Regional Representative Jarab, (Minister Tuomioja), Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me first thank you, Madame Chairperson, for the invitation to participate in this important discussion. The world is changing very fast, and it is indeed timely to update our views on how best to promote human rights in a constantly changing environment.
In this context, I would like refer to the Global Law Summit in which I participated earlier this week in London. As I stated in the context of this celebration of 800th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta, serious threat of terrorist offences shall be countered with necessary, appropriate and proportional means. However, it’s crucial to carry out this work with full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. This requires balancing between measures countering serious criminality and rights of an individual.
I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Advisory Board for International Human Rights Affairs for its long-standing work and, in particular, for its review of the Finnish human rights policies.
The EU is an important human rights actor globally. However, we should not ignore the importance of international human rights standards for the EU’s internal affairs. The ongoing discussion on the promotion of the rule of law, as well as the EU’s pending accession to the European Convention on Human Rights are just two examples of this important interaction.
When it comes to human rights, no country is perfect. Needless to say, the situations differ and the Finnish human rights challenges are certainly different from the ones faced by many developing nations, for instance. However, in the area of human rights we also share a lot. If you like, we can call this ”the common human rights heritage of mankind”. At the core of this heritage are the international human rights standards as well as our inherent understanding of human dignity and equality.
Finland has gained a lot from the international human rights standards we have adopted. We have ratified most international and regional human rights instruments, and some important Government proposals are currently pending in the Finnish Parliament. In fact, if you look at the history of the Finnish human rights-related reforms, you find that surprisingly many of them were sparked by international standards.
Let me now take a look at some topical legal reforms that also contain a distinct international aspect.
According to the Constitution, the Sami form an indigenous people in Finland. We have discussed the ratification of the ILO Convention 169 for about 25 years, and now finally the Government is proposing to ratify it. When discussing the rights of indigenous peoples, the participatory rights are of utmost importance. The Sami have of course been involved in the preparations, and the Sami Parliament supports the adoption of the Government proposal.
Most of the discussions concerning the ILO Convention have focused on land rights – and the Sami definition which is not even part of the Convention. Let me point out, however, that the ILO Convention 169 is a broader human rights instrument that also covers issues like education and the promotion of indigenous languages.
Finland has been a strong promoter of indigenous rights internationally. It is now pivotal that we take the step to ratify the key international Convention related to this topic. Let me therefore take this opportunity to strongly appeal for the adoption of the Government proposal to ratify the ILO Convention 169 without delay.
Another very important Convention currently pending in the Parliament is the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It has taken us some time to ratify this instrument, as Finland has first wanted to make sure our own legislation meets all the requirements. In fact, several legislative reforms that promote the rights of people with disabilities have taken place. Let me just mention the broad reform of the Finnish equality legislation as well as the draft law on sign language. Further issues remain, but I hope we can still ratify the UN Convention.
Trafficking in human beings is a human rights challenge that clearly demonstrates how interconnected we all are. International mechanisms helped us realize we are by no means an exception, but that trafficking also concerns Finland. Finland is both a transit and a destination country for trafficked persons. The criminal offence ”trafficking in human beings” is based on international obligations.
The number of reported trafficking cases in Finland has been low, but increasing in recent years. Wide-ranging work, especially training and information campaigns, have enabled us to be more successful in terms of identifying trafficking cases. Last year, criminal legislation was amended to draw a clear difference between trafficking and pandering. Offences with coercive elements are now clearly regarded as trafficking offences.
However, countering trafficking is not just a criminal law issue. Challenges regarding victim assistance and rehabilitation are to a great extent similar in different countries and also very much on our agenda. Prevention is essential. One way is to establish anti-trafficking partnerships with high-risk countries through providing economic assistance as well as exchanging expertise in anti-trafficking measures.
The EU Fundamental Rights Agency provides through its research and reports valuable data and evidence-based analysis on the state of fundamental rights in the Member States. We should not take it for granted that the fundamental and human rights of all people within the Union are respected despite existing legislation and the legal oversight mechanisms. More attention should be paid to the implementation of existing norms as well as to the remedies in a broad sense.
In human rights terms, there is really no clear division between domestic and international policies. The examples above were meant to indicate linkages between these areas. In order to be a credible international player in the area of human rights, we need to make sure our own house is in order.
In Finland we have developed our national human rights architecture through various measures in recent years. Currently we are preparing a study of existing national human rights mechanisms - their mandates, overlapping areas and shortcomings. The intention is also to launch the preparations for the second National Plan of Action on Human Rights relatively soon. Today’s discussions are very useful towards this cause.
With these words, I would like to wish you a very successful seminar. Thank you.