Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

9 April 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Finland this afternoon, during which 21 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This afternoon, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the reports on Bahrain and Ecuador, following the reviews of those countries on Monday, 7 April.

Presenting the national report of Finland was TEIJA TIILIKAINEN, State Secretary in the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, who noted that as a member of the Human Rights Council Finland had among its priorities the creation of a new universal periodic review that could effectively promote the universality, interdependence, indivisibility and interrelatedness of all human rights. Finland was fully committed to making the Universal Periodic Review process a success and to ensure that it will give added value and complement and not duplicate already existing human rights mechanisms. The report was an outcome of transparent and effective cooperation with the Prime Minister’s Office and other relevant ministries as well as an active participation from civil society. In Finland, public authorities were responsible for ensuring the implementation of human rights, and the governmental system was based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. The democratic system of government essentially included ensuring the freedom of action of civil society as well as the broadest possible opportunities for people to participate and influence in different sectors of societal life. Promoting economic, social and cultural rights was a special priority of the Government. Finland considered that civil and political rights, on one hand, and economic, social and cultural rights, on the other, could not be separated from each other.

In recent years, the Government of Finland had adopted a number of national Action Plans in order to advance human rights, she added. The first National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in Finland was adopted in 2005. The Government’s Development Programme for Child and Youth Policy 2007-2011 laid the foundation for the Policy Programme for the Well-being of Children, Youth and Families. In order to ensure an equitable position for persons with disabilities the Government was currently preparing an action programme on disability policy. Moreover, in 2007 the Government decided to prepare an action plan for gender equality, the purpose of which was to define the most important measures to be taken by the Government to promote gender equality. The Government Migration Policy Programme adopted in 2006 focused on promoting work-related immigration. It also contained measures to promote the implementation of human rights to prevent racism and discrimination. The Finnish school system guaranteed all children and young people an equal opportunity to get basic education irrespective of social status, gender and ethnic background. Despite progress, there were certain problems of racism and intolerance in Finland. The Non-Discrimination Act obligated all public authorities to foster and safeguard equality in a systematic and target-oriented manner.

In recent years, there had been positive developments with regard to the Roma population in Finland, she said. In recent years, issues of discrimination, employment and housing of Roma people had been highlighted alongside educational issues. It was, however, clear that the discrimination that the Roma faced still required further efforts. There were negative attitudes and direct and/or indirect discrimination towards both traditional Finnish minorities, especially the Roma, and some new immigrant minorities. As for the Sami people, the Government had committed itself to safeguard their right to maintain and develop their own language and culture on the basis of cultural autonomy. The extent of violence against women was a serious problem in Finnish society and cooperation had been improved particularly between the social welfare authorities and the police in that regard. The purpose of the State’s Child Welfare Act that took effect at the beginning of 2008 was to ensure that the child’s rights and interests were taken into account in child welfare measures, and to guarantee the child and his/her parents the supportive measures and services that they required.

During the interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the national plan for monitoring discrimination; the creation of Ombudsmen offices on equality, minorities and children, as well as advisory bodies on gender, data collection and Sami affairs; policies on good governance; social-economic development; environmental awareness policies; efforts to prevent domestic violence and violence against women; the State’s human trafficking policies; assistance to disabled persons; the high quality of education in Finland; the significant role accorded to civil society in promotion and protection human rights in Finland and in drafting the report; and efforts to combat discrimination against minorities and indigenous peoples.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to measures undertaken with respect to the recommendations by the Committee on Racial Discrimination with regard to providing legal safeguards for asylum seekers, given reported cases of discrimination committed against them; the situation of the Sami people and specific measures being implemented to allow them to enjoy their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights; and the cooperation between various Government mechanisms and plans to set up a human rights mechanism to better coordinate the work of various entities on human rights.

Other issues pertained to the involvement of NGOs in policy making; the place of international treaties in the Finnish legal framework; steps taken by the Government to combat racially motivated crimes; the length of military service; the respect and protection of the human rights of migrants; what plans Finland had to increase its Overseas Development Aid, given that it was reported to be 0.4% compared to the threshold of 0.7%; the rate of alcohol abuse in Finland; and elements being deployed to prevent violence against women as a human rights violation and the proper role for the mass media to create a general awareness.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations, some of which addressed an increased focus of measures in dealing with cases of discrimination, in particular when dealing with ethnic minorities; effective measures in order to prevent violence against women; providing a compilation of information on violence against children in order to come up with appropriate measures to deal with this problem; to consider ratifying the Convention on Migrant Workers and ILO Convention 169 on indigenous and tribal peoples; further efforts in promoting rights of ethnic minorities, including the Sami and Roma; human rights training in the area of sexual orientation; to strengthen efforts to restrict cases of racism and discrimination through the Internet; to step up measures to prevent violence against women; improvement of national legislation with regard to migration policies; and to integrate a gender perspective into the follow up process to the Universal Periodic Review.

The delegation of Finland provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. With regard to With regard to discrimination, the delegation said Finland had recognized the problem and had been taking measures to combat these problems, including legal measures; the non-discrimination act was one such step taken. As to asylum seekers, it was noted that Finish asylum procedures were in line with the Geneva Conventions. All asylum seekers were provided with fundamental guarantees and had the rights to appeal decisions. In such cases the principle of non-refoulement was always taken into consideration. Concerning the environment, it was noted that according to the Constitution it was the right of everyone to enjoy a healthy and safe environment. As an EU member Finland was bound to EU legislation on environmental matter and abided by its EU obligations very strictly. In response to another question, the delegation said Finland was committed to reaching the goal of 0.7% ODA by 2015, as set by the United Nations.

As to the ratification of the Convention of Migrant Workers, the delegation said it was the view of Finland that migrants should enjoy the same rights as to the citizens of their own countries, although it was the view of Finland that it was not necessary for the Government to ratify this Convention as Finland was party to other relevant instruments, particularly those adopted by the European Commission. With regard to sexual orientation, Finland upheld the view that due attention should be given to acts of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Responding to the question on NGOs, the delegation affirmed that there was close cooperation between civil society and the Government although the final decision for State policies belonged to the Government.

As to the rights of the Sami people, the Finnish Government actively pursued to enhance the rights of the Sami people; the aim of the Government was to solve the issue of the land use question of the Sami people during the current term of Government and negotiations were ongoing between the Government and the Sami Parliament to that end. The overall aim was to preserve the culture of the Sami people and to reach a solution. A new Sami Cultural centre was also being constructed.

Concerning the question on violence against women, it was noted that increased awareness of domestic violence had led authorities and organizations to take preventive measures. On questions related to military and civil services, the overall reform of the Non-Military Service Act shortened the duration of non-military service by one month, to 362 days, which was equal to the longest duration of the service referred to in the Military Services Act. And on the issue of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, the delegation confirmed that Finland signed the Convention in February 2007.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were the Russian Federation, Canada, Bolivia, Brazil, Pakistan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, China, Mexico, Japan, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, Egypt, Cuba, Slovenia and Bangladesh.

Observer States participating in the discussion were Belgium, Algeria, the United States, Ecuador and Chile.

The 15-person delegation of Finland consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, the Ministry of Employment and Economy, the Constitutional Law Committee and the non-governmental organization the Finnish League for Human Rights.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Finland are Azerbaijan, Bolivia and the Republic of Korea.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Finland can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Finland on Friday, 11 April.

Adoption of report on Bahrain: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Bahrain are Slovenia, the United Kingdom and Sri Lanka. Introducing the report PETER GOODERHAM (United Kingdom) said the troika was very pleased by the way in which the Government of Bahrain approached the review and believed that the report reflected well the recommendations expressed by delegations during the interactive dialogue. For its part, the delegation of Bahrain, through the Minster of State for Foreign Affairs of Bahrain, NIZAR ALBAHARNA, said his country considered the Universal Periodic Review as truly a rare opportunity allowing the Human Rights Council and the State under review to cooperate towards improving the human rights situation on the ground. The recommendations presented in the report will be added to the State’s action plans and with other commitments in the area of human rights, he stated.

Adoption of report on Ecuador: The three Council members serving as the troika for the report on Ecuador are Italy, Mexico and India. Representing the State under review, the Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the United Nations Office at Geneva, EMILIO IZQUIERDO, said his country believed the exercise would provide a useful impetus to the State concerned towards the promotion and protection and human rights in the country and that Ecuador was in full agreement with the recommendations put forth in the report.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the United Kingdom after which it will adopt the report of Tunisia.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp