Karin Mickelson

Associate Professor

Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

A cultural interpretation of the Genocide Convention (2019)

In 1948, a mere four years after Raphael Lemkin coined the word “genocide,” the UN General Assembly codified his concept in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). Over time, the definition of genocide has become increasingly estranged from the concept originated by Lemkin and adopted by the UN.This dissertation critiques the prevailing materialist interpretation of the Genocide Convention, which originated in a 1996 commentary by the International Law Commission (ILC). As I document, this interpretation has found increasing acceptance among international courts including the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the International Criminal Court, and the International Court of Justice. According to the ILC, the Genocide Convention is concerned only with the “material” existence of human groups and therefore excludes incidents of “cultural genocide.”The interpretive method that I lay out begins with the rules of interpretation embodied in the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and grounds them in post-phenomenological hermeneutic theory. Surveying the Genocide Convention’s text, its preparatory work or travuax perparatoires, and the historical context of its drafting, I find little support for the “exclusionist” interpretation. Instead, I find that many of its drafters believed the Genocide Convention would protect groups as culturally functioning entities. In fact, as I document, the drafters voted down provisions that would have created an explicitly materialist convention and excluded cultural matters.

View record

Indigenous peoples and international human rights law: mining, multinational corporations and the struggles of indigenous peoples in Peru (2017)

This thesis examines and questions the role of international human rights law and international economic law in relation to the increasing encroachment and dispossession of Indigenous lands and territories by multinational corporations (MNCs) in the extractive industry. It also aims to explore the role of a national state’s legal framework and policies not only in validating, authorizing and embedding this process, but also in authorizing a growing and pervasive trend of persecution and criminalization of Indigenous communities who challenge and resist MNCs’ operations. The examination of the relationship between national and international law provides a terrain to grasp how international economic law and international human rights law have become part of evolving regulatory architectures of global governance aiming to validate and embed global capital accumulation.Focusing on Peru, this thesis argues that law, particularly international economic law and the legal framework developed in Peru since the 1990s, has played a prominent role in facilitating and embedding multinational corporate investment in the extractive industry, and in weakening the rights of Indigenous and peasant communities to control their land, water and resources. Peru’s legal framework and policies on extractive industries have not only validated the expansion of MNCs operations and dispossession of Indigenous lands, but have also validated a growing trend of persecution and criminalisation of Indigenous communities. While international economic law constitutes, enables and protects MNCs, international human rights law and corporate social responsibility mechanisms are linked to and help to extend the expansion and deepening of global capital accumulation by means of laws and regulations designed to facilitate and remove barriers to the power and mobility of MNCs.Notwithstanding legal and socio-economic barriers, Indigenous communities have mobilized against and resisted MNCs operations. A comparison of three conflicts involving corporate actors and local communities reveals the existence of intense social mobilization and resistance of Indigenous and peasant communities to defend their land rights, their environment and livelihood, their participation in the decision making process and fair distribution of economic benefits.

View record

Towards an inclusive vision of law reform and legal pluralism in Ghana (2016)

In post-colonial Ghana, some rules of customary law have been criticised as being inimical to the rule of law and to socioeconomic development. As such, customary law has been a key focus of legal reform. There has been resistance to law reform efforts, especially from communities in rural areas because the state and customary legal systems have failed to reconcile their perceptions of law and legal responsibilities. Taking these legal conflicts as its starting point, this dissertation explores the mechanisms for effective reforms of customary law in a legally plural Ghana. One key objective is to consider the types of legal reforms that might be agreeable to rural dwellers in ways that ensure compliance with state law. Drawing on legal pluralism as a guiding framework for analyzing the relationship between state and customary legal systems, and focusing on intestate succession as one concrete example, I argue that in order for legal reforms to be embraced, especially by rural dwellers, the state must adopt an inclusive vision of law reform, by modifying the machinery of law reform to meet the particular needs of its people. In the context of intestate succession, I argue that the courts should be given discretion, based on suggested guidelines, to vary the extended family’s portion of intestate property. In addition, I argue that changes to intestate law must also be accompanied by political, economic, educational and even psychological changes to the structures that frame the customary legal system. In sum, legal reform must also mean social, political and economic reform. It must also mean establishing and nurturing meaningful reciprocal relationships among legal systems and empowering people to consider engaging with and accepting opposing views, with a view to managing conflicts.

View record

Reconstructing women's rights in Africa using the African regional human rights regime: problems and possibilities (2010)

The struggle for women’s rights has gained momentum in the last three decades with recognition in an assortment of international, regional and national institutions and instruments. The African human rights regime constitutes one such framework for addressing women’s rights. Activating the mechanisms of the regime for the benefit of African women, however, poses an ongoing challenge. Available data indicates African women’s continuing vulnerability to human rights violations, with their already precarious situation exacerbated by factors such as the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS in some parts of Africa. This dissertation assesses the African regional human rights regime in the context of the challenges African women confront in their attempts to access it. It acknowledges that the regional initiatives created to protect rights constitute a potentially valuable framework for addressing violations of women’s rights, highlighting some successes but also exposing the limitations. The dissertation uses the case of the right to health recognised within the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa to study the question of rights at the regional level. It applies a feminist Third World Approaches to International Law (TWAIL) perspective to highlight the inclusions and omissions of this instrument in an attempt to construct a holistic, contextual and interdependent understanding of women’s rights in Africa. This dissertation argues that such a re-reading of rights is imperative in order to accelerate women’s ability to effectively mobilise for their rights using regional human rights mechanisms. It recognises the importance of the activities and influences of diverse actors to the implementation of rights. Building on the progress made by the regime, this dissertation identifies international and particularly regional and local actors, such as the African Union and its institutions, State Parties to the African Union, governmental and non-governmental organisations and entities whose activities, directly or indirectly, have implications for women’s rights. It analyses their actions and influences and offers fresh perspectives to enable these stakeholders to further the transformation of women’s situations using the regional human rights regime.

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

A more nuanced approach to environmental hazards? A critical review of the existence, priorities and scope of the Minamata Convention on Mercury (2016)

International environmental law contains a suite of treaties that seek to manage hazardous substances at a global level. The 2013 Minamata Convention is the latest and seeks “to protect the human health and the environment from anthropogenic emissions and releases of mercury and mercury compounds.” This agreement enters a field where there has been a proliferation of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) that have made poor progress against their goals. There were also already a range of MEAs that addressed mercury air emissions, trade and waste, and there are other toxic heavy metals that are not the subjects of individual treaties. This raises the question of why a new treaty was necessary and why it only covered mercury. Nevertheless, the Minamata Convention includes a few unique elements that have not been seen elsewhere in international environmental law: in particular, a specific article on artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) and a specific article on health impacts. This broadening scope raises questions of priority as the international community addresses livelihoods that depend on mercury and health impacts caused by mercury simultaneously in the same agreement. The Minamata Convention also has a wide range of potential co-benefits beyond its objective of protecting human health and the environment from mercury. While the Convention could be conceived as narrow by focusing only on mercury rather than heavy metals more generally, its depth and breadth of potential co-benefits expand the scope of what international environmental law can achieve. This thesis asks the question of whether the Minamata Convention signals a new dawn of comprehensive, adaptive and innovative environmental agreements or whether it was an unnecessary, duplicative, overly narrow agreement with inequitable priorities. It concludes that as a one-off agreement, based on its text, the Minamata Convention is a significant achievement for international environmental law. However, its success in reducing harm from mercury will be greatly dependent on the implementation of its non-binding provisions on ASGM and point sources of mercury emissions such as coal-fired power plants. Finally, more consideration must be given to efficiency in creating treaties in the future to address new environmental problems.

View record

The Sustainability of Biofuels: A Principled Lifecycle Assessment of the 2009 European Union Renewable Energy Directive and its Framework (2016)

Drastic reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are needed in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. The European Union (EU), a leader in climate change mitigation, has adopted an ambitious strategy to achieve its mitigation goal. A piece of this strategy is the Renewable Energy Directive. The Directive establishes mandatory renewable energy targets for member states. Cognizant that in order to achieve the target of 10% of final energy consumption in the transport sector member states would have to rely heavily on biofuels, the EU, in the spirit of sustainable development, included in the Directive sustainability criteria for biofuels. The criteria were needed because, although biofuels can be carbon neutral and an effective replacement for fossil fuels, the production of biofuels can have serious environmental and socio-economic consequences. This thesis concludes that the Directive will not result in the sustainable production of biofuels. This conclusion is based on the principled lifecycle assessment of the Directive and its framework. This approach is a combination of core principles of sustainable development – integration, equity, precaution and polluter pays – and of the basic tenets of lifecycle assessment, a methodology designed to measure the lifecycle impacts of a product. Due to the reliance by member states on first generation biofuels, biofuels produced under the Directive’s regime are not likely to reduce GHG emissions compared to fossil fuels, and are likely to increase water pollution, the loss of biodiversity and food insecurity. The negative impacts of biofuels production are caused mainly by the agricultural production of feedstocks, especially through indirect land-use change. Furthermore, the cost of pollution is not internalized by the regime and biofuels subsidies are not linked to environmental concerns. Therefore, the lifecycle impacts of EU biofuels production do not accord with core principles of sustainable development. Only second and third generation biofuels, which are not yet available on a large-scale, seem to have the potential to be sustainable.

View record


Membership Status

Member of G+PS
View explanation of statuses

Program Affiliations


If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Discover the amazing research that is being conducted at UBC!