Geneva is a key centre of international human rights policy. In Geneva are located the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Office of the United Nations Human Rights Council and offices of several non-governmental organisations specialising in human rights.
The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) was created based on the recommendations of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. South African Judge Navanethem Pillay assumed the post of the sixth High Commissioner for Human Rights at the beginning of September 2008. The High Commissioner and her Office spearhead the human rights work of the United Nations whilst the overall mission of the Office of the High Commissioner is to promote the protection of human rights in all parts of the world. In the work of the Office, priority is given to addressing the most pressing human rights violations, both acute and chronic, and protecting the most vulnerable groups and individuals. The Office pays equal attention to the realization of civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development. The Office works closely with governments and civil society to ensure that international human rights standards are implemented and respected by Governments. In recent years the Office has invested in the reinforcement of its field presence. Furthermore, the Office offers secretarial support and expertise to the Human Rights Council and assists several committees in monitoring Member States' compliance with their treaty obligations.
In year 2009 Finland was the 10th biggest voluntary donor of OHCHR with a total contribution of over 4 million USD. Finland also supports financially the field activities of OHCHR in Uganda, Lebanon, Nepal, Colombia and Afghanistan. Strengthening of the Office of the High Commissioner and its core functions via the regular budget of the UN is one of Finland's main objectives in the UN.
The United Nations Human Rights Council was created in the spring of 2006 and it thereupon replaced the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which was founded in 1946. The Council addresses situations of violations of human rights and makes recommendations thereon.
The Council consists of 47 Member States with an annual rotation of one third of its membership. The UN General Assembly in New York elects the members according to an agreed equitable geographical distribution. The Western European and Other States group, of which also Finland is a member, is entitled to seven seats in the Council. One term is of three years and a state can be elected not more than twice in a row. However, in the first election, members were elected by drawing lots for terms of one, two or three years to commence the gradual rotation of the membership. Finland was elected to the Council at the first election in May 2006 but only for a one-year term ending already in June 2007.
Each year the Council convenes to three main sessions of a total of approximately ten weeks, wherein it by diverse means seeks to prevent and address human rights violations. All the Member States of the UN are allowed to attend the main sessions but only elected members of the Council are entitled to vote. The Council has at its disposal over 40 special mechanisms, such as special rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups that submit report to the main sessions of the Council concerning a wide range of human rights issues and country situations.
The Council works actively also in between of the main sessions. Most importantly, if needed, it can gather to a special session. By June 2010 the Council had held 13 special sessions of which the latest one addressed human rights situation in post-earthquake Haiti.
In addition, the Universal periodic review (UPR) is undertaken mainly in between of the main Council sessions by assigned working groups. The UPR is a new mechanism of the Council with a main purpose to systematically study the human rights situation of each Member State every four years. The reviews are conducted three times a year, focusing on the human rights situation of 16 countries at a time. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights compiles a document of the human rights situation of the state under review gathering information from a variety of sources. The state under review is also entitled to submit in writing its own statement concerning the situation. The other Member States of the UN are entitled to participate in the review and present comments and questions to the state under review. After the exchange of views, the Secretariat shall prepare a draft report, which includes conclusions of the reviewed human rights situations and possible recommendations for improvement. The human rights situation in Finland was reviewed amongst the first Member States in April 2008.
In addition to the aforementioned activities, the Council may invite working groups and forums at any time of the year to address thematic questions such as the rights of indigenous people and minorities, racism and right to development.
The Permanent Mission of Finland takes an active part in the work of the Human Rights Council and cooperates closely with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. In the report on human rights policy adopted in 2009 Finland’s special priority areas are among others the rights of women, children, indigenous peoples, sexual and gender minorities and persons of disabilities. The overall goal of Finland's human rights policy is to advance the universal implementation of the international human rights treaties and enhance the effectiveness of the international human rights system. The aim of Finland and EU is to establish in the Council an operative body that is capable of effectively addressing human rights challenges everywhere in the world. Additionally, it is of utmost importance that the special rapporteurs preserve their independence and that the substantive matters discussed in the UPR remain meaningful. These are also Finland and EU’s aims when the work of Human Rights Council is reviewed and possibly reformed in 2011.
The active role Finland plays in advancing human rights in international fora is closely interlinked with upholding high human rights standards at home, for prioritising human rights, equality, rule of law and good governance accords Finland significant credibility in advancing those rights also abroad. In Finland, human rights policy is one of the core areas of the Government's foreign and security policies and human rights are also acknowledged in the other sectors of decision-making. Moreover, the Government of Finland engages in close cooperation with civil society actors both at home and internationally.