Finland’s international human rights policy

The goals of Finland’s international human rights policy – the eradication of discrimination and increased openness and inclusion – are mainstreamed into all our foreign policy activities.

African students studying in the classroom.
Mobile mathematics in Cape Town. Photo: Marja-Leena Kultanen / Kehityslehti

The principle of non-discrimination is a cornerstone of human rights. All human beings are born equal and they must be guaranteed the same rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

The most enduring results are obtained by encouraging the participation of different population groups in decision-making that concerns them.

Finland devotes particular attention to the position of the Roma and other ethnic, linguistic or religious minorities. Individuals belonging concurrently to more than one of the above population groups are the most vulnerable to human rights violations.

Finland stresses the importance of special measures against such multiple discrimination.

Openness is a prerequisite for successful human rights policy, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs strives to enhance it both internationally and in its own activities. Increased openness also calls for more effective empowerment of the civil society.

Supporting the operating conditions of NGOs is an important practical means of promoting human rights.

Finland appreciates the work of human rights defenders, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has published guidelines for protecting and supporting them. The key message is to encourage and urge the Ministry's entire staff to collaborate actively with human rights defenders.

The priorities of Finland’s international human rights policy include:

Promoting the rights and participation of women and girls

Finland actively promotes women’s and girls' rights and gender equality in all its foreign and security policy activities, laying special emphasis on women’s political and economic participation, the elimination of women’s discrimination, and their sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Finland also actively contributes to the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, whose goals are to protect women and girls in armed conflicts, promote women’s equal participation in peace negotiations and reconstruction, and prevent gender-based violence.

The empowerment and equal status of women are not conceivable without political and economic inclusion and empowerment, which is why the Ministry for Foreign Affairs underlines women’s participation and leadership in political and economic decision-making. These goals are also pursued through development cooperation by supporting women’s and girls’ education, for instance.

Furthermore, Finland works locally with organisations that promote women's and girls' rights and cooperates with women's human rights defenders.

Finland strives to eliminate all violence against women and girls. Women and girls who are subject to multiple discrimination are particularly vulnerable to violence and other discrimination.

Finland also promotes the full and equal enjoyment of human rights by lesbian, bisexual and transgender women and girls, as well as intersexed persons.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights are an essential component of human rights and the agenda for gender equality and development, and their implementation is very important for everyone’s own body, sexuality and reproductive health.

Improving the rights of persons with disabilities

Implementation of the rights of persons with disabilities is a cross-cutting objective in Finnish human rights and development policies. We strive to enhance the involvement of persons with disabilities in political decision-making both in Finland and internationally.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) obliges governments to build an accessible society without barriers, where everyone can benefit from services in the fields of education and health care, for instance.

To ensure effective implementation of the CRPD, Finland supports the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (SRPD).

Moreover, Finland funds projects that promote the rights of persons with disabilities across the world, being one the main funders of the UN Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNPRPD).

Strengthening the rights of sexual and gender minorities

Sexual and gender minorities commonly experience discrimination all over the world. Homosexuality is still criminalised in more than 80 countries. Finland advocates the elimination of all forms of criminalisation as well as other discriminatory legislation and official measures based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

Finland supports every person’s right to define his/her gender and sexuality on his/her own terms.

Young people, in particular, must have the right to be informed without any discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and family structure. Finland supports the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual and intersex people, or LGBTI persons, through economic and political means.

Finland seeks to ensure that the Yogyakarta Principles, approved at expert level, are adopted as a foundation for international human rights policy and as international recommendations for guiding action in the field. The Yogyakarta Principles complement UN-defined human rights by covering the rights of sexual and gender minorities.

Finland continues to foster rights related to sexual orientation and gender identity by supporting initiatives to promote this theme in such fora as the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.

Finland actively implements the LGBTI guidelines of the European Union relating to its external action. These guidelines establish a framework for EU action in issues concerning sexual and gender minorities. Furthermore, Finland supports the work of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and is engaged in cooperation with such entities as the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs participates, frequently together with other EU countries, in Pride events all over the world

A hand holding a rainbow flag at the Senate Square, Helsinki
Helsinki Pride 2019. Photo: AdobeStock

Improving the rights of indigenous peoples

Finland aims to reinforce the status of indigenous peoples by working towards the realization of the goals enshrined in the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Finland also continues to support the activities of UN Indigenous Peoples' Organizations (IPOs).

In autumn 2014, UN Member States and the representatives of indigenous peoples and civil society, who had gathered at the first-ever high-level UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, adopted an Outcome document on the promotion and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. This document gives impetus to the earlier commitment of states to uphold the position of indigenous peoples and respect their rights, and it also serves as a roadmap for the implementation of indigenous peoples’ rights in the coming years.

Finland considers it particularly important to encourage the involvement of indigenous peoples in the UN system.

Group of international people with hands together.
Photo: AdobeStock

Promoting economic, social and cultural rights

Economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) include the rights to education, adequate housing, food and water; the right to enjoy the highest standard of physical and mental health, and the right to work and enjoy just and favourable conditions of work.
Finland advocates the principle of bringing ESCR to an equal footing with civil and political rights (CPR).

In the sphere of international cooperation, Finland considers it important to promote the enforcement of ESCR and, in particular, to ensure the achievement of non-discrimination so that the disadvantaged would have equal opportunities to enjoy education, health services and employment.

Finland wishes to see the greatest possible number of states ratify the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides that communications may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals.


Business and human rights – a central theme in Finnish foreign policy and development cooperation

The Finnish Government emphasizes in its Government Programme the importance of strengthening responsible business conduct. Different steps will be taken on EU-, and international level (in the UN and OECD fora). Under its Presidency of the Council of the EU Finland organized a Conference themed “Business and Human Rights - Towards a Common Agenda for Action”.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and other ministries are partnering with Shift Project(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window) during 2019-2021 in many of its business and human rights related activities. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has especially advanced due diligence efforts and policy coherence as part of its state/public financing instruments for private actors. The Ministry funded the Valuing Respect -initiative(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window) by Shift to improve measurement of actual human rights outcomes of business activities.

The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human rights (2011) are built on three pillars:

  • states’ obligation to protect human rights,
  • business responsibility to respect human rights, and
  • the importance of ensuring access to remedy.

In Finland, the Government approved a national action plan(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window) (pdf, 265 kt, 34 pages) regarding the Principles on 17 September 2014. The implementation is carried out by the Government and overseen by the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Employment. To fulfil the action plan, the following has been achieved in Finland: MEE: Enterprises and Human Rights(Link to another website.) (Opens New Window)

Human rights

Human rights are indispensable for human dignity. Every human being in any country is entitled to human rights.

Human rights are enshrined in international human rights conventions. Human rights include the rights to life, personal integrity, a fair and just trial, effective remedy, and education. They also guarantee the right to respect for private and family life, home and correspondence; the freedom of thought and religion; the freedom of expression; the freedom of assembly and association; and the freedom of movement.

Countries that have joined human rights conventions are under an obligation to respect, protect and enforce human rights for all on an equal basis, without any discrimination.
Human rights policy is an essential component of the Finnish government’s efforts in the fields of foreign and security policy. Finland underlines the interdependence of human rights, security and development.

Finland sees human rights policy as a way of creating a more just and secure world with more human dignity.


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