Views of civil society to Finland for spring session of UN Human Rights Council

Consultation of civil society has become an established part of Finland’s preparations for the sessions of the UN Human Rights Council. The views of civil society support the Ministry for Foreign Affairs in its work to promote human rights. Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto discussed with a broad spectrum of the Finnish civil society members in February before the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Council meets three times a year. The first session of this year started on 27 February and will continue until 4 April. Finland is a member of the Human Rights Council during the term 2022–2024.

FM Haavisto speakinf in front of an audience.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto discussed with a broad spectrum of the Finnish civil society members before the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council.

In his opening speech Minister Haavisto referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted 75 years ago: “Even today it is important to remember, and to remind, that human rights belong to all and that every UN Member State is committed to them.” It is important to draw attention to both new and longer-standing human rights violations in different countries in order to maintain pressure to rectify the situation and implement accountability. “Human rights violations must never be normalised,” Minister Haavisto said.

Organisations expressed concerns about weakening human rights situation of those in vulnerable situations

The civil society organisations stressed their concerns over the rights of women, girls and gender minorities. Among the topics raised were the impact of the situation in Afghanistan on the rights of girls and women and the increased harassment of the LHBTI community in many countries. The harassment experienced by human rights defenders and the reprisals against them were also brought up.

In addition to the situation in specific countries, the organisations also spoke about the right to environment. In its Resolution adopted on 26 July 2022, the UN General Assembly declared the right to environment as a human right. The right to environment will be discussed at the Human Rights Council’s session this spring for the first time since this declaration. The civil society organisations hope that Finland will emphasise the link between nature and human rights, which is manifested e.g. in environmental conflicts. In this context, promoting the rights of indigenous peoples is also important.

The members of civil society also expressed their concerns over the civic space. Their clear message was that Finland must defend the opportunities of civil society organisations to participate and express their views in the Human Rights Council and in other international forums. One way to support the participation of the civil society is to organise civil society consultations, and those present in the consultation hoped that these will continue during the next government term.

Many important themes on spring session’s agenda

The topics discussed in the session of the Human Rights Council that is under way include Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine and the human rights situation in Belarus, Myanmar, North Korea, Syria, Mali, South Sudan, Iran, Nicaragua and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The agenda also includes several important thematic initiatives concerning e.g. human rights defenders, the right to environment, the prohibition of racism, and economic, social and cultural rights.

Finland has national initiatives to present at the session as well. On the International Women’s Day on 8 March Finland and Mexico gave a speech to express the support for women’s and girls’ rights of the countries committed to the speech. Together with Germany, Brazil and Namibia, Finland will propose a Resolution that will enable to continue the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing. In addition, Finland organises two side events. At the beginning of the session on 27 February, there was a side event on the rights of persons with disabilities in conflicts, and later Finland will organise a side event on the impacts of climate change on the right to adequate housing.

Finland’s UPR Report will also be adopted during the session. Finland’s national human rights record was examined for the fourth time in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November 2022. Finland received 229 recommendations from other countries.

Close exchange of views and cooperation with civil society is important for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. “There are large numbers of actors in Finland working to promote the realisation of human rights, both nationally and internationally. Promoting human rights is a key part of Finland’s foreign policy, and it must continue to be that in the future as well,” Minister Haavisto said in his closing speech.