Finland defends Human Rights by quiet diplomacy, by funding the ISHR and by listening to sharp rebukes from Egyptian diplomats 

What can be more important than defending human rights?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted United Nations in 1948.

This was followed in 1950 by The European Convention on Human Rights by the Council of Europe.

The process is slow and complicated because governments, politicians and diplomats are slow in dealing with these matters even when genocide is happening next door in this globalised world.

The world order on Human Rights is being defended by many NGO’s (independent bodies not controlled or influenced by any government) like International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) and Amnesty International.

ISHR is an independent, non-governmental organisation dedicated to promoting and protecting human rights. They support human rights defenders, strengthen human rights systems, and lead and participate in coalitions for human rights change. Finland funded them when they started but have not done so for the past three years.

Amnesty International (AI) is a global movement of more than 7 million people who take injustice personally. They campaign for a world where human rights are enjoyed by all.In 2016, they raised €279m for human rights work. The vast majority of their income comes from small donations from private individuals.. More than 2m individuals donated to Amnesty International in 2016.

The Finnish Foreign Ministry, a traditional and slow mover on human rights abroad, has financed a report “How should Finland’s support for Human Rights Defenders be developed?”.

The report was written by an independent Finnish journalist and writer Susan Villa.

This report was publicised at a seminar in Helsinki where Mr. Phil Lynch, Executive Director of ISHR and Ms. Anu Tuukkanen, Head of Finland’s Amnesty International gave excellent presentations.

The report made 9 conclusions that are summarized here:

  1. Finland has guidelines for the implementation of the EU’s guidelines on Human Rights Defenders (HRD) – they should be made public and be updated regularly.
  2. A Toolbox should be created for use within the Foreign Service with practical instructions for meetings with HRD people.
  3. HRD people have become more vulnerable to attacks and need help from Finland’s diplomatic missions to minimise their exposure to risks and improve their security.
  4. Finland must be more active in the EU because there are many impediments to joint action within the EU. Finland must take a more active role in this matter.
  5. Business and HRD are becoming an important theme. Trade and export policy should take HRD into account, even though this is hard and opposed by many business interests. This is a major cause of concern in this report and it puts pressure on Team Finland/Business Finland to be better informed throughout its whole network.
  6. Local Cooperation Funds are too important to be terminated or reduced. New funding instruments are needed for urgent HRD situations.
  7. Emergency visas and other special mechanisms are needed when HRD people are facing serious risks.
  8. HRD needs to be moved up to be a strategic priority, from its currently lower policy position within the government.
  9. Finland needs to set goals and clear objectives for supporting HRD with key indicators given to Finland’s Foreign Service and its missions.

There can be no question that diplomatic efforts to deal with human rights abuses are hard to make without one party losing face and becoming even more intransigent than before!

We even had a taste of this at the seminar, from one of Egypt’s diplomats, who accused Finland of interfering in Egypt’s internal affairs when ISHR’s Phil Lynch mentioned that Egypt has imprisoned leading members of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Justice! The diplomat walked out of the room before anyone could give her an answer, an action that the audience thought was clearly rude to the hosts and not at all diplomatic.

The present Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Soini, is hardly the best person to speak about defending human rights given the long xenophobic history of the True Finns, the political party of which he was their former leader.

However, the seminar did shine new light on a movement within the Finnish diplomatic corp for investing more resources and efforts into this important area for humanity. One can only hope that the other political parties will back the conclusions and recommendations of this excellent report.

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