”Human rights and globalisation”. Puhe World Federation of the Deaf ”Our Rights – our Future” -konferenssissa Helsingissä 30.9.2005

Minister for Foreign Affairs Erkki Tuomioja             

Our Rights – Our Future 30.9.2005


Mr/Mme Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first say that I am happy to note this Conference ”Our Rights – Our Future”  takes place in Helsinki. Human rights belong to the priority areas of the Finnish foreign policy. We emphasize the rights of those in often a weaker situation, namely the rights of women, children, minorities, indigenous peoples and at present also disabled persons.

I will begin my address by looking at certain key characteristics of globalisation and efforts aiming to secure a more democratic orientation to this process. After that, I shall turn more closely to present human rights challenges.

We live in a world of growing global interdependence. Global challenges are on the increase, and  responses should  be multidimensional to meet the challenge. 

Human rights, democracy, development, environmental issues and good governance cannot be separated from one another. On the contrary, these factors should be seen as interconnected –  a combination needed to effectively promote the security, well-being and human rights of the world´s population.

Globalisation is a fact of life. There is little point in disputing its existence, neither should we remain seized with unending efforts to define the phenomenon in a precise and comprehensive manner. What counts is how we address the challenges it poses.

In a globalising world, security, too, should be understood in comprehensive terms. The Government Report on Finnish Security and Defence Policy from last year pointed out that also in the context of Finland, security threats are increasingly cross-border in nature. Global problems and development crises have become more significant for security.

Along with globalisation, security has become dependent on the broad international situation and multilateral cooperation. Issues like climate change or large-scale human rights violations should be perceived also as security challenges. The concept of human security opens up new perspectives to just to what extent, from the point of view of the individual, human rights and security are interlinked.

Mr/Mme Chairperson,

When discussing globalisation, I would like to take up the Helsinki Process that culminated in an international Conference here in Helsinki  just over a month ago. The Helsinki Process on Globalisation and Democracy was launched at the first Helsinki Conference in 2002 and was co-chaired by Finland and Tanzania. The process has been based on a multi-stakeholder approach, as in a world of interdependence, increased cooperation is needed between the civil society, private enterpises, governments and international organisations.

Looking at what was achieved during the past two years, I wish to highlight that a number of very concrete proposals various issues were formulated under the framework of the Helsinki process. For instance the group working on ”Human Security” took as its starting point improving the situation of the groups most at risk – because of conflict, environmental hazards, human rights crises or other threats. 

The group produced ideas on issues like equal access to health care, combating violence against women and children in armed conflict. The rights of disabled persons were also discussed from the point of view of greater empowerment.

Effective follow-up is crucial for any such process if we want to produce tangible results. The Helsinki Group, which was at the core of the process, proposed a formation of Global Round Tables to identify possibilities for improvement in several issue areas. These Round Tables will thus take the work onwards from here.

Integrating the multi-stakeholder concept into existing mechanisms of global governace was among the aims and in my mind also achievements of the process so far. This will continue to be the approch taken also in the future.

It is clear that a process on fair globalisation and democracy can never be finished. We need to do much more.

Mr/Mme Chairperson,

Let me now turn to look more closely at key human rights challenges in a globalising world.

It is evident that globalisation influences the enjoyment of human rights in different ways, in terms of both promises and threats.

Globalisation enhances growth and welfare in general, which should enable governments to implement their human rights obligations better. However, the increasing wealth seems to be distributed more unequally than before. The risks of widening welfare gaps exist both within individual countries and at international level.

Furthermore, as the ILO World Commission states, in some cases globalisation has resulted in serious gender imbalances. Therefore, marginalisation and unequal possibilities of enjoying one´s human rights are primary hazards resulting from globalisation.

The situation may be aggravated by the fact that the process of globalisation seems to lack an adequate decree of  governance and direction. These elements will thus need to be inserted through common will and common action by different stake-holders. The governance of globalization must be based on universally shared  values and respect for human rights.

Here I come to the more positive aspects of globalisation.

Finland is firmly committed to the universality of human rights. Human rights belong to all individuals regardless of origin, gender, age and other factors. The principle of non-discrimination is at the core of our human rights thinking.

The common sentiment that the world is getting smaller has prepared ground for enhanced international responsibility towards the realization of human rights in different parts of the world. And indeed, even if discussions are often difficult, human rights have taken a more prominent place on the international agenda.

This was again demonstrated at the recent UN Summit where, even if the results did not fully meet our expectations, the fundamental importance of human rights was recognized as the third main pillar of the UN, along with security and development. The UN Summit represented a step forward, including in the area of human rights.

I want to underline the role of the civil society in the context of the more positive prospects created by globalisation. The civil society and human rights defenders have made full use of the increased information flows and the increased global transparency. Human rights violations are now exposed to a more global audience than ever before, they are increasingly difficult to hide and consequently the international community is under increasing pressure to stop them. 

Incidentally, this conference and the various forms of activity it brings together can be seen as part of this process of increased global interaction. I believe it also demonstrates the potential such networking represents.

The work for a fair globalization must begin at grassroots level. 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.  Research has shown that corruption affects those in a disadvantaged  situation in the society particularly hard.  Transparency is needed to allow all citizens to exercise their rights freely. Good governance and a functioning judiciary also provide clear comparative economic advantages.

For Finland it has always been clear that human rights are indivisible. Civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other are in many ways interlinked and mutually reinforcing.

It is nevertheless evident that globalisation has brought a new dimension  to how the different rights materialize in practice. For instance, the risk of growing inequality has underlined the need to apply a rights-based approach  to issues like access to health care, housing or education. Equal access to services by women and girls as well as representatives of different minorities is essential to prevent marginalisation.

On the other hand, civil and political rights have gained new momentum through the challenge that globalisation has brought to existing democratic structures in general. How, in a world where transnational coorporations are increasingly powerful and capital moves faster than ever, are the democratic rights exercised? To realise the will of citizens, we need to develop a more internationally-oriented concept of democracy and, indeed, involve different stake-holders. Which again is what we have tried to do in the Helsinki-process.   

Historically speaking, democracy is undoubtedly on the increase. More people are able to make genuine political choices to determine the future of their countries. However, the trend is not consistent. Set-backs also occur and countries turn to pose various restrictions to the functioning of democratic institutions and the rights of citizens. The work for the promotion of democracy, and human rights as a key component, will need to be a continuous effort.

Mr/Mme Chairperson,

The Finnish Government is firmly committed to multilateralism and a rule-based international order. International challenges need to be tackled together – and noton the basis of unilateral action – in compliance with international law and through multilateral mechanisms.

 I regard international human rights instruments as a key achievement in terms of our common global ”acquis” or heritage. Human rights standards should be seen as a cornerstone of a rule-based  and ethically responsible international community.

The protection afforded by existing conventions is extensive. The main challenge, no doubt, is implementation. Even if human rights standards are widely ratified, it is clear that important steps are needed to enhance the implementation of these norms with regard to women, men and children in different countries.

I hope that the new Human Rights Council that is being formed at the United Nations to replace the present Commission on Human Rights, could become more operationally oriented so as to be able to address urgent and on-going human rights situation in more effective manner.

Despite the wide range of conventions, it is possible that the rights of specific groups are implemented less effectively than those of other groups. Therefore, even if existing standards of course cover the rights of all individuals, it is sometimes justified to create new instruments for the needs of specific groups.

At present, as you know, the UN member states are negotiating on a convention concerning the rights of the disabled persons. In this process, the role of the relevant non-governmental organisations has been particularly important in terms of bringing expertice to the process and ensuring that the level of ambition remains adequately high.

Finland has taken an active part in this process, which we regard as one of the most important human rights developments presently taking place. Finland´s objective is to achieve a strong instrument that supplements the existing human rigths conventions.

Even if existing instruments cover all individuals, the process has shed light on the specific hurdles and forms of discrimination encountered by persons with disability. The process has made the rights of this group of persons more visible at international level.

Finland believes that the Convention process provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the protection of sign languages world wide, and we therefore chose this question as one of  our priorities in the process. Finland belongs to those few countries which recognize sign languages in the Constitution. Our Consitution requires that the rights of persons using sign languages are guaranteed through relevant legislation. In practice this means for instance, that municipalities are obliged to ensure interpretation services in sign languages (Finnish and Finnish-Swedish sign languages), and that deaf children have the right to use sign languages in basic and upper secondary education. 

Mr/Mme Chairperson,

Finland will hold the EU Presidency during the second half of 2006. Strengthening the EU´s external activity, including in the area of human rights, will belong to our priorities during that term. Although much of the agenda is inhereted from the previous EU Presidencies, the term still represents a possibility to take issues, such as the ones I have touched upon in this statement, one step further. To take just one concrete example concerning the theme of this Conference, Finland will represent the Union in negotiations concerning the draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the process of establishing a new Human Rights Council at the United Nations.

As we speak here today, the world is not a very safe place. Large-scale human rights violations continue to take place. On the other hand, the human rights agenda can never be entirely exhausted. There is room for improvement in all countries. Let me refer to the Government Report on Finland´s Human Rights Policy that was given to the Parliament last year, in which many human rights challenges were identified also in our own country.


The promotion of human rights needs to be understood as a continuous task. No-one can meet the challenge alone. In the human rights field, the need for the civil society, governments and others to work together is very clear.

Remembering the tragedies of history is not enough. We need to make sure that our tools aimed at preventing human rights violations are adequate and in fact functioning. 

With these words, I wish you a good and productive Conference.

Thank you.