Geneva is a key centre of international human rights. 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 the offices of several non-governmental organisations specialising in human rights.
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 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 and 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 50 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 the end of 2015 the Council had held 24 special sessions.
In addition, the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is undertaken mainly in between of the main Council sessions in meetings of an assigned working group. 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 five years. The reviews are conducted three times a year, focusing on the human rights situation of approximately 15 countries at a time.
The Office of the High Commissioner of 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 for the first time in April 2008 and for the second time in 2012. The following review is due to be held in spring 2017.
In addition to the aforementioned activities, working groups and forums meet throughout the year to address thematic questions such as the rights of indigenous peoples and minorities, racism and right to development.
The Office of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) was created based on the recommendations of the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. Jordanian Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein assumed the post of the seventh High Commissioner of Human Rights in September 2014. The High Commissioner and his 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 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 the governments of the Member States 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.
Finland supports the Office of the High Commissioner with an annual donation of 2-2, 5 million euros. Strengthening of the Office and its core functions via the regular budget of the UN is one of Finland's main objectives in the UN.
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. On the basis of UN recommendations, the Human Rights Center was established in Finland in 2012. Its main purpose is to function as an independent and impartial expert institution and to oversee the human rights obligations and commitments undertaken by Finland.
The human rights policy action plan of the Finnish administration of foreign affairs had two priority areas during the years 2012-2015: to eradicate discrimination and to increase openness and inclusiveness. On the basis of these priority areas the foreign administration selects two-year key projects. Along with these key projects, Finland continues its commitment to promote human rights comprehensively.
Finland wants to focus on the eradication of discrimination, especially on multiple discrimination targeted on people in the most vulnerable situations in society. Although human rights are equal for all, some groups in society are more easily discriminated than others, i.e. women, children, minorities, indigenous peoples and persons with disabilities. Linguistic, ethnic, religious, sexual and gender minorities are also a target for discrimination. People without official registration or citizenship fall often outside the legal protection system of a state, despite the fact that human rights are universal.
In addition, Finland aims to promote good governance, inclusivity and wants to increase the role of civil society. These aims are acknowledged in all areas of decision-making at home and internationally. The Government of Finland engages in close cooperation with civil society within the frames of its national and international human rights policy.
Finland’s international human rights policy:
Human Rights Centre: