Public International Law

Finland’s priorities in the sphere of public international law include the elimination of impunity for the most serious crimes under international law, the global promotion of the rule of law, and the general strengthening of the rules-based international order.

Public international law essentially governs relations between states and the activities of international organisations. It provides a foundation for a stable international order and a basis for international peace and security. Jointly agreed international norms and monitoring compliance with them are indispensable for the good functioning of the global community.

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is actively involved in developing public international law and in promoting its implementation. The UN plays a key role in this action: its core functions include developing public international law and promoting compliance with it, and the UN Charter itself constitutes one of the main sources of public international law.

An extensive network of several hundred international treaties has been established under the auspices of the UN over the past decades, and they are crucial for regulating international relations and also for the legal development in the Member States.

The UN International Law Commission is a key player in developing public international law.

Among regional organisations, the Council of Europe is particularly significant for Finland as a developer and promoter of public international law.

Finland is moreover actively engaged in the debate within the EU on the development of public international law and the promotion of its implementation.

Finland’s priorities in the sphere of public international law include the elimination of impunity for the most serious crimes of international concern and the general strengthening of the rules-based international order.

Finland is also actively involved in developing law of the sea and international humanitarian law and in reinforcing their implementation.

The Legal Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs supports decision-making in foreign and security policy issues by providing expertise and advice on public international law.

Ending impunity for the most serious international crimes

Fighting against the impunity of those who have committed the most serious crimes of international concern – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – is one of Finland’s priorities in the field of public international law. Finland supports the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) also with regard to the crime of aggression.

Ending impunity is also one of the priorities of Finnish UN policy. Finland works actively within the UN, the EU and other international fora to lessen impunity.

Additionally, Finland provides financial and political support to and is engaged in practical cooperation with the ICC as well as the residual mechanisms of international courts that are no longer active (such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Special Court for Sierra Leone).

States have the primary responsibility for prosecuting the most serious crimes of international concern. It is very important for the victims and for the implementation of their rights to see justice delivered at national level.

If, for one reason or another, national prosecution measures are impossible, international courts, especially the ICC, play a crucial role in lessening impunity.

In the area of lessening impunity, Finland gives special emphasis to enhancing the position and rights of victims of crime. Lessening impunity can also be seen as part of more general support to the development of the rule of law in fragile states.

International Criminal Court (ICC)

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, which entered into force in 2002. Today more than 120  states (Link to another website.)(Link to another website.) are party to it. The ICC sits in the Hague, the Netherlands.

From the very beginning, Finland has shown support for the ICC by taking an active part in the Statute negotiations and by ratifying the Rome Statute quickly.

The ICC has jurisdiction with respect to crimes committed by individuals: genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.

A situation can be referred to the ICC Prosecutor by the UN Security Council or by a state party to the Statute, or investigation can be initiated by the ICC Prosecutor at his or her own initiative. In the last two cases, the Court only has jurisdiction if the state in whose territory the crime was committed, or the state whose national is suspected of the crime, is party to the Statute or has specifically accepted the exercise of jurisdiction by the Court. With regard to the crime of aggression, the Rome Statute contains separate provisions on jurisdiction.

ICC Trust Fund for Victims

Finland has been working actively to ensure that the legal position of victims and their rights under the Rome Statute are effectively implemented.

Under the Statute, victims have the right to participate in the Court's proceedings and they are also entitled to reparations.

Established by decision of the Assembly of States Parties in 2002, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) operates separate of the ICC, with mandate based on the Rome Statute.

The Trust Fund has a two-fold mandate: to implement reparations awards ordered against a convicted person by the Court and to provide assistance to victims of crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction and their family members.

Although the primary responsibility for paying reparations ordered by the ICC to victims lies with the convicted person, the ICC can also direct the Trust Fund to complement the reparations, for example, in the event that the convicted person is found indigent.

Moreover, the Court may order the money and other property collected from the convicted person through fines or forfeiture during the proceedings or thereafter to be transferred to the Trust Fund for the purpose of reparations. The rest of the funds disbursed by the Trust Fund come from states and private donors as voluntary contributions or donations.

The Trust Fund for Victims submitted the first draft implementation plan for reparations to victims to the ICC in the Lubanga case in 2015. From 2008 onwards, the Fund has provided assistance in the form of cooperation projects with local organisations in ICC situation countries.

Finland counts among the most long-standing and crucial supporters of the Trust Fund.

Most of Finland’s support has been channelled to assisting victims of such crimes related to sexual violence that fall under the ICC's jurisdiction.

Justice Rapid Response

Justice Rapid Response (JRR) is an intergovernmental cooperation mechanism striving to enhance the international community’s capacity for bringing to justice those who have committed the most serious crimes of international concern and serious human rights violations. By offering its trained experts for support, JRR aims to ensure rapid and professional investigation of such acts.

At the same time, it improves the ability of help-seeking states and organisations to respond to serious violations of public international law and human rights and to implement international criminal law.

JRR has trained a roster of more than 700 experts representing over 110 nationalities. Slightly more than half of the experts are women. Since 2009, JRR has deployed experts on more than 400 missions.

Amongst intergovernmental organisations, the UN and the ICC are JRR’s main cooperation partners.

Finland has been a member of Justice Rapid Response’s Executive Board since its establishment. Ambassador Marja Lehto served as its Chair in 2014–2018. The other members of the Executive Board are the Netherlands (Chair), Argentina, Canada (Observer), Colombia, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Sweden, Switzerland and Uganda and, in their personal capacity, Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme (Botswana) and human rights activist Yasmin Sooka (South Africa).

Nina Suomalainen started in her position as JRR Executive Director in 2018.

Finland also supports JRR activities financially.

International Humanitarian Law

In the field of international humanitarian law, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is in charge of the substance and coordination of Finnish participation in the development of international humanitarian law and its implementation through dialogue and cooperation between states and collaboration with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has set up a working party on international humanitarian law,  tasked especially with promoting the Geneva Conventions, exchanging information, and monitoring the development of humanitarian law. It brings together representatives for the different branches of state administration and various organisations.