Opening Statement by Minister Haavisto at the Supporting women, protecting rights seminar
Opening Statement by Foreign Minister Pekka Haaviston at the Expert seminar Supporting women, protecting rights – How can the EU work better to safeguard the work of WHRDs and integrate an intersectional approach. Helsinki, Thursday, 29 August 2019.
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It brings me great pleasure to open this expert seminar on women human rights defenders.
My thanks go to all of the organizers equally. However, I would especially like to thank Amnesty Finland and the KIOS foundation for the excellent cooperation over the past months. My sincere thanks also go to all the human rights defenders who are present here today. You are the real heros here.
The topic we are addressing today is at the very core of protecting and promoting human rights, everywhere in the world.
Women human rights defenders who work on sexual and reproductive rights are being attacked and put to jail. Activists who defend LGBTIQ rights are living under extreme pressure in many countries. We all know about Berta Caseres’ case in Honduras. Just recently we heard about the killing of an indigenous leader and a lands rights activist in Brazil. The list is unfortunately endless.
Therefore, we need to think how to be more effective in our actions to support human rights work.
As you know, Finland is now holding the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU. With it comes some duties but also interesting opportunities. For us it is key to use these six months to advance issues that are important for Finland –
and for the EU as a whole.
We as Finland or as individuals should not be afraid of defending our values and rights. Not even when our friends and partners do not always like what we are saying.
During the first months of the Presidency, we have already been questioned about our values and motives behind our actions.
We have also been accused of double standards, as the human rights situation in our own country is not perfect. This is of course true. No country is perfect on human rights.
However, Finland is not, and personally I am not, afraid of having these sometimes heated discussions on human rights. Openness is key to a successful human rights policy and Finland strives to enhance it both in our own activities and internationally.
We need to stand behind universal human rights in all situations. This is even more important today as the international rules-based system and human rights are being challenged.
Against this background, human rights, democracy, gender equality and the rule of law have been placed as top priorities in our new Government’s programme and in our EU Presidency Programme as well. This shows in many different ways.
For example, today and tomorrow I will host my EU colleagues in Helsinki. Human rights and the situation of human rights defenders in challenging situations will be the main topic of our lunch discussion tomorrow. I am extremely happy that some of you will be there as guest speakers.
My hope is that, by the end of the lunch, we will have identified some concrete ways to intensify the EU support to the civil society and human rights defenders that face attacks and harassment in their everyday life.
We all know that – in too many countries – the situation of human rights defenders is getting worse. Some countries are drafting laws and implementing policies which solely aim at shrinking the space for human rights work. Many activists have been detained, some tortured or even killed.
Women human rights defenders are often in an especially difficult situation. The same applies to defenders belonging to minorities like the LGBTIQ community or human rights defenders with disabilities. Many of you have personal experience on this.
I look forward to hearing your testimonies today during this seminar and tomorrow over the luncheon I am hosting. It is extremely valuable for us – political leaders and civil servants – to hear from you directly about the challenges you are facing.
We – the international community – cannot and should not sit still and watch as human rights defenders are harassed and violated against.
I am especially keen on getting advice on how to be more supportive, as Finland and as the EU. We hope to get recommendations on how to strengthen our support and how to implement the EU human rights defenders guidelines in a way that really helps communities in need.
Many questions remain: How can we be more supportive in situations where the local Government is not cooperative?
How can we support defenders in situations where international contacts may put persons or their families in immediate danger?
What are the best ways to give visibility and protection to woman human rights defenders in countries where rights of women and girls lack behind international standards? If re-location in needed, how best to ensure that?
These are some of the difficult questions that I am hoping to discuss with you today, tomorrow and the coming years.
Finland will continue to provide financial support to local and international human rights organisations also in the future. It is vital that the civil society participation is guaranteed at various international organisations such as the OSCE, Council of Europe and the UN. As has been the case before, Finland will continue to support civil society participants to get access to various international conferences as part of the official Finnish delegation.
To have more inclusive policies we need to be more inclusive.
We are also committed to cooperating with NGOs at local and international levels. Sometimes organizing these kinds of seminars is the way forward. Sometimes other kind of support is needed. You are the best experts on the most effective ways.
It is crucial that all the EU institutions, parliaments, member states and the civil society work together for the protection of human rights and human rights defenders. Only then can we achieve sustainable results.
With some of you I have had the opportunity to work on human rights issues in my previous roles. I hope that the cooperation will continue and even be stronger in the coming years.
I would like finish with a quote from Malala. In her speech, which she gave at the UN in 2013, she said: “I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without voice can be heard”.
I wish you all the best with your important work ahead, and I wish you a fruitful seminar.