Foreign Minister Valtonen consults civil society organisations as Finland prepares for UN Human Rights Council session

In accordance with established practice, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs invited civil society organisations (CSOs) to comment on Finland’s activities at the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 12 February. Representatives of more than 40 CSOs participated in a discussion with Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen. The discussion focused on the rights of children and the safety of civilians in Ukraine, Gaza and Sudan as well as on increasingly narrow civic space in countries such as Belarus, Iran, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Minister Elina Valtonen sitting down, Human Rights Ambassador Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen standing at the podium. Audience is facing them sitting down.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Elina Valtonen spoke with representatives of civil society organisations before the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The event was chaired by Ambassador for Human Rights Tiina Jortikka-Laitinen.

Civil society grows in importance in uncertain times

Minister Valtonen emphasised the importance of dialogue at a time of international uncertainty and difficulties. “Yet, there is hope, and it is important for citizens and organisations to express their views on emerging issues,” the Minister said in her opening speech.

The Minister said that Finland supports the Commission of Inquiry established by the UN Human Rights Council, which collects evidence of human rights violations and war crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The mandate of the Commission of Inquiry is to be renewed at the session. The Minister also expressed her concern over the catastrophic situation of civilians in Gaza, which is something that the Council should equally take account of.

Minister Valtonen thanked the CSOs for their important work in challenging times. The Minister confirmed that Finland supports the Human Rights Council’s positions on protecting human rights in different countries. She also emphasised the importance of paying attention to the most disadvantaged during conflicts and once rebuilding starts: “We must put the most vulnerable first.”

Children’s rights must be protected in conflicts

The CSOs emphasised the mainstreaming of children’s rights. Conflicts in Gaza and Sudan jeopardise children’s food security and increase the need for psychosocial support during and after conflicts. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine profoundly affects Ukrainian children.

The CSOs expressed concern about women’s rights in the midst of crises and conflicts. Gender-based violence is all the more prevalent in conflict areas. The activities of women’s organisations working for peace should be taken into account more extensively. During the conflict, attention should also be paid to persons with disabilities in Ukraine. The need to protect older people in conflict situations was also raised in the discussion.

The CSOs wished that in addition to mainstreaming the rights of children and young people, Finland would promote children’s and young people’s participation in decision making in international forums. The representatives of CSOs discussed at length increasingly narrow civic space and urged Finland to take concrete measures to support human rights defenders. The Human Rights Council could support the participation of organisations by continuing to enable remote participation in sessions.

The CSOs hoped that Finland would raise issues such as climate and ecological crises and take steps to assist students fleeing conflicts.

Finland will continue its long-term work in the Council to promote human rights

Finland is a member of the Human Rights Council during the term 2022–2024. Preparations are now being made for a session that is the first of the three annual sessions and the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council. It will begin on 26 February and end on 5 April.

The issues to be discussed in the upcoming session include Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the human rights situation in the Palestinian territory. The Council will also discuss the protection and respect of human rights in countries such as Belarus, Iran, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Sudan and Myanmar. Thematic issues include the rights of persons with disabilities, protection of human rights defenders, disinformation, freedom of religion or belief and the rights of the child.

In the Human Rights Council, Finland also has its own initiatives, which it promotes with partner countries. This time, Finland intends to emphasise the rights of persons with disabilities in the resolution on the right to adequate housing. Finland will also propose a new resolution to raise awareness among UN members of discrimination and violence against intersex persons and of their right to health. Finland has a tradition of holding a Women’s Day speech on the rights of women and girls and on gender equality and will do so this year as well.