Statement at the Human Rights Council 29.2.2016

Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am honoured to address the Human Rights Council at the eve of its tenth anniversary. This Council has contributed greatly to the promotion of human rights. It has fulfilled its role by addressing such topics as business and human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity and Indigenous Peoples' rights.  In the Council's second decade it will have a role in upholding a human rights based approach in the 2030 Agenda.

Mr. President,

The horrendous situation in Syria demands for the Human Rights Council's continued attention. We must stand united in defending international law even in the most difficult conflict situations. Civilians have been repeatedly and deliberately attacked. All those responsible for violations and abuses must be held accountable. Finland fully supports the continued work of the Commission of Inquiry. We repeat our call to the Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.  At the same time, all parties must commit to the ending of hostilities and a political solution as agreed in Munich and called for by the Security Council.

In Ukraine over 2,5 million persons, including tens of thousands of persons with disabilities, have left their homes due to the conflict. There are continued reports about serious human rights abuses in the areas controlled by the separatists in eastern Ukraine. The human rights situation in Crimea, in particular with respect to minorities, remains weak. Finland supports the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and does not accept the illegal annexation of Crimea. We stress the importance of the full implementation of the Minsk agreement by all sides.

The situation in Burundi is grave. Human rights defenders have been harassed, even subjected to violence. All alleged human rights violations must be investigated. Finland supports the efforts of the African Union, the East African Community, the Security Council and the Human Rights Council. We call on Burundi to cooperate with them to address all human rights concerns. 

Mr. President,

Last autumn I visited the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. It was a sober reminder how conflicts affect people's lives. I met with women who had fled violence and girls who were born in the refugee camp. I also spoke with women hosting girl students in local communities.  I was deeply moved.

The international community must continue to act together to address the forced migration and refugee crisis. It is vital to uphold international law, including human rights law and international refugee law.

Finland acknowledges the remarkable responsibility the neighbouring countries of Syria have taken in hosting Syrian refugees, and is committed to supporting international efforts through development and humanitarian aid.

While helping those in need, we must also address the root causes of forced migration. Human rights violations can fuel conflicts, also forcing people to leave their homes. Tools to tackle the root causes include conflict prevention and mediation, development cooperation, and support to the UN's human rights work as well as political dialogue. 

Mr. President,

Women can be powerful agents of change, if their rights are fully realized. The 2030 Agenda embraces the fact that sustainable development is not possible if one half of humanity is denied its human rights.  The Agenda can contribute to the fulfillment of States' substantive human rights obligations.

Women's participation in decision-making benefits societies as a whole and unlocks potential for economic growth. After gaining independence almost one hundred years ago and again  after the Second World War, Finland greatly benefitted from ensuring women's equal political rights, the right to education, the right to work, own and inherit property as well as sexual and reproductive health and rights.  It is important to acknowledge that the possibility for women to freely make informed decisions over their own bodies is crucial for ensuring health, well-being and empowerment.

As long as violence against women persists in our societies, women's rights are not fully realized. Unfortunately, also in my own country violence against women is too common. Men and boys must be engaged to stop this human rights violation. Public opinion about gender roles need to be changed.

Mr. President,

Freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are among the cornerstones of free and vibrant societies. Yet it has become increasingly difficult for individuals, journalists and NGO's to work without fear of harassment, reprisals or penalties. To keep free speech high on the UN agenda, Finland is honoured to host the UNESCO's World Press Freedom Day in May in Helsinki. We will also continue our political support for civil society participation at the UN, including this very Council.

Mr. President,

To conclude,

Finland wants to ensure that human rights remain the backbone of the United Nations. For this reason, Finland has decided to seek membership at the Human Rights Council for the term 2022-2024. The candidature enjoys the support of the Nordic countries. We of course fully support the Danish candidature for the Human Rights Council (for 2019-2021). For my country, it would be an honor to serve as a member of the Council and continue our long tradition of promoting human rights for all.

Thank you.