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.
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.
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 following structure of the programme applies to the current academic year. To view the most updated version, please visit the University of Tartu Study Information System and choose the next academic year (if available).
The master's programme in International Law and Human Rights is taught by a group of dedicated academics and successful practitioners of the field:
You can find further information about our staff on the Estonian Research Information System.
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 and its English edition Juridica International which introduces Estonian legal order and development of legal thought to foreign readers.
You can read practical info about living in Tallinn here.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
At the online interview:
For further information on assessing candidates´ academic performance and calculating admissions´ score see here.
The following information applies to international students and Estonian students who graduated abroad:
Application system opens on 2 January and closes on 15 March. The following electronic documents must be submitted via DreamApply by 15 March:
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.
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.
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)
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.