Finnish human rights policy within international organisations 

Finland contributes to the development and implementation of human rights standards within international organisations through instruments such as treaties and initiatives for resolutions.

Girls at sports class in Gaza at a girls' school maintained by the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA).
Girls at sports class in Gaza at a girls' school maintained by the UN Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA). In 252 schools maintained by UNRWA, there are nearly 240,000 students in Gaza, half of whom are girls. Photo: Anna Merrifield

Topical human rights issues or those that have received less attention earlier can also be raised in international fora.

Various procedures and mechanisms are set up within international organisations to back the promotion of human rights, the implementation of human rights instruments, and the monitoring of the fulfilment and violations of human rights.

Finland is active within international organisations essentially through the European Union because the EU seeks to speak with a single voice in the human rights fora.
Multilateral organisations provide a forum for the States Parties to conduct dialogues and pursue cooperation on human rights.

Finland advocates civil society participation in the promotion and protection of human rights in international arenas.

Key international human rights fora:

European Union

The role of the European Union (EU) is central for the implementation of Finland's international human rights policy, for it is a major global human rights actor politically as well as financially.

As a Member State of the EU, Finland has a much stronger voice in human rights issues.

The European Union actively furthers human rights, democracy and the rule of law in international fora, including the various UN bodies, and regional organisations such as the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

Along with legal norms, EU efforts are guided by a number of politically agreed tools, the most significant being the EU Strategic Framework on Human Rights and Democracy and the related Action Plan, as well as the human rights guidelines on various topics, which are all part of its external action.

Finland is actively involved in developing and enacting EU human rights policy. A delegate from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs participates in the work of the Human Rights Working Group (COHOM). It convenes in Brussels monthly to prepare policy guidelines to be approved by the Political and Security Committee (COPS) and ultimately the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC).

Regional and country-specific human rights issues are also discussed on a regular basis in the Council's regional working groups in charge of EU human rights policy in individual countries.

Human rights are being furthered, for instance, by engaging in political dialogue, by developing global human rights standards and by addressing human rights aspects in development cooperation. Each year, the EU conducts structured human rights dialogues with more than 30 countries.

These dialogues not only cover potentially alarming human rights developments, but are also used to review opportunities for cooperation in different fora. Finland considers it very important that the rights of particularly vulnerable individuals and groups are addressed in both bilateral and multilateral dialogues within the EU.

Human rights clauses, which are binding on the Parties, are included in trade and cooperation agreements signed with third countries.

Preparatory work on EU human rights policy is the remit of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service (EEAS or EAS). Finland underlines that within the EU a dialogue on human rights issues must take place at all levels, including the highest political level.

Moreover, the mandate of the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for Human Rights, which has been held by Stavros Lambrinidis from Greece, was set up in 2012. Finland was an active advocate for the establishment of the mandate of the EU human rights representative.

Today the views of the European Parliament (EP) also carry greater weight in human rights and democracy issues. The EP has an important role in bringing topical issues to the political agenda of the EU. The EP frequently adopts human rights-related resolutions and contributes to the drawing up of EU Annual Reports on Human Rights.

United Nations

Finland is endeavouring to have human rights mainstreamed in all UN activities. Finland is actively engaged in the work of the UN General Assembly and its Third Committee, which continues to play a decisive role as a universal human rights policy body.
Finland seeks to further its human rights policy priorities and engage in broad-based collaboration with other countries both nationally and through the EU. This is particularly crucial in order to promote major initiatives and improve the cooperative spirit between states within UN human rights bodies.

Collaboration has become all the more significant over the past few years due to difficulties experienced in monitoring human rights implementation at country level, as many States are reluctant to engage in a transparent and critical appraisal of the human rights situation in their own country or similar countries.

Within the UN General Assembly, Finland will also continue to cooperate with the other Nordic Countries through joint Nordic Resolutions. Each year, the Nordic countries take turns is assuming the leading role in preparing initiatives which concern international human rights instruments, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the work of the UN Refugee Agency, the UNHCR.

In addition, Finland and Sweden alternate in taking charge of the negotiations on the draft Resolution Against Extrajudicial Executions.

Finland promotes the involvement of NGOs in UN human rights activities.

One of Finland’s goals is that UN agencies and organisations follow a human rights-based approach in all their internal activities and mutual collaboration. Finland advocates this policy, for instance, in the funding talks with the agencies and organisations and in their executive boards and also by providing funding for and participating in their human rights activities.

TheUN Human Rights Council (HRC) is the key intergovernmental body within the UN responsible for advancing human rights. The HRC is responsible for addressing situations of human rights violations; promoting the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms around the globe; mainstreaming the human rights approach within the UN system; and improving intra-UN coordination in relation to human rights.

The Human Rights Council carries out country-specific periodic statutory reviews of the human rights situation in all its Member States in the sessions of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group.

The HRC also incorporates a system called special procedures, meaning independent human rights experts or working groups mandated by the UN to address a specific thematic human rights issue or the human rights situation in a given country.

Finland is seeking to shape the HRC into an action-oriented body which can respond to human rights violations at all times and, if necessary, without the consent of the country concerned. In practice, the HRC works the year around, which allows it to respond rapidly and monitor events on a long-term basis.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and its office (OHCHR) have the mission to promote and protect human rights around the globe. In addition to its Headquarters in Geneva and New York, the OHCHR has field offices for the purpose of assisting countries in making human rights a reality locally.

The OHCHR employs also Finnish human rights experts. Finland seeks to ensure for its part that the OHCHR, the UN human rights treaty bodies and other human rights expert mechanisms are able to pursue their work autonomously and efficiently.

The UN Security Council plays a key role in ensuring respect for human rights. It frequently addresses situations which arise from serious human rights violations or involve such violations.

Finland underlines the importance of the UN Security Council, the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights collaborating with other human rights players.

Finland strives to ensure that human rights are integrated into and implemented in the practical work of the Security Council.

The UN Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) is an intergovernmental advisory body set up in 2006. Protecting and promoting human rights are a major challenge in peacebuilding.
Finland promotes the use of data and information produced by the UN human rights mechanisms, including the country-specific periodic reviews of the Human Rights Council, when peacebuilding strategies are drawn up.

The Peacebuilding Fund (PBF), which works in parallel with the Peacebuilding Commission, offers aid for countries emerging from conflict. Finland provides funding for the PBF and advocates the participation of the civil society and women in the work of the PBF at country level, underlining the significance of projects which bolster human rights and the rule of law.

Council of Europe

The core mission of the Council of Europe (CoE) is to protect and foster human rights, pluralistic democracy and the rule of law. This task is facilitated by the CoE’s unique network of conventions, the regime of standards it has established, and the work of the European Court of Human Rights.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) operates within the Council of Europe. The Court’s judgements are binding on the Contracting States, who have pledged to guarantee fundamental rights and freedoms for every individual.

One of the key institutions within the Council of Europe for the advancement of human rights is the office of the Commissioner for Human Rights, established at the initiative of Finland. As an extra-judicial institution, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights enjoys flexibility in promoting the implementation of human rights and general awareness of respect for human rights in the Member States.

Human rights issues are also addressed by the Committee of Ministers, the Parliamentary Assembly, and the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe. Finland believes that the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB) should also be more closely involved in advancing the core functions of the Council of Europe.

Over the past few years Finland has been among the main voluntary funders of the Council of Europe. Finland has also contributed to the Council’s work by seconding experts to its Secretariat.

With the voluntary funding it provides Finland has supported the Council’s thematic priorities, such as combating violence against women and consolidating the rights of minorities, in particular the Roma and gender and sexual minorities.

Finland has been backing the activities of the Council of Europe regarding the situation in Ukraine, and it has participated in the funding of the Council of Europe Action Plan for Ukraine.

As for the Council of Europe’s efforts to improve the position of the Roma, Finland puts an emphasis on the concrete and significant involvement of the Roma and their dedicated organisations in the relevant work of the Council and on strengthening the rights of Romani women.

Finland lends its support to the reform process initiated by the Council of Europe Secretary General to step up the political relevance and visibility of the CoE within Europe. Finland also promotes an even closer cooperation between the European Union and the Council of Europe.

Finland finds it important that the EU join the European Convention on Human Rights so that the compatibility of draft EU legislation with human rights standards would be monitored in the same way as national legislations.

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe

The 1975 Helsinki Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) states that all three dimensions of the CSCE (the politico-military, economic and environmental, and human dimensions) are of equal importance and should all be promoted.

The human dimension of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) is, indeed, an integral part of the European human rights architecture.
After the Cold War, this comprehensive approach evolved into what is known as the broad concept of security, in which human rights, the rule of law, and democracy are recognised as fundamental elements of security.

This comprehensive approach to security can be considered the trademark of the OSCE.

Finland supports the action of the OSCE by providing voluntary funding and also by financing projects through OSCE field missions and institutions. Finland provides support for OSCE projects aiming to maintain and consolidate security. In keeping with the OSCE broad concept of security, projects are supported across all OSCE dimensions and in different regions on an equal basis.

The human dimension priorities for Finland are promoting the development of the rule of law and democracy and furthering human rights; election monitoring work; improving the position of women; and strengthening the rights of minorities, notably the Roma.

Finland is also working within the OSCE to move the rights of the disabled higher on the agenda.

Advancing the involvement of the civil society is a central goal for Finland within the OSCE.

For many years, Finland has been one of the biggest voluntary funders of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), seconding experts to it.
The other major human rights promoters of the OSCE are the Representative on Freedom of the Media, the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM), and the Special Representative and Co-ordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings.

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