Speech by Minister Hautala at the Conference of Ombudsmen of the Central Asian countries

House of Estates, Helsinki,  6 March 2012

Mr. President 

Ladies and gentlemen,

It gives me a great pleasure to address this concluding session of the Conference for the Central Asian Ombudsmen and present you the new Finnish Development policy thinking for this distinguished audience. I am particularly happy to see that Ombudsmen from the five Central Asian countries - from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -  are all present here today and will share their reflections after meetings with the Parliamentary Ombudsman and Vice-Chancellor of Justice as well as after other discussions. I hope that the program has been interesting and useful for you.

Ladies and gentlemen

This Conference has been organized in the context of the Wider Europe Initiative, which covers activities in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is supporting. The Conference is a part of the regional rule of law project in Central Asia, which was launched last summer. I am glad to see that the regional approach of this programme has been realized through this Conference.

The project is titled “Equal before the Law: Access to Justice.” This project is focusing on improving access to justice in general and in particular for easily marginalized groups – rural women, children at risk and persons with disabilities.

The project includes a variety of activities supporting both authorities and civil society in building capabilities in the field of justice. Cooperation is needed between state and local authorities on the one hand and civil society actors on the other. Ourimplementing partners are the Venice Commission and the Eurasia Foundation. The Venice Commission has a major expert role in advising governments in implementation of international Human Rights Conventions. The Eurasia Foundation Central Asia – EFCA – has, for its part, a long experience in working with civil society in the region.

“Bottom up” and “top down” perspectives are complementing each others. We believe that it is important to have a multitude of stakeholders to participate in the project. Reflecting the complexity of the rule of law development, it is ideal that this programme also has different actors bringing their expertise in it.  – Finnish academia, ombudsmen, and NGOs contribute substantially to the implementation of the project together with their Central Asian counterparts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Exchange of best practices and expertise, and lessons learnt are the most useful tools to foster open and frank dialogue on the rule of law and good governance. I hope that the experiences exchanged yesterday and today will serve you in your work.

I see that the particular added value of this programme is the strong emphasis placed on empowering small grass-roots civil society organizations that are doing the most concrete work related to women’s access to justice, children’s rights and persons with disabilities. These organizations are doing important work, but may lack resources and capabilities. I truly hope that our cooperation with the Central Asian countries can strengthen these organizations and will help them to build networks among them, as well as with relevant authorities in their respective countries that can support their work in the longer term.

Although the programme aims at strengthening access to justice in general, it has in its central focus on rural women, children and persons with disabilities – groups that are often easily marginalized. Women’s access to justice is a major human rights issue, but it also has many social and development impacts. Cold numbers: it is estimated that women and girls comprise 70 percent of the people living in poverty around the world. Women own less than 10 percent of property in the developed world and only 2 percent in the developing world. Hence, it is clear that women’s land and property rights, non-discrimination in rights related to basic services and registration are crucial to ensure equal and sustainable development.  

A prominent Finnish politician and women’s rights promoter Elisabeth Rehn has often said that rule of law is woman´s best friend. It is fair to say that Rule of Law is everyone ´s best friend, in particular when guaranteeing equal rights for the poor and marginalized groups.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am happy to tell you that, the themes included in the project, and in this Conference alike, are also among the main themes of the newly adopted Development Policy Programme of Finland.

The Finnish development policy has as its guiding principle the human rights based approach to development. We believe that the approach is truly indivisible part of sustainable efforts in the field of poverty reduction, economic growth and sustainable management of natural resources. It is key to social equality and, in general, to creating enabling environment for development.

The approach has its legal foundation on international human rights law and standards. It can be explored as an objective of development but also as a method and principles guiding the development work.

The Human rights based approach to development has its focus on the rights of those who are in the most vulnerable and excluded position. In many places, women, children and persons with disabilities are among the most marginalized.

The approach empowers people to take part in the development of their lives. Human beings are treated as active participants in the development process. It emphasises the active role of the civil society and in particular vulnerable groups who are among the ultimate beneficiaries and true subjects of the development.

Distinguished guests from Central Asia,

During the last two days in Finland, you have heard about our thoughts and experiences in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms. In short time you have met with several Finns that work for gender equality and for improving rights of children and those of persons with disabilities. You have also learnt to know the newly established Finnish human rights center that aim to promote, implement and monitor fundamental rights.  

I believe that strong civil society, free media and active citizens are central to human rights monitoring. Importantly also, an effectively functioning ombudsman institution has an important role to play in guaranteeing accountability and implementation of human rights. When it comes to protection of rights of easily marginalized groups or individuals, these accountability mechanisms are clearly irreplaceable.    

I hope that our project “Equal before the law: access to justice” will give us new opportunities meeting with different rule of law actors with Central Asian partners both bilaterally and also in this way, on a regional basis.