Ladies and gentlemen
As you may know the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights is based in
Vienna. And it was here in 1993 that the World Conference on Human Rights adopted
a Declaration and Programme of Action recommending each State to ‘consider the
desirability of drawing up a national action plan identifying steps whereby that State
would improve the promotion and protection of human rights’.
Progress on this has been slow. Only around 30 States in the world have currently, or
have had in the past, a national action plan on human rights. And to date only 4 of
these are EU Member States. So Finland’s initiative is an inspiration to other Member
The 1993 Vienna Conference marked a shift in emphasis in human rights protection.
For over thirty years efforts to promote human rights had revolved around getting
States to agree to put them into legally binding treaties. From the 1990s greater
attention has been paid to building up the necessary architecture at national level to
actually implement these rights.
In 1990, only five internationally accredited national human rights institutions existed
world-wide. Today, there are more than 100. In the EU only ten Member States have
an NHRI with ‘A’ status – and Finland’s plans to establish a new Human Rights
Centre will pave the way for it to join this group.
Having a National Action Plan and a National Human Rights Institution are therefore
two important steps away from rights as abstract international standards and towards
rights as concrete national practice.
A successful action plan depends on at least three factors, which I would like to
• Firstly, a strong human rights architecture
• Secondly, the ability to measure the success of policies
• Thirdly, tying international standards and monitoring mechanisms in with
national action plan.
1. This leads me to the question of the national human rights architecture.
A successful national action plan requires a strong National Human Rights Institution
as a key focal point. Its powers should include monitoring rights implementation,
analysing the compatibility of legislation and policy with human rights, providing
support to victims of violations and raising public awareness.
Last year the agency held a Symposium which addressed this very question of the
national human rights architecture. Here we launched two reports which examined the
mandates and practices of Data Protection Authorities and National Human Rights
Institutions in the Member States. The agency’s research found that in several
Member States across the EU bodies were frequently not given sufficient resources to
fulfil the tasks that I described. In particular these bodies are often forced to limit their
support for victims and frequently lack the budget to engage in awareness-raising.
Awareness-raising is of special importance since victims are often unaware of their
rights and unaware of complaints mechanisms or where they can turn for assistance.
In a survey carried out by the agency in 2009 that interviewed members of ethnic
minorities and immigrants 80% of interviewees could not name a single body that
provided support to victims of discrimination, including NHRIs. And only 25% were
aware of non-discrimination legislation. In order to implement as Action Plan the
victims need to come forward since this is the way to identify the weakest in the
Civil society organisations also play important roles through the delivery of services,
and in representing the views of their members in dialogue with the government, as
well as providing support to victims of human rights violations. In this respect, while
they are not part of the ‘architecture’ of the State, the State may nevertheless provide
them with support for their activities. This does not need to be limited to financial
support, and could include, for example, offering incentives for people who volunteer
their time. For example, in the UK unemployed lawyers who worked providing free
legal advice were provided with free practicing certificates.
Finally, the role of local authorities and public services should also be considered in
the context of the national human rights architecture. International standards that are
incorporated into national policy go on to be implemented at the local level.
Ultimately human rights are delivered by public servants in front-line services. The
nurse, the teacher, the police officer and the social worker are responsible for my right
to health, education, physical safety or protection from abuse.
This requires an adequate level of coordination between different levels of
government. For example, a strategy to promote adequate treatment of persons with
mental health problems needs central government to develop policies together with
local government in the area of health and housing planning. Equally a strategy to
prevent homophobic bullying in schools requires national ministries to work together
with local authorities and local schools.
At the same time these bodies may not understand the applicability or relevance of
human rights standards to their day-to-day work. So in addition to coordination,
adequate training on human rights also needs to be given, so that civil servants can
understand what principles should apply to the way that their powers are
implemented, and how they are instrumental to the implementation of a broader
In a time of cut-backs in public spending, attracting sufficient political support for
human rights work is a challenge. In many Member States we see the budgets of
human rights bodies being cut significantly. Without political will at a national and
local level, and among the public, it is difficult to see how a national action plan can
be a success.
In part, this is because human rights are misunderstood. They are often misrepresented
in the media or by politicians as something that exist to create privilege instead of
equality, and as something that is abused by criminals who play the system, rather
than existing to protect the weak and the vulnerable.
This view point needs to be challenged if we are to ensure sustained political and
public support for a national action plan and support for investment in a strong
national human rights institution. People need to know that they are using their rights
when their children go to school, when they go to see a doctor, when they get support
to retrain after losing their job, every time they cast their vote in elections, or when
they report a crime. And that task – which could be carried out in advance of the
National Action Plan, or as part of it – lies partly with the government, with the
National Human Rights Institution, and also with civil society organisations. It may be
in times of an economic crisis that we in particular need a very strong human rights
2. I will now turn to my second point. To measure the success of a national action
plan, decision-makers will need to develop indicators. Indicators allow policy makers
to understand where rights implementation stand at any given point in time, and to
track whether particular policies are having a positive impact or whether they need rethinking
– so indicators are like head lights on a car: they help us to find the way.
Indicators are not uncommon in areas of economic policy and social policy – at least
at the EU level, where they already exist in areas such as poverty and social exclusion,
education, pensions and health care. But if we are measuring the impact of policies
specifically on the level of human rights implementation, it is not enough to work with
existing socio-economic indicators. Instead we need indicators specifically designed
around human rights, because these add several dimensions:
a). Firstly, they add the ability to measure enforceability. To be made effective in
practice every human right depends on an enforcement mechanism. So a human rights
indicator on the right to health would track not just whether access to healthcare
exists, but whether complaints mechanisms exist to enforce this right, for example
emergency care for non-documented migrants.
b). Secondly, human rights indicators are based around the substance of the rights
themselves. This would ensure that indicators are measuring progress towards already
internationally agreed human rights standards. This in turn can feed into the
international monitoring processes that I will refer to in my last point.
c). Thirdly, human rights indicators add the ability to measure equality, which lies at
the heart of human rights. Human rights indicators would require data to be
disaggregated on the basis of grounds like gender, age, ethnicity, disability, religion or
sexual orientation. Although this occurs to a degree with some existing indicators, it is
not done systematically across all grounds of discrimination.
Of course, using indicators in order to measure the degree of human rights
implementation requires the collection of data. Put otherwise, indicators are the
questions that need asking, in order to determine whether rights are being
implemented. But these need backing up with adequate machinery to get the answers.
In some cases this can be relatively simple. For example, recording of complaints
registered with the courts or the ombudsman on particular human rights issues will
form part of the measurement of the extent to which rights are being implemented.
However, at the other end of the scale data collection will also include large scale
quantitative surveys based on in-depth interviews with particular groups. The agency
has built up significant experience with these kinds of surveys. Although they require
substantial resources, they are often the most effective way available of measuring
accurately how human rights are actually experienced on the ground. And without a
clear picture of the nature and scale of the problems that are experienced in day-to-day
life it is very difficult to formulate properly targeted policies.
One of the agency’s tasks, according to its founding regulation, is to improve
comparability in data collection between the Member States. The agency is therefore
in the process of developing indicators to be applied in its own research, but also for
use by the Member States and EU institutions.
In doing so we apply the same approach as the UN Office of the High Commissioner
for Human Rights by breaking rights down into the tripartite classification of
structure-process-outcome. It is our goal to ensure full consistency with UN standards,
while at the same time adapting indicators to the specific social and economic context
of the EU. Earlier this year the agency held a Symposium on the subject of human
rights indicators, gathering a range of expertise from the international and national
level, including statistical offices.
Our work in this area is most advanced in the field of the rights of the child where we
published a report in 2010 on indicators relating to four areas:
• the family environment and alternative care,
• protection from exploitation and violence,
• education, citizenship and cultural activities,
• and adequate standard of living.
During 2011 the Agency has further developed these indicators in the area of child
friendly-justice. One reason for this is to facilitate the implementation of the Council
of Europe Guidelines on child-friendly justice adopted by the Committee of Ministers
in November last year. Over 2012 and 2013 the agency will also be developing
indicators across its other areas of work including the areas of access to justice and the
rights of persons with disabilities.
The agency would be happy to cooperate with the Finnish government in the
development and application of indicators. This can occur at an informal level where
we share our in-house expertise and give input into your work and include you in our
consultation and networking activities. But we could also respond to a formal request
to undertake a specific project if this is made through one of the EU institutions.
3. So, thirdly, I will turn to linking international monitoring with the National
Primary responsibility for implementing human rights obligations lies at the national
level. But responsibility for determining the meaning and content of States’
obligations as well as monitoring their correct implementation by the State lies at the
international level. With bodies like the Human Rights Council, the UN treaty bodies
as well as European supervisory bodies.
Because of this there has to be a two-way street between the State and European and
UN monitoring mechanisms. There has to be a flow of information upwards from the
State to monitoring bodies, because their recommendations to States need to be based
on national reports that represent the situation accurately and completely. There has to
be a flow of information downwards, so that the recommendations of monitoring
bodies are systematically followed-up by relevant organs at the national level.
The National Action Plan opens for an entirely new meaning and function of the
monitoring mechanisms: They become an external auditor of the action plan.
So ideally the data collection according to the indicators will shape the backbone of
the report to the monitoring mechanisms and then the feedback from the monitoring
mechanism will help to adjust the next updating of the National Action Plan.
I am fully aware that this is not done in year one or two, but takes time – here the
network of human rights contact points will of course play a key role both in terms of
ensuring the information flow from their specific areas to the monitoring mechanisms
and the recommendations back to the reality in their area.
In this way we create a much stronger and more meaningful human rights architecture.
At the national level, the task of following-up on the recommendations of UN
monitoring bodies or of preparing State reports often rests with just one ministry, even
though policies with a potential impact on human rights are, of course, spread over all
government departments. If ministries at the national level are not directly involved in
the reporting process, it can be seen by them as a question of external relations which
does not affect them directly.
And that can make follow-up by relevant ministries less thorough. It can also mean
that the department responsible for producing reports is not able to collect all the
relevant information for the purpose of reporting to the monitoring bodies. The
proposed creation of a permanent network of Ministries’ human rights contact points
could help to ensure that there is systematic distribution of feedback to the relevant
At the same time there may be additional benefits that can increase the effectiveness
of follow-up. I will give four examples. The first two relate to creating ownership.
Firstly, consideration could be given to ensuring that the process of preparing national
reports becomes a decentralised task that is divided between different government
departments. This would mean that each ministry becomes conscious of how the
State’s international obligations apply to their specific policy area.
Secondly, consideration could be given to ensuring that several government
departments take part in the oral dialogue that takes place as part of the reporting
process. This would make a more in-depth and better informed exchange between
monitoring bodies and the State more likely. And this first hand participation, rather
than second hand feedback, would also bring the entire monitoring process closer to
different ministries, which could itself improve follow-up and ownership of the reportwriting
process. There is also a role to be played by National Human Rights
Institutions in this respect since they are able to put forward an alternative picture of
human rights implementation that can complement that of the State.
My third example relates to follow-up as between different layers of government. It is
likely that the recommendations of international monitoring bodies carry implications
for bodies other than central government departments, in particular local authorities,
service providers and law enforcement agencies. The 2008 Universal Periodic Review
of Finland produced a series of recommendations, including that Finland take
effective measures to prevent domestic violence.
Although this may require measures at the central government level, such as legal
reform, it may also require special training in law enforcement bodies, as well as
measures of victim support provided by local social services and civil society
organisations. So introducing mechanisms that allow for horizontal follow-up between
different government departments could be made more effective if they are
accompanied by vertical follow-up between different levels of government. I will
return to the need to ensure a joined-up approach between different levels of
government in a moment.
Fourthly, National Human Rights Institutions can also play a part in following-up
whether the recommendations of international bodies are implemented in practice, as
part of their monitoring role.
Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I would like to underline the importance of the
steps being taken by Finland to establish a coordinated approach to human rights
implementation, including the creation of a National Human Rights Institution, which
is a cornerstone of a State’s human rights architecture. Taking human rights from
mere words in international agreements and infusing them into the machinery of the
State will require participation and cooperation among a range of bodies.
It will rely on the integration of rights into policy-making at the horizontal level,
across central government departments, which should enjoy proper channels of
communication with international monitoring mechanisms. But it also requires
integration of rights at the vertical level to include all those bodies responsible for the
delivery of rights in day-to-day life, and in particular local authorities.
At the same time, we need to think beyond the State apparatus and put in place
adequate support for civil society because of their importance in delivering services
and representing the views of their members, who are often among the most
vulnerable in society.
Anna-Maja, you can count on our support.
I would like to thank you for your attention and look forward to receiving any