Statement by Foreign Minister Haavisto at the Human Rights Council in Geneva

Statement by Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto at the 43rd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on 24 February 2020.

Madame President,
Mr. Secretary-General,
Madame High Commissioner,
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to address the Human Rights Council today. The role of this Council in promoting and protecting universal human rights is indispensable. The interdependence between peace and security, human rights, and development is as important today as it was 75 years ago when the UN Charter was adopted. For the UN to be able to show leadership, mainstreaming human rights in all areas of its work is essential.  

Finland’s foreign and security policy is human-rights based. The promotion of human rights, the rule of law, democracy, peace, freedom, tolerance and equality forms the central element of the value base on which Finland’s foreign and security policy rests. Finland has a long tradition of promoting human rights for all. That is why my country is seeking for a seat at the Human Rights Council from 2022 to 2024.

Madame President,
I would like to thank the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her recent visit to Finland. We had a good discussion on Finland’s strong and weak points. I also want to reiterate Finland’s full support to the Commissioner and the OHCHR whose independence and funding need to be secured. Finland encourages all countries to fully cooperate with the Commissioner and other human rights mechanisms. They should be allowed meaningful access to any region in the world. People everywhere need to be free of fear from all forms of violence and feel safe whatever their ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation.

Digitalisation brings new opportunities but also challenges which may undermine democracy, freedom of expression, and right to privacy. For example, online hate speech is often used to intimidate and silence minorities and human rights defenders. Therefore, a human-rights based approach should guide the development of technological innovations. Technology can serve as a great advantage for example for persons with disabilities. But to secure positive outcomes we need to hear voices of all persons and groups, including persons with disabilities, when standards and processes concerning technology are developed.

Madame President,

Finland joins the Commission of Inquiry on Syria in urging the international community to use every tool at its disposal to prevent a further spiralling of the conflict in northwest Syria and to ensure that crimes and violations do not continue to go unpunished.

Finland remains very concerned about the conflict in Libya and gives full support to the UN’s role and the Berlin process in facilitating the peace negotiations. At the same time abuses and violations of human rights need to be monitored better.

Finland continues to be concerned of the human rights situation in the illegally annexed Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation, and the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities there.

Madame President,

I would like to turn to some positive human rights stories which show that there is always a way forward if there is political will.

Sudan’s transitional government has taken important steps in amending repressive legislation and seeking peace to the country’s protracted conflicts. There is tangible hope that justice will be brought to the victims of the Darfur conflict.

Ethiopia’s government has recently invited opposition to take part in building democracy, and released political prisoners, including journalists and opposition leaders.

Uzbekistan’s opening is a significant positive change in Central Asia. Media freedom has improved, and new laws support women's rights. Use of forced labor in cotton fields has reduced remarkably.

However, in many regions of the world freedom of expression, association, assembly, media, and safety of journalists are restricted. Finland is concerned about the situation as these restrictions put vulnerable minority groups like the LGBTI at risk. Furthermore, human rights defenders who are defending the rights of the vulnerable are under threat and attacks by authorities. The situation is even worse for women human rights defenders.

We are also alarmed about the situation of environmental human rights defenders who increasingly face attacks while aiming to safeguard for example rainforests. According to the Global Witness annual report, more than three environmental activists were killed each week on average in 2018. Latin America accounted for more than half of them: 83 persons out of 164.  

Finland is committed to protect and support human rights defenders. During the Finnish EU Presidency, I invited women human rights defenders from Ukraine, Bahrain, Zimbabwe and Finland to the informal meeting of the EU Foreign Ministers in Helsinki. We must recognize the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to the elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. They need all our support.

Madame President,

This year is a jubilee year for gender equality. The Beijing Declaration and Platform of Action was adopted 25 years ago. Next month the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will review its implementation. The Declaration still is the most progressive document on women’s rights. I salute the negotiators who were bold and visionary in 1995. I wish we could travel back in time and bring back the spirit of Beijing.

I am alarmed by the pushback on gender equality and women’s and girls’ rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). We cannot afford to leave half of the potential of the world’s population unused as our globe is facing grave challenges such as climate change. Our own experience shows that gender equality profits the whole society.

Madame President, Ladies and Gentlemen,

To conclude,

Finland wants to ensure that human rights remain the backbone of the UN. For us, it would be an honor to serve as a member of the Human Rights Council. As a member, we would give special attention to global phenomena such as climate change and new technologies that may have adverse effects on human rights. We would work together for sustainable development that cannot be achieved without respect for human rights. We would also focus on gender equality and the rights of women and girls as we are not on track to achieve the targets set in Agenda 2030. Together we are stronger in promoting human rights for all.

Thank you.

Speeches held by Ministers and the top leadership of the Ministry.