UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet: Multilateralism is at a crossroads

Photo: Kimmo Räisänen

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet visited Helsinki on the invitation of Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto in the beginning of February. On Thursday 6 February, she attended the Hanalys Conference on multilateral cooperation, the rule of law, and sexual and reproductive health and rights. The conference, held in Hanasaari, Helsinki, was jointly organised by the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian Ministers for Foreign Affairs.

Erosion of multilateralism and democracy stood out as the key theme of the conference.

At the beginning of her speech, High Commissioner for Human Rights Bachelet reminded of the cross-border challenges that countries are currently facing. Climate change and globalisation as well as challenges related to movement of people and new technologies require international solutions instead of national ones. They can be best dealt with through multilateralism and cooperation. For decades, the Nordic countries and Europe in general have successfully engaged in this kind of cooperation.

As Foreign Minister Haavisto said in Davos, Europe is one of the greatest strongholds of multilateralism in the world.

According to Bachelet, multilateralism is, however, at a crossroads. Many countries, including some EU Member States, undermine it by accusing immigrants, minority representatives and ‘international bureaucrats’ of causing national problems. Some opinion leaders use threat scenarios to dominate the debate, thereby striving to undermine the international community’s ability to resolve conflicts and promote sustainable development. At the same time, their aim is to crush any hopes of preventing and curbing climate change. 

Bachelet is also concerned about the willingness of some EU countries to disregard the independence of courts, the freedom of the media and science, and the protection of minorities and immigrants. Democracy, fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and human rights are not only the foundation of the EU, but also the most effective means against conflicts, tyranny and exploitation.

A YouTube recording of the Hanalys Conference can be watched here. Bachelet's speech starts at 1:25:55. 

During her visit to Finland, Bachelet met Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto, Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson and Minister of the Interior Maria Ohisalo.  In addition, she met, among others, the Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Director of the Centre for Human Rights, and representatives of the Sámi Parliament and Finnish civil society organisations.