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Finland's human rights policy in need of update, gov't study finds

Populist movements worldwide -- including in Finland -- seek to delegitimise human rights activities, the analysis says.

Amnesty International järjestämä mieleosoitus Venäjän presidentti Vladimir Putinia vastaan Helsingissä 21. elokuuta.
A banner from the human rights organisation Amnesty International in Helsinki during the 21 August visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Image: Irene Stachon / Lehtikuva

World politics have shifted, and as a result, Finland needs to update its human rights policy. This is the conclusion of a new report compiled by the Finnish government.

"Finland in the International Human Rights System" set out to analyse the continuities and disruptions in the development of the Finnish operational environment from the time of the last report in 2014 to the spring of 2019.

The analysis considered Finland's human rights policy in the context of United Nations and European Union human rights activities. It found that global trends and political power shifts have made it necessary to critically evaluate the potential of the international human rights system to adapt to several critical changes.

Populist groups threaten rule-based system

Populist groups in western countries are working to undermine the legitimacy of a rule-based human rights system, the study maintains.

It says four worldwide trends (environmental change, migration, new technologies, and the changing security paradigm) are in particular eroding the international system of human rights, with state sovereignty being emphasised over multilateralism, and "growing multipolarity and multivocality" making it more difficult to reach agreements on international forums.

"The highly politicised - and currently some of the most controversial - themes include climate change, immigration and gender equality, which turn into obstacles to effective cooperation in both global and regional human rights forums," the report reads.

The analysis advises Finland to take human rights issues better into account "on all levels of governance", in both international and domestic decision-making.

State institutions crowded out

According to the Finnish report, the rise of China and other non-western states has made the world order more pluralistic and less fixed into blocs. At the same time, the influence of non-state actors such as cities, businesses and service organizations has become more pronounced.

Businesses in particular are taking a growing role in addressing the problem, the analysis states, sometimes pushing NGOs and government organizations to the periphery. The report doesn't go so far to say that such institutions are in crisis, however.

"[…] the rise of crisis-talk is partly connected to the rise of populism. Naming something as a crisis is a method used to legitimate drastic political actions and to find scapegoats. Stepping out of this framework may help with identifying chances of cooperation and new points in the agenda," the government report says.

Work to do domestically

The report formulates eight goals Finland should strive for when shaping its human rights policies in the future. Among other things, actors are to maintain a human rights-based approach in developing technological projects and security agendas, promote migrant rights in line with international agreements, and actively promote gender equality.

Finland's government report says western states should work to encourage broad social participation and shore up people's faith in human rights protections.

"Finland has been noted to have one of Europe’s worst records of racism against Muslims, and the problem of hate speech (both in racist and gendered forms) has been brought up even as a problem for democracy. These issues, which include violence against women, treatment of the elderly and the level of social protection, have direct links to the mitigation of the negative human rights impacts of global trends, and should be addressed as effectively as possible," it recommends.

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