Foreign Minister Urmas Paet tt the 19th Human Rights Council
It’s a great honour to take the floor at the Human Rights Council today and to contribute personally to the discussion on the protection and promotion of human rights around the world. I agree with previous speakers that we all need to pay more attention, both at home and internationally, to supporting the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Estonia aspires to be elected to the Human Rights Council for the period 2013-2015. Human rights have been an important and integral part of Estonia’s internal and foreign policy for years; actually, ever since we restored our independence in 1991. During this time we have acceded to and joined all of the most important human rights conventions.
In 1991 Estonia returned to the path of democracy after five decades of occupation. Just like very many of you here today, we know what the true value of freedom is, what it means to lose it and to regain it.
During the past twenty years Estonia has become a flourishing democracy. It was our perseverance on this path that brought us success. And although the role of our partners and close neighbours was priceless, we could never have done it only with external help. The key to the success was our own people, our own men and women and their tireless resolve in aspiring towards freedom.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Let me express my deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in some parts of the world. Joining my colleagues who have spoken before me, I would like to call the Syrian government to immediately halt the violence they are committing against their own citizens. The killings and atrocities must stop. Estonia appreciates the efforts that have been made by different actors, especially by the Arab League. It is right that Syria will be one of our main themes during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council.
I would also like to say a few words about Belarus, a country geographically much closer to us. We have observed with concern that last year brought more repression and restrictions on human rights in a country that has lacked freedom for a long time. We believe it is important to stay engaged. We must work with and support the Belarusian civil society. Therefore, we welcome a more thorough discussion on this topic during the next Human Rights Council in June.
There are, however, some encouraging examples too. In the last twelve months our hearts have been with the Arab people in their struggle for democracy. We have seen dictators falling and the will of people prevailing. We wish all the countries and their peoples that have experienced those changes to continue to have faith in the peaceful transformation process.
The recent developments in Burma/Myanmar have been so positive that the European Union countries have eased their sanctions and are normalising bilateral relations. Those first steps towards a society that respects human rights show what kind of impact every single person can have on an entire country and region. Democratic societies should make sure that the non-violent struggles of Aung Sun Suu Kyi and similar people in other countries are not only noticed but also recognised and supported.
Please allow me to outline Estonia’s priority areas in the field human rights as well.
Freedom of expression is one of the main characteristics of a democratic society. As information and communications technology revolutionises our daily lives, we need to update our understanding of the space in which the right to free speech and the freedom of expression are exercised. These technologies are excellent tools. Estonia considers it important to introduce and to help make available those tools.
Our government has been at the forefront of sharing our own experiences in the field of e-solutions with other countries within the framework of development cooperation. Estonia has become increasingly known as e-Estonia due to our innovative solutions such as e-governance, an e-health system, mobile parking, and Internet-based secure e-elections, to name just a few. If elected to the Human Rights Council during this year’s elections, we intend to make Internet freedom as one of our priorities.
Estonia has also set combating impunity among its priorities and has allocated special funding to cover the costs of the President of the International Criminal Court Assembly of States for the years 2012-2014. The ability to prosecute international crimes must become an integral part of the broader rule of law activities of all major actors. The United Nations system with support from the Human Rights Council is well placed to take a major share of responsibility. Our joint efforts to provide assistance to develop national capacities in order to cope with crimes under the Rome Statute would strengthen national legal systems as a whole.
Women amount to the largest group of victims in military and political conflicts. That is why combating impunity must be complemented by efforts to empower women. Estonia places great importance on the follow-up to the resolution 1325 “women, peace and security” to strengthen the role of women in conflict prevention, settlement and in peace building. Our government is implementing its National Action Plan adopted in 2010 to promote the goals set in the resolution and enthusiastically supports related activities in the UN bodies where we are members.
Estonia is committed to promoting the rights of women in broader terms as well. We have helped to establish the new gender entity of the UN to make the UN system more effective while addressing gender issues. While being a member of UN WOMEN and the Commission on the Status of Women, we hope to contribute to solving global problems. We support furthering the rights of women via development cooperation too. The nearer we come to 2015, the target we set in common to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, the more attention they need. It goes without saying that all goals are important, but our international contributions have focused mostly on the goals related to gender equality and maternal health.
Finally, the rights of indigenous peoples are also an Estonian human rights priority. We contribute to the UN funds supporting the development and the promotion of the situation of indigenous peoples and facilitate the participation of the representatives of indigenous peoples in UN discussions.
This was a brief overview of Estonian activities that support the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in reality. Estonia is and continues to be committed to the international order based on international law, including human rights law and the rule of law. If we become a member of the Council, we will continue to focus our activities according to the voluntary pledges and commitments that were adopted by our government last year. I’m convinced that our own history and experience permit us to view the world and its needs with a global perspective, taking into account everyone’s rights and interests, not only of a select few or the privileged. We understand what it means to be deprived of freedom, to suffer poverty and oppression, to be neglected. In the Human Rights Council, if elected, Estonia promises to represent all nations and peoples, women, children and men.
Thank you very much for your attention.