Let me, first of all, congratulate you on your election to the Chairmanship of this important Commission. I wish you and the other members of the Bureau every success in your challenging task.
In addition to what has already been said by Foreign Minister Cowen, on behalf of the European Union, allow me to offer the following remarks.
First, I would like to express my deepest solidarity with the people and Government of Spain over the evil acts of terrorism perpetrated in Madrid on the 11th of March. Such barbaric homicide of innocent men, women and children, affects us all and reminds us of the need to combat terrorism effectively and stand up in defence of democratic values.
At its 60th Session is now commencing, I sincerely hope that this Commission will succeed in doing what it was created for, namely to promote and protect human rights. This assignment remains extremely relevant today, just as pertinent as it was 60 years ago.
Too often have controversies inside this Commission prevented us from fully concentrating on our essential responsibilities. Let me therefore assure you, Mr Chairman, that the delegation of Finland is fully committed to dialogue and a culture of cooperation. We all need to overcome divisions and focus on the objectives of this Commission that continue to be profoundly important for the people of this world.
I shall today approach the current state of human rights with the help of two concepts – globalisation and human security – because these concepts are helpful in identifying some of the pressing human rights challenges that we face. In this context, the gender perspective needs to be emphasised.
Globalisation affects the lives of us all and it produces some indisputable benefits. One of them, increased wealth, will allow many people to rise from extreme poverty and see their human rights better respected than they are now. Human rights defenders have not failed to make full use of increased flows of information and increased global transparency. Violations of human rights are now exposed to a bigger global audience than ever before.
But there is little doubt that the main challenge presented by globalisation is that not everyone has equal access to the benefits it produces. This basic observation is underlined in the recently published report of the ILO World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalization that was co-chaired by President Tarja Halonen of Finland with President Benjamin Mpaka of Tanzania. The World Commission states that the governance of globalization must be based on universally shared values and respect for human rights. I hope that, from the standpoint of its own mandate, the Commission on Human Rights will also find the ILO World Commission report useful.
The World Commission emphasises that the endeavour to attain even-handed globalization must begin at home. Good governance at all levels of society – in terms of the rule of law, democracy, human rights and social equity – is essential. Accountability and openness are key concepts in defining what good governance implies in practice. Transparency is needed to allow citizens to exercise their rights freely in a democratic society. Good governance and a functioning unbiased judiciary also provide clear comparative economic advantages.
Good governance certainly has a human rights dimension as it is difficult to see how human rights could be realized in circumstances where corruption is wide-spread and where the individual is not able to rely on effective access to justice. Corruption affects human rights in various ways and often it is the most vulnerable who suffer as a result of it. For example, corruption and discriminatory practices can create obstacles for girls to get to school or for women to have full access to health services.
The ILO World Commission states that in some cases globalization has caused serious gender imbalance. The level of imbalance depends largely on the norms and policies of the country concerned. Deep-rooted gender inequality has meant that the social cost of globalization has fallen disproportionately on women.
Finland has been actively engaged in promoting new solutions to dilemmas of global governance through the Helsinki Process that I co-chair with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Tanzania. The process was launched through a ”Helsinki Conference” that took place in the Finnish capital in December 2002. The Helsinki Process provides a forum for an open and inclusive dialogue that aims at increasing democracy and equality internationally. The launch of the Helsinki Process is a projection of the faith we have in the possibility of promoting democracy through open dialogue in which complex and controversial issues can be addressed.
The Helsinki Process involves all major stakeholders, in other words representatives of civil society and international organisations plus representatives of private enterprise. Governments are primarily responsible for implementing human rights but it has become increasingly important in a globalized world to look also at the role played by transnational corporations.
The discussion on corporate social responsibility has progressed in various contexts and quite a lot has already been achieved. Of particular merit is the initiative by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, known as the Global Compact. And the Sub-Commission working under this Commission has now produced new draft norms concerning the responsibilities of transnational corporations. States are the signatories to human rights conventions and are thus responsible for implementing their legal obligations. But because TNCs do influence the realization of human rights in practice, Finland finds it positive that the Commission on Human Rights also deals with the matter. Practical ways should be sought to examine all aspects of corporate social responsibility and to involve the business community in a constructive dialogue aimed at improving human rights on the level of the individual.
One of the issues on which the Helsinki Process has persistently concentrated is human security. Human security is of course destroyed in situations of armed conflict where the civilian population, including to an increasing extent women and children, is directly targeted.
Easy access to small arms is a factor that aggravates the problem. Finland supports efforts to negotiate and agree on multilateral principles for a responsible arms trade policy. Human rights and humanitarian considerations must be taken into account in all arms trade.
Significant human insecurity is also experienced in societies that are not involved in armed conflict. Failed states that are unable or, as is often the case, unwilling to protect the rights of their citizens can constitute a threat to security in their region. Marginalisation of minorities and indigenous peoples can affect stability. Lack of access to justice and meaningful ways to participate in society pave the way for extremism. Violations of children’s rights, including the recruitment of child soldiers, may undermine the prospects for stable development in the country concerned for years to come. In many cases, human rights violations force people to leave their homes. Internally displaced persons and refugees find themselves in a particularly vulnerable position.
A culture of impunity allows human rights violations to continue. It is especially important that perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes are prosecuted. While the main responsibility for investigating and prosecuting international crimes continues to rest with states, it should be emphasized that the International Criminal Court is now operational and can offer a helping hand to states whose judicial systems face overwhelming problems. As the ICC can address both international and internal armed conflicts, as well as protracted fighting between governmental authorities and armed groups, it is well placed to deal with the kinds of abuse and serious violations of law that are reality in contemporary conflicts.
I hope that these allusions suffice to show that existing human insecurity is intertwined with lack of respect for human rights, a fact that should be resolutely addressed by this Commission.
From the point of view of human security, focus should be placed on those in the weakest position. Amnesty International recently called violence against women the world’s most wide-spread human rights violation and also the one that has been most systematically ignored. Indeed, violence against women continues to be a serious human rights violation in many parts of the world. It is quite a serious problem even in Finland, my own country, where an extensive government programme to combat violence against women is being launched.
Violence against women must never be tolerated and legislation should in all cases clearly condemn so-called crimes of honour, domestic violence and all other other forms of violence against women. The same is true with regard to female genital mutilation that still threatens the health and well-being of far too many girls.
It is very much a credibility issue for this Commission to be able to address violence against women, in its various forms, in a comprehensive and substantive manner. The commitments of the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing, undertaken almost ten years ago, as well as its follow-up process, provide a good basis for this effort.
Globalisation tends to increase contacts among people. Nevertheless, distinctly positive developments, such as new opportunities for travel, sometimes have negative effects. Factors such as extreme poverty and the absence of human-rights protection at the level of the individual prepare the ground for adverse phenomena.
Trafficking in women and children is a major human rights concern in many parts of the world, including Europe. Each year, millions of people, the majority of them women and children, are forced into situations where they are exploited in various ways. The protection of the human rights of victims, as well as efforts aimed at their rehabilitation, are of primary importance. Concerted international efforts are needed to combat human trafficking. Up to now we have not been effective enough because, in spite of measures taken so far, trafficking is still on the increase. Finland calls for the implementation of the relevant international instruments and for effective national countermeasures without delay.
As a result of globalisation, the significance of economic, social and cultural rights has increased.. Economic, social and cultural rights should be regarded as justiciable human rights that can provide tools to balance economically motivated activity. The notion of the indivisible nature of human rights has gained importance in an often very competitive economic environment, where the status of the individual may be weakened.
The open-ended working group established to consider choices for the elaboration of an optional protocol to the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights held its first meeting some weeks ago. A fruitful discussion on ways and means to strengthen economic, social and cultural rights took place. Finland hopes that this session of the Commission on human rights will contribute to further clarification of the content and legal stature of these important human rights and that the mandate of the working group will be renewed.
In a comprehensive human rights report that my Government will present to the Parliament of Finland later this month, special emphasis is placed on the rights of women, children, minorities, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. The principle of non-discrimination lies at the very heart of human rights and yet discrimination based on gender, ethnic or religious origin, sexual orientation, disability or other grounds continues to be commonplace in various parts of the world. We are all affected.
Global problems require united efforts. Challenges with global dimensions can only be addressed through multilateral cooperation. That is why the Commission on Human Rights matters. This is the principal global forum we have to promote and protect the universal human rights of the individual. Let us rise to the challenge together.