Suomi korostaa kansalaisyhteiskunnan roolia Euroopan neuvostossa

Euroopan neuvosto ja Puolan ulkoministeriö järjestivät yhdessä Varsovan yliopiston kanssa 22. maaliskuuta Varsovassa konferenssin, joka käsitteli kansalaisjärjestöjen roolin ja aseman parantamista Euroopan neuvostossa.

Tilausuuden avausosuudessa puheenvuoron pitivät Puolan ulkoministeri Jacek Czaputowicz, Euroopan neuvoston pääsihteeri Thorbjørn Jagland, Suomen ulkoministeriön poliittinen alivaltiosihteeri Anne Sipiläinen sekä Varsovan yliopiston professorit Stanisław Sulowski ja Maciej Duszczyk.

Puheenvuoroissa nostettiin esiin muuan muassa tarve parantaa kansalaisjärjestöjen osallistumista Euroopan neuvostossa sekä sananvapauden, yhdistymisvapauden ja kokoontumisvapauden merkitys niin verkossa kuin sen ulkopuolellakin. Pääsihteeri Jagland kuvaili kansalaisjärjestöjen olevan elintärkeitä toimijoita ihmisoikeuksien, oikeudellisuusperiaatteen sekä demokratian toteutumisen kannalta. Jagland muistutti, että kansalaisjärjestöt ovat Euroopan neuvoston tärkeitä kumppaneita. Hän oli huolissaan siitä, että eurooppalaisten kansalaisjärjestöjen toimintaympäristö on muuttunut entistä vihamielisemmäksi.

Euroopan neuvoston ministerikomitean puheenjohtajana tilaisuudessa edustanut alivaltiosihteeri Sipiläinen kertoi puheessaan avoimuuden ja osallisuuden olevan yksi Suomen puheenjohtajuuskauden prioriteeteista. Sipiläisen mukaan energisellä ja pluralistisella kansalaisyhteiskunnalla on ollut Suomen vakauden, tasa-arvoisuuden ja menestyksen kannalta valtava merkitys. Sipiläinen kertoi, että Suomessa kansalaisyhteiskuntaa osallistetaan muun muassa ottamalla heitä mukaan kansainvälisiin tapahtumiin itsenäisinä delegaation jäseninä sekä sisällyttämällä heitä erilaisiin neuvottelukuntiin, jossa he voivat toimia yhdessä viranomaisten kanssa. Sipiläisen puheenvuoron kokonaisuudessaan voit lukea täältä:

Kansalaisyhteiskunta toivoi puheenvuoroissaan ministerikomitealta konkreettisia päätöksiä, joiden avulla kansalaisjärjestöjen osallistumista Euroopan neuvostossa voitaisiin lisätä. Konferenssissa esiin nousseita suosituksia tullaan jatkossa hyödyntämään kansalaisjärjestöjen ja Euroopan neuvoston yhteistyön lisäämiseksi ja parantamiseksi.

Anne Sipiläisen puhe tilaisuudessa:

Address by Anne Sipiläinen, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland 

Warsaw Conference on the role and position of NGOs in the Council of Europe
22 March 2019, Warsaw, Poland

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Secretary General,
Dean and Vice-Rector of the University of Warsaw, 
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address this conference, which focuses on an important issue of civil society participation in the work of international organizations, in this case particularly the Council of Europe. I wish to thank Poland for inviting the Finnish Presidency to speak in the Opening session. I thank all the organisers of the event (Polish Foreign Ministry, the University of Warsaw and the Council of Europe). 

Finland is currently chairing the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. One of our Presidency priorities is Openness and Inclusion. We emphasize that freedom of assembly, association and expression – online and offline – are fundamental freedoms that enable meaningful participation of individuals in society and in political decision-making processes. They are a means to raise problems and issues with the authorities and hold governments accountable. 

In addition to Openness and Inclusion, the other two priorities of our Presidency in the Council of Europe are (firstly) strengthening the system of human rights and the Rule of Law in Europe, and (secondly) equality and women’s rights. 

Currently, human rights, the Rule of Law and democracy face many challenges globally as well as in Europe. The whole rules-based international order, which is fundamentally important for our nations, is under an increasing pressure. 

As a response, we must highlight the benefits that the respect of human rights and the multilateral cooperation has provided for people in Europe. These rights embody what European values mean. That is why it was self-evident to us that our first and crosscutting priority is indeed the strengthening of human rights and the Rule of Law in Europe. 

In Finland, we always seek practical solutions and I must say that the Rule of Law Checklist adopted by the Venice Commission in 2016 provides a very handy tool to assess the degree of respect for the Rule of Law in any given country. This Checklist is available to all civil society stakeholders, too.

The second priority is very dear to us – promotion of equality and women’s rights.  Gender equality is a core value of the Finnish society. We very much support the Council of Europe’s work in the field of gender equality as well as the elimination of violence against women. The Istanbul Convention is a remarkable achievement and we urge all countries to ratify and implement it. 
While Finland is a relatively advanced in gender equality and women’s rights, the violence against women remains a problem for us too. It is something we need to tirelessly work at. 

The priority on openness and inclusion felt also a natural choice for our Presidency. In Finland, free and active participation of civil society in all spheres of life, including political decision-making, has been - and continues to be - an important contributor to building our society. It is fair to say that a vibrant and pluralistic civil society has benefited Finland tremendously, including in terms of stability, equality and prosperity. 

Let me present some concrete examples how public participation is emphasized in Finland: Ministries have developed online platforms for public participation and organised hearings for civil society. Representatives of civil society often participate as independent members of official Finnish delegations to international meetings, bringing to meetings the direct voice of civil society. We also have numerous officially established advisory boards where representatives of civil society act together with authorities from different sectors. An equally important element for promoting openness in society is our legislation on access to information and official documents, as well as on good governance. 
These examples cannot be copied to the Council of Europe as such but perhaps they could give some inspiration in a form that is suitable for an international organization. Online platforms and new technologies are, for instance, practical ways to ensure that the voice of civil society is heard in drafting standards or planning reforms even if not everybody is always able to travel to Strasbourg to attend meetings. 
One obvious way to facilitate participation of civil society, including NGOs, is to ensure that information on possible ways to get involved is easily accessible in the website. 

The Council of Europe does crucial work in the questions pertaining to civil society. Right at the beginning of our presidency in November 2018, the Committee of Ministers adopted a landmark recommendation on the need to strengthen the protection and promotion of civil society space. 

This Recommendation recognizes and values the work of all human rights defenders, including non-governmental organisations. It reaffirms our joint commitment to ensure an enabling legal framework and a conducive political and public environment for them and their activities. However, we must remain vigilant and explore current challenges facing civil society actors in Europe. Now we have an excellent European tool to help us in this work. Let us translate the Recommendation into national languages, distribute it, use it and actively follow up to its implementation. 

We were glad to support a Council of Europe workshop organized immediately after the adoption of the above-mentioned recommendation. In the event we were able to bring attention to the difficult situation of human rights defenders in the regions of the Council of Europe. We are worried of the trend in many countries around the world, also in Europe, to restrict the work of human rights defenders.
Finland is particularly pleased to note that addressing the situation of human rights defenders has been placed high on the agenda of the Council of Europe. We also have our own national guidelines on human rights defenders since 2014 and we commissioned independent review on our work to support human rights defenders in 2017. The study/review is publicly available on our website. 

I think it can be a general recommendation for all of us to ensure that at least information on how and to whom human rights defenders can contact is easily available if they have issues that they wish to bring to the attention. 

Other practical proposals could include inviting human rights defenders to exchange views in the Committee of Ministers with member States on particular themes as well as involving them in the preparation work at the levels of steering committees and rapporteur groups.  
I look forward to the ideas presented by participants of this event, in particular NGOs. As the Council of Europe is currently ongoing a reform this is a useful moment to exchange views and collect ideas how to enhance the participation of NGOs in the Council of Europe. 
I wish you a successful conference!