, Vladimir Grabar (Hrabar) was a leading historian of international law.

In 1918, the Republic of Estonia was proclaimed and during the interwar period, one of the leading Estonian statesmen, Ants Piip, simultaneously worked as professor of international law at the University of Tartu. He was prime minister and foreign minister on several occasions but academically, Piip’s main contribution was producing original textbooks of international law in the Estonian language.

During the Soviet period, the focus of research was on the international law of the sea. Professor Abner Uustal came from the island of Saaremaa and was a leading Soviet expert on the law of the sea. Of course, the Soviet doctrine of international law did not emphasise human rights at the time; rather, to the contrary.

The restoration of Estonia’s independence in 1991 created excellent conditions for the free and unrestricted study of international law and the relatively new part of it, human rights law.

Extracurricular activities

The Journal of International Law and Human Rights is an academic law journal focused on international law and human rights questions. The Journal is student-run by master's students of the University of Tartu who are elected to the editorial board.

Students can also participate in Jessup, the world's largest moot court competition, with participants from roughly 700 law schools in 100 countries and jurisdictions. 

You can follow our students and programme on Facebook.

The programme is all about innovative approaches to a wide range of issues falling under the scope of international law. The fact that the programme also focuses on international human rights law is definitely a huge advantage, as it also points to a comparative understanding of what international law means in different countries. I am genuinely delighted to be among the students of the first generation of this programme.

Yulian Kondur from Ukraine, alumnus of International Law and Human Rights

Programme highlights in media

Programme highlights in video

Course and module details

This programme structure is the latest one confirmed by the university. Next year's modules will be updated by 15 April. Significant changes to the programme will be announced in advance on this website. Check the Study Information System for the latest updates.

University of Tartu School of Law

The School of Law incorporates the bulk of Estonia’s legal research potential and actively participates in shaping Estonia’s legal policy. Its mission is to ensure the training of highly qualified lawyers and to make sure that research and development are undertaken in all areas of Estonian law.

The School of Law has been teaching law in Tallinn since 2002. 

The School of Law incorporates the bulk of Estonia’s legal research potential and actively participates in shaping Estonia’s legal policy. It also publishes the only Estonian law journal, Juridica (see more) and its English edition, Juridica International (see more), which introduces Estonian legal order and development of legal thought to foreign readers.

Read more about the School of Law here.

You can read practical info about living in Tallinn here.


The master's programme in International Law and Human Rights is taught by a group of dedicated academics and successful practitioners of the field:

  • Russian Approaches to International Law and Human Rights
    Prof. Lauri Mälksoo,
  • Public International Law, International Law and Use of Armed Force, International Humanitarian Law
    Assoc. Prof. René Värk,
  • Human Rights Law and Comparative Human Rights
    Assoc. Prof. Merilin Kiviorg,
  • Human Rights Law and Protection of Vulnerable Groups, Human Rights and Transitional Justice
    Assoc. Prof. Katre Luhamaa,
  • European Human Rights Law
    Assoc. Prof. Julia Laffranque,
  • International Criminal Law
    Assoc. Prof. Andres Parmas,
  • International Law of the Sea
    Lect. Alexander Lott, and Visiting lect. Pierre Thévenin, pierre.thé
  • Law and Practice of the United Nations
    Lect. Aleksandr Popov,
  • International Relations
    Prof. Raul Roomla,
    International Settlement of Disputes
    Lect. Daaniel Kaasik
  • Cyberspace, Technology and International Law
    Lect. Anna-Maria Osula

You can find further information about our staff on the Estonian Research Information System.

University of Tartu School of Law in Tallinn

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Graduates have a competitive advantage in applying to and are well-prepared to work for international organisations and the public and private sectors. As international law and human rights are global, the graduates are prepared to start their careers potentially anywhere in the world.

The increasing globalisation, the importance of international legal regulations, and the role and proliferation of international organisations provide new opportunities for people with specialised knowledge and skills in international law and human rights.

Admission requirements for International Law and Human Rights


NB! Citizens of the Russian Federation who, under the legislation of the Republic of Estonia, cannot apply for a long-stay visa or residence permit to study or do not have a valid legal basis to stay in the Republic of Estonia until the end of the curriculum’s standard period of study are not eligible to apply to the University of Tartu in the 2024/2025 academic year. 

According to the current legislation, citizens of Belarus can apply for Estonian long-term visa or temporary residence permit for studies and are therefore eligible to apply to the University of Tartu.


Applications are evaluated based on

  • the score of the motivation letter (yields 50% of the final score)
  • admission interview (yields 50% of the final score)

The motivation letter is a part of the online application form. Guidelines and evaluation criteria for the motivation letter are also included in the online application form.

Please write a brief motivation letter (in English, 5000-7000 characters with spaces) based on the following points:

  • How is your previous education and/or work experience linked to the topics covered in the master’s programme of International Law and Human Rights?
  • Why are you interested in applying for this particular master’s programme?
  • How do you plan to apply the knowledge and skills that you will acquire from the  programme for your future career?
  • Which of the fields of international law and human rights you consider most appealing and thought provoking?
  • Which of the fields of international law and human rights you would like to study more closely at the University of Tartu? 
  • What would be a potential topic for your master’s thesis? (Please note that the topic mentioned here is not at all binding, you can easily change it during the studies)

Evaluation criteria:

  • fit between the applicant's background (prior education and/or work experience) and the programme (25 %)
  • motivation and goals for the future (25 %)
  • formulation of the potential master’s thesis topic and the way it is linked to the programme  (25%)
  • clarity, argumentation skills and fluency of written English (25 %)

The maximum score for the motivation letter is 100 points and the result is positive only if the applicant gains 51 points or more.

Applicants who received a positive score (at least 51 points) for the motivation letter will be invited to take part in admission interview.

Admission interviews take place from 8 April until 12 April 2024

The School of Law preserves the right to make changes in these dates.

The interview is designed to determine the applicant's readiness for continuous learning, professional development, and aptitude to work in the field of International Law and Human Rights.

The applicant will be evaluated according to the following criteria:

  • Acquaintance with the field of International Law and Human Rights
  • Readiness for continous learning and professional developement
  • Communication skills, argumentation and analysis

The duration of the interview is 20 minutes and it is conducted in English either via Zoom or in person. The interviews will be scheduled in cooperation with qualifying candidates when the motivation letters have been evaluated.

For the interview via Zoom the applicant needs the following:

  • A computer or smart device.
  • In addition, the computer or smart device must have a web camera, earphones and microphone (built-in or separate).
  • As the applicant must be visually identified at the interview, the use of the web camera is mandatory, not recommended.
  • The internet connection with a speed of at least 1 Mb/s (upload/download) is recommended for the video call.

At the online interview:

  •     the applicant must have an identity document;
  •     the applicant has to ensure that the room where they stay is free from other persons or background noise;
  •     the applicant must take into account that they are not allowed to save the interview.

Only those applicants who score 66 points or higher (out of 100) as a combined score from both the motivation letter and the interview, will be considered for admission.
For further information on assessing candidates´ academic performance and calculating admissions´ score see here

How to apply


The following information applies to international students and Estonian students who graduated abroad:

The application system opens on 2 January and closes on 15 March. The following electronic documents must be submitted via DreamApply by 15 March:

  1. online application
  2. motivation letter
  3. official copy of the bachelor's diploma or its equivalent and Diploma Supplement (transcript) in the original language (must include a description of the grading scale). 
    NB! Applicants graduating in the upcoming spring/summer and having their diploma and final transcript issued later than the application deadline should electronically submit their most recent official transcript by the application deadline. The transcript should be supplemented by an official statement from the issuing institution indicating current enrollment and expected graduation date. Admitted candidates are required to post certified copies of their graduation documents as soon as these have been issued (must reach us no later than by the end of July).
  4. official translation of the bachelor’s diploma and Diploma Supplement (transcript) into English, translation certified
  5. proof of English language proficiency
  6. copy of the passport page stating the applicant’s personal particulars
  7. confirmation/receipt of application fee payment (if applicable). All international applicants are required to pay the application fee EUR 100, unless they have completed the previous study level in Estonia. An application will only be processed after the fee has been received by the UT.

Submitted applications can not be edited. It is only possible to upload new documents (e.g. graduation certificates). Applicants will receive feedback and notifications through the DreamApply system to their e-mail. Incomplete applications or those submitted by e-mail will not be considered for admission.

Guide to submitting an electronic application on DreamApply.

NB: The University of Tartu has no official partnerships with agents or educational representatives. We strongly recommend applying directly to the university without the help of unauthorised third-party entities. Should you use such a service, please ensure that your application's contact information is your personal details (your e-mail, phone number, etc.).

The evaluation of applications will be made based on the electronic copies added to DreamApply. A general ranking list will be formed based on the electronically submitted applications and admission results (including offers) will be announced to all applicants personally via DreamApply by April 30 at the latest. Admitted candidates are expected to accept or decline the offer in DreamApply in 7 days. If the decision is not communicated to UT via DreamApply by the stipulated deadline, UT reserves the right to withdraw the admission offer.

NB! It is not possible to postpone the beginning of studies to the next academic year.

Terms and conditions of the admission offer

Admission offers are conditional. This means that there are conditions in the offer which the applicant needs to fulfil in order to be admitted (e.g. sending application documents by post; obtaining the required level of education). If the conditions are not met, UT has the right to withdraw the offer. Also, UT reserves the right to withdraw or amend any offer or revoke the matriculation of a student, if it becomes evident that the application contains fraudulent information, the qualification does not provide access to the chosen study programme or the student is found to have omitted key information from the application. Should such circumstances occur, UT will not be liable for any material or immaterial loss which the student may suffer as a result.

Once the admission results have been announced, all admitted students are required to send the application documents by post to: Student Admissions, University of Tartu, Ülikooli 18-133, Tartu 50090, ESTONIA.

The documents are expected to be mailed only by those receiving the admission offer (unless instructed otherwise by the admissions staff). The documents must reach the university within 3 weeks from the announcement of the offer. If the application documents do not reach us by the deadline, the university has the right to withdraw the admission offer. Applicants will be informed when their documents have arrived.

Requirements for educational documents

All copies of educational documents (diplomas and Diploma Supplements/transcripts) must be officially certified. By certified we mean that the copies should bear an original signature and seal of the authority certifying that these are true copies of the original document(s). The copies can be certified either 1) by an authorised official of the issuing institution, or 2) by a notary, or 3) with an Apostille attached. NB! Country-specific requirements may also specify the way documents from certain countries must be certified.

Please note that UT does not accept simple copies made on the basis of already certified copies (primary copies are needed).

All admitted students are required to present their original qualification certificates upon arrival (unless these were sent directly from the issuing institution).

Paying the tuition fee (applicable to those receiving a fee-based study place offer)

  • EU/EEA/Swiss citizens are required to pay the fee for the first semester once they arrive in Tartu (by 20 September at the latest after signing the fee contract, please read more here).
  • Admitted students from other countries are required to pre-pay half of the first semester's tuition fee. The invoice along with the pre-payment deadline and payment details will be sent to applicants via DreamApply after they have accepted the admissions offer and the University has received the hard copies of the application documents. Second part of the fee is due on 20 September. NB! The official admission letter (necessary for visa application) will only be issued once the University of Tartu has received the pre-payment.
  • NB! Once you have been offered a fee-based study place, be aware that it will not be changed into a fee waiver study place. By transferring the pre-payment to the university, you confirm that you have informed yourself about the process of the visa and temporary residence permit application and you are able to arrive in Estonia by the start of the academic year. If you have any questions please contact

The official admission letter will be sent to admitted students electronically via DreamApply only after the admissions office has received and reviewed hard copies of the application documents, and received the tuition fee pre-payment (if a pre-payment was required, please see step 3 for more details).

NB! The electronic admission letter is sufficient for non-EU students applying for visa at an Estonian embassy.

Once the admission letter is issued, accepted students may proceed further with arranging their arrival. All non-EU students should first consult information on the process of visa and temporary residence permit application to be sure, as where and when the relevant documents need to be applied. 

Note that this programme is offered in Tallinn (189 km from Tartu). University doesn't have a dormitory in Tallinn and all students are advised to organise their accommodation independently. 

NB! Admitted students who are not citizens of an EU or EEA country or Switzerland need to make sure they obtain the Estonian long-term visa on time in order to be able to participate in the orientation programme for international students held in the last week of August. They are also required to visit the Admissions Office in Tartu or the academic affairs specialist in Tallinn in person to complete their arrival registration by September 2, 2024, at the latest. Failure to do so will result in the revocation of their admission decision and visa.

Based upon common queries, the most important information has been summarised into a pre-arrival information website UT Getting Started.

Estonian applicants should apply via National Admission Information Systems (SAIS). Further information in Estonian is available here.

Tuition fee and scholarships

Practical info for new students

International Student Ambassadors

Ask about the programme and admission
Elizabeth Teodora Kasa Malksoo
General Department
Tallinn Office
Teacher of Legal French, Programme Director of the Master's Programme in International Law and Human Rights
Elizabeth Teodora Kasa Malksoo
General Department
Tallinn Office
Teacher of Legal French, Programme Director of the Master's Programme in International Law and Human Rights

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The programme celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2022. Many students have graduated from the programme.