Statement by Secretary of State at the Human Rights Council

Statement by Mr. Peter Stenlund, Secretary of State, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, Human Rights Council, High-Level Segment, 28th session, 3 March 2015.

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Mr. President
Mr. High Commissioner,
Ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honour to address the Human Rights Council at a time when it is most needed. We are witnessing violent conflicts, crises, terrorism, as well as lack of tolerance. Human rights are questioned, violated and abused.

In Europe – just a few hours flight from Geneva - the people of Ukraine are continuing to pay a heavy price for the conflict in the eastern parts of their country. The growing number of civilian victims, serious human rights violations and the situation of the internally displaced in eastern Ukraine are a matter of great concern to Finland. The human rights situation in the Crimea, including the situation of the Crimean Tatars, is worrying. We expect to see a genuine commitment to the ceasefire agreed at Minsk. Russia must bear its responsibility in this regard. All heavy weapons and foreign fighters must be withdrawn immediately. At the same time, despite the enormous challenges, Ukraine needs to do its utmost to proceed with its internal reforms.

We must continue to uphold the respect for human rights everywhere in the world. Finland strongly condemns the brutal acts by ISIL/Da'esh, Boko Haram and other terrorist groups alike. Human rights, international humanitarian law and the rule of law must be fully respected when fighting terrorism.

The UN has reported of gross violations of human rights, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria committed by the Government forces and other actors.  All those responsible must be held accountable. There must be no room for impunity. Violations and abuses must be comprehensively documented and preserved for use in local and international justice systems. Finland welcomes the strong focus by the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on ending impunity for the most serious crimes in Syria. Finland, among many other nations, has appealed to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The murder of the Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov in Moscow last Friday is a loss to democracy.  A prompt, independent and transparent investigation into his murder is necessary. Those responsible must be held accountable.

Mr. President,

The World´s first Freedom of Information Act was enacted in Sweden and Finland in 1766 - nearly 250 years ago. Finland carries on the legacy of Anders Chydenius, a Finnish enlightenment thinker and politician, who played a crucial role in the creation of that Act. We are honoured to have topped the World Press Freedom Index again in 2014. Freedom of expression is one of the cornerstones of a democratic and vibrant society, as is freedom of religion or belief.

Violent attacks on those who exercise their freedom of expression are never justified. People must be able to freely express themselves both online and offline ­- without fear. The boundaries of this freedom must be as wide as possible. At the same time, there should be no tolerance for racist and other hate speech. Anti-Semitism, islamophobia or other forms of racism should have no place in today´s world.

Civil society actors are key partners for Finland, including here at the Human Rights Council. Unfortunately, there is continued harassment of human rights defenders in different parts of the world. We know examples of reprisals against human rights defenders who have addressed or attempted to address this very Council.

To support human rights defenders´ work, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland has published guidelines on their protection. The guidelines provide tools and encouragement to the staff of the Ministry to cooperate with human rights defenders around the world. I am proud to participate in the EU´s #Idefend campaign for human rights defenders.

I am also proud that the Human Rights Centre in Finland - an autonomous and independent expert institution - fully complies with the Paris Principles on national human rights institutions. This institution has been accorded an A-status and will now be able to participate at meetings of the Human Rights Council.

Mr. President,

The empowerment of women benefits society as a whole, men included. We have to guarantee that both women and men have equal opportunities to participate and be leaders in all areas of society. Our societies cannot afford to waste any resources by discriminating the competence and experience of women, half of the population.

Gender equality is smart economics: it can enhance economic efficiency and make institutions more representative. Every State has its own challenges in this area. For example, my own country, Finland – even if we have achieved a great deal - must continue our efforts to achieve gender equality, equal career opportunities and equal pay for equal work as well as to end domestic violence.

Finland will closely work with all partners to ensure that gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, including sexual and reproductive health and rights, are strongly included in the Post-2015 agenda.  The Human Rights Council must continue to be a strong advocate for women's rights in all spheres of life, including work, political and economic life.

To achieve this, Mr. President,

Finland remains fully committed to cooperation with all partners in the Human Rights Council, with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and civil society.  

Thank you.