Speech by Minister Soini at the Åland Example and conflict resolution today seminar 

Speech by Mr. Timo Soini, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Finland,
at the Åland Example and conflict resolution today seminar on 15 September 2015, Brussels, Belgium.

Check against delivery

It is a great pleasure for me to give the opening address on this seminar.  I am pleased to see that so many of you have taken the time to attend this seminar here in the hub of official EU-meetings.

The nature of conflicts has changed dramatically in the past decades. Today's conflicts are more often than before intra-state–cross border-conflicts, with multiple actors and opposing and sometimes unclear interests and goals. It also seems to me that conflicts have become very cruel as far as the human suffering is concerned. In some cases, like the war waged by ISIL, nothing is spared from being targeted or used as a tool of war.
The situations differ from one conflict to another, and there are certainly no one-size-fits all models for conflict resolution. So it is difficult to envisage how we could better deal with the conflict prevention and resolution. But history – luckily - has also many positive lessons to learn from. One of them is the case in point today: the Åland Example.

This seminar is organized by our permanent representation to the European Union together with the contact group between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland and the Government of Åland. The main task of this contact group is to highlight the Åland Islands as an example of peaceful governance.

One of the purposes of this seminar is also to explore the potential of this example for settling disputes that have a regional or ethnic connotation or involve issues concerning minorities.

We would also like to discuss the conflict resolution in Aceh and Northern Ireland, which are more recent examples. Finland played an important role in the conflict resolution in Aceh, as our former President, Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, facilitated the peace process between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement in 2005.
The Åland Example has contributed to peace and stability in the Baltic Sea region. For us, the success of the Åland Example contributed to our belief in the strong mediation role of the UN.

The solution of the League of Nations on the Åland Islands involved meant that the Åland Islands remained a demilitarized and neutralized part of Finland, guaranteed with an autonomous status with a Parliament, a provincial government and legislative power of their own.

Finland has concluded an agreement with Russia on the demilitarization of the Åland Islands. The demilitarization and the basic principles on the neutralization of the Åland Islands also constitute regional, European, customary law. Hence, the status of Åland Islands is firmly rooted in international law. The Åland case has also served as a source of inspiration for others searching for peaceful conflict resolution. Representatives of various minorities and population groups have found interest in the different elements of the example. 

Mediation is one of the priorities of Finnish foreign policy. We are working to strengthen the normative and institutional basis for mediation. The normative work aims at better skills, knowhow, partnerships, as well as material support needed to prevent and solve conflicts. But it is also very important to act at a more practical level. I have appointed Pekka Haavisto, a Member of Parliament, as my Special Representative on mediation, focusing on Africa.

I am also very keen to promote a dialogue among different cultures and religions as a means to advance peaceful coexistence between different religious and ethnic groups.
We can and should still learn a lot from each other's experiences in the field of conflict resolution. Therefore Finland and Turkey have convened the Group of Friends of Mediation at the United Nations. The Group brings together over 40 countries, seven regional organizations and the United Nations. During the forthcoming UN General Assembly meeting in New York the ministers of this Group of Friends will discuss the recommendations of the recently published UN Peace Operations Report. I believe the report is an excellent stepping stone to advance mediation and conflict prevention. And I hope that we can find ways to put forward these recommendations for concrete actions.
I should mention that similar Friends' Groups have been established also in Europe, one in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the other here in the EU. Here in Brussels we co-chair the EU Friends of Mediation together with our Spanish colleagues. One of the assets of these Friends' Groups is the exchange of information and best practices between member states involved or interested in mediation. And this is our goal also today.

More mediation, not less, is needed in today's world. Peace agreements fail far too often. The inclusive nature of peace processes cannot be stressed enough. Women's full participation is an urgent priority. Lack of it is a major obstacle to peace. Many more women must take part in the negotiating teams of conflicting parties, and the voices of women must be included in peace processes. National ownership entails that a peace process cannot engage only the government, but society at large, too. That is why national and local dialogues between different groups of society are essential and must be strongly encouraged. Finland, together with Norway, is currently sponsoring the UN High-level Seminars on Gender and Inclusive Mediation.

We need to find effective ways to help mediators and conflict-ridden countries themselves to increase efforts for peaceful solutions of conflicts.  So I hope this seminar will produce new ideas and insights that will lead to common action.