Statement by Mr Johannes Koskinen, Minister of Justice of Finland

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the European Convention on Human Rights 3 November 2000 Rome

Mr. President, Ministers, Secretary General, Judges, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

Over the past fifty years the Council of Europe has through its human rights activities greatly contributed to the well-being of all Europeans, a democratic peaceful development of European societies and the maintenance of peace and stability in Europe. The indivisibility and interdependence of human rights has been emphasised in the standard setting work of the Council of Europe. The centerpiece in the Council efforts has been and continues to be the European Convention on Human Rights with its excellent control mechanism. Finland is pleased with the fact that a significant number of states that have adhered to the European Social Charter or the revised Social Charter.

As was the case with my country and many other states, the phase prior to the ratification of the Convention was of great importance, not only as regards the legislative work but also the development of human rights culture itself. Already in this context, reforms were carried out.

Within the Convention control mechanism, the value of the system of individual complaints should be highlighted. Through this system national legislation and practice are under constant review. This indeed is the purpose of the international control mechanisms as a last resort. States should make every effort to prevent violations of human rights and especially similar types of violations from occurring. In this work for strengthening the rule of law, the enlightened role of national courts cannot be over-emphasised. Normally, they are the last national checkingpoints before the international control mechanisms. For the credibility of the European human rights regime it is also of utmost importance that States fully implement the judgments of the European Court in the framework of the legal nature of the Convention procedure.

In this connection I would also like to underline that wide cooperation among all actors of civil society as a whole, including non-governmental organisations, is needed for the human rights protection at the national as well as the European level.

The access of an individual applicant to the Court for a decision on the merits is the most valuable asset of the whole control system. This element should remain untouched in any reform of the procedure. This principle does not prevent us from considering, for example, the possibility that senior Registry officials be given the power to decide whether complaint letters fulfill the standards required for their registration. The position of Finland is clear when discussions on the fate of the Convention system continue. We find it important that the prerequisites, including financial resources, of the effective functioning of the Court are secured also in the future.

An important reason to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Convention is the fact that the Convention is through the interpretation by the European Court a very living instrument, which has proven its ability to face the challenges posed by new developments in society. This feature is also evident in the recent adoption of Protocol No. 12, marking the dedication to remove all discrimination.

Also after the adoption of the European Union Charter of Fundamental Rights in December in Nice, the commitment to the European Convention should remain firm. Indeed, as a parallel and complementary process to the Charter it is important for the European Community to accede to the Convention and thereby subject itself to external international control in human rights cases. What the accession requires from the Council of Europe, should be examined in advance at the earliest convenience.

I have highlighted a few issues that deserve close attention of all member States of the Council of Europe. This does not mean that our achievement, the European Convention on Human Rights, is seriously under threat. I believe that with our common, result-oriented efforts we shall also in the future be able to guarantee the proper functioning of the European Court of Human Rights, an invaluable tool lacking in many parts of the world. Therefore while we appeal to all Governments present here to reflect upon the responsibility the European Convention confers upon you we appreciate the achievements it represents.

Finally, Mr. President, I would like to extend our appreciation to the Government of Italy for the excellent organization of the Anniversary celebrations.

Thank you Mr. President.