Statement by Mr Antti Satuli, Secretary of State, before the Commission on Human Rights

58th Session in Geneva 19 March, 2002

Mr Chairman,

Let me, first of all, congratulate you on your election to the Chairmanship of this Commission. I wish you and the other members of the Bureau every success in your challenging task.

Let me also take this opportunity to express my appreciation and thanks to Ms Mary Robinson, High Commissioner for Human Rights and her staff for the extensive work they have done. The High Commissioner merits a special distinction for her commitment and personal engagement in promoting human rights around the world as well as across the entire UN system.

Mr Chairman,

The past year has been a challenging one for humankind and for human rights. In the first week of September in Durban the world community celebrated a milestone in the fight against discrimination and for the first time in the history of the UN, it concluded a world conference against racism by a consensus outcome. This carefully crafted consensus also left the world better equipped to take on the challenge of terrorism that shocked us all soon after Durban.

In addition to what has been stated on behalf of the European Union by the Foreign Minister of Spain, Josep Piqué, allow me to make the following remarks.

Finland attaches great importance to the achievements of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. For the first time the world community was able to reconcile around a joint moral judgement of the Trans-Atlantic slave-trade and other colonial injustices and to close this dark chapter in history. At the same time the world conference was not distracted from present day discriminatory practices but formulated a remarkable set of recommendations for the benefit of present day victims of discrimination. They include indigenous peoples, migrants and displaced persons of foreign descent as well as ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities such as the Roma minority.

In order to combat discrimination effectively, we should not exclude any forms of discrimination by limiting ourselves to narrow or outdated definitions. Intolerance and incitement is today inflicted upon all kinds of minorities, including linguistic and religious minorities as well as on grounds of sexual orientation. Finland has felt it important to continue denouncing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation as well as disability and age. We are pleased to note that such discrimination is gradually attracting the international attention it deserves.

Mr Chairman,

Finland is very pleased that the problem of multiple discrimination was fully acknowledged in the Durban Conference. There is a general problem of multiplicity when various grounds of discrimination at the same time intersect to affect the same victim, who might for example be a refugee girl suffering from HIV/AIDS.

There are also very specific and grave situations of concern where a woman or a girl belonging to a minority at the same time suffers discrimination from double sources, such as discrimination against her minority group from society at large, aggravated by gender based discrimination caused by traditions or customs practiced by her own minority group. There is no justification for tolerating customary practices which are contrary to human rights, and customary practices cannot be excused by invoking traditional gender roles.

Women and girls may become victims of killings, which are wrongly justified through invoking so called honour. Tolerating such killings can never be acceptable. Traditional practices must never be allowed to lead to violations of human rights. Although killings wrongly justified in the name of honour are caused by private actors, they reveal a systemic failure by states to prevent and investigate these crimes and to punish the perpetrators. That is the reason why honour killings are, and should continue to be, on the international human rights agenda. For the same reason Finland stresses the importance to recognize all forms of violence against women, including domestic violence, as a human rights issue. This problem is in fact universal. Domestic violence is too well known also in my own country.
Mr Chairman,

Double discrimination and violence often targets girls, including adolescents. Finland welcomes the preparation of an in-depth study for the General Assembly on violence against children. We should also take full advantage of the opportunity that the Special Session on Children provides to change the way we treat our children. The child is more than a vulnerable object in need of special protection. Children should be seen as individuals with views, interests and rights of their own, able and empowered to participate in matters affecting them. The Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols provide the foundation for this rights-based approach and for our work in this field. I am happy to announce that the ratification of the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflicts will be completed in Finland within a matter of weeks.

Mr Chairman,

The Roma are a discriminated minority in every country where they live and they are seldom represented in political offices or public service. The President of Finland, Mrs Tarja Halonen, launched an initiative for the creation of a pan-European body representative of the Roma. The purpose of this body is to give the Roma minorities in Europe a platform to jointly formulate their views and a channel to influence at all levels decision-making that affects them. The initiative has been well received.

Mr Chairman,

Finland welcomes the establishment of the Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues which will convene for its first and thus historical session in less than two months time. The ambitions and expectations with regard to this body should remain high. The momentum has to be appropriately utilized to raise public awareness. We believe that it is up to the Permanent forum itself to decide on the functions and location of the Secretariat, which should be financed from the regular United Nations budget.

Overall, we welcome the fact that the Forum has a broad enough mandate to enable it fully to address the variety of questions related to indigenous issues. Profound transformations of social, economic and ecological structures are ongoing in all the world caused by the globalisation of the world economy. As indigenous peoples through their own traditional livelihood have special relations to their native lands and to natural resources, they are especially affected by this development. Therefore, rights of indigenous peoples illustrate the indivisibility and interdependence of human rights. Economic, social and cultural rights have to be enjoyed in conjunction with civil and political rights and the promotion and protection of all human rights must go hand in hand with environmental protection in the promotion of sustainable development.

Mr Chairman,

Finland attaches great importance to labour rights and considers the ILO as the primary forum for creating international labour standards. Nevertheless, also the role of the WTO is developing and the opportunities it may offer for furthering human rights should not be overlooked. An essential first step would be to improve the flow of information between these two organisations.

Finland is pleased to note the establishment under the auspices of ILO of a World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation, co-chaired by the President of Finland. The task of this commission will be to recommend concrete measures to incorporate the social dimension into the development of globalisation.

Mr Chairman,

Finland recognizes the important role this Commission plays in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights. States need to collaborate with all established mechanisms. The many special rapporteurs, special representatives, independent experts and members of the working groups have an enormous impact on the work of the Commission. Every effort should be made to keep providing us with the independent and impartially collected and analysed information which is essential for our common task. We should take full advantage of these dedicated human rights experts. It is with this in mind Finland reiterates once again its call on all governments to cooperate fully with the special procedures and working groups of this Commission and to extend a standing invitation to these mechanisms.

The treaty monitoring bodies are requested by us to monitor our compliance with the treaty provisions. Yet these bodies have a difficult task. States need to cooperate constructively with them, complying with their dialogue obligations including prompt reporting.

Core human rights treaties have recently been strengthened through optional protocols. Finland also supports the elaboration of an effective international visiting mechanism to the torture convention and a complaint procedure to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Finland strongly supports the development of the working methods of the treaty bodies. However, this must not under any circumstances lead to any weakening of their powers. Their work should be strengthened by all possible means. This must be matched by the full cooperation of governments. Finland also appeals to all states that have not yet done so to accede to all core human rights treaties, and to do so without any reservations, especially without any reservations incompatible with their objective and purpose.

NGOs play an important role in monitoring the performance of governments. It is only through full and sincere partnerships between all parties that we can contribute to achieving our common goal of a world where everyone’s human rights are respected at all times.

Mr Chairman,

The ultimate goal of full and universal respect of human rights has suffered a serious setback through the pernicious forms of terrorism experienced last September. These acts themselves caused indiscriminate loss of life, which is a value at the core of human rights protection. These acts of terror also spread waves of fear, which is one of the four main threats to human dignity already identified in the preamble of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.

The Finnish government stresses the importance that all counter measures designed to combat terrorism must be in compliance with international human rights as well as international humanitarian law. If we would yield on this principle we would affirm the purpose of the terrorists. We recall that derogations from human rights obligations may be made only under very strictly defined circumstances. Moreover, the scope for derogations foreseen in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have since the formulation of that treaty been significantly narrowed by other developments in international law, for example in the field of fair trial guarantees. We also remind that the prohibition against inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment is non-derogable and that under no circumstances may discrimination be permitted that apply to ethnic, cultural, religious or other grounds. We welcome the General Comment of the Human Rights Committee from last August on human rights in States of Emergency. We also commend the High Commissioner for her consistent stance on these issues.

Mr Chairman,

In conclusion, I wish to remind everyone that in a globalised world we share a common future. In order to effectively model our future we need to stay united behind our jointly agreed goals and behind universal standards. The quest for human rights is a quest for a better future and a priority for international politics.

Thank you, Mr Chairman.