PN Member Heidi Hautala's Opening Statement on the UN and International Law

Heidi Hautala
May 17, 2013

Opening statement by Ms. Heidi Hautala, Finnish Minister for International Development and PN member, at the seminar on The United Nations and International Law – Aspects of Peace and Security, at the House of Estates, Helsinkion, on Friday, 17 May 2013.


Distinguished speakers of today’s seminar,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you all to today’s seminar on the United Nations and International Law. Today’s Seminar is the last in the series of seminars organized during this spring to provide input and inspiration to the revision of the Foreign Ministry’s United Nations Strategy that will be completed this summer.

It is quite fitting that the theme of our concluding seminar is international law. Whatever activity we are engaged with at the international level, be it humanitarian action, peacekeeping, or post-conflict state-building, the activity is regulated - to a greater or lesser extent - by rules of international law. And it is more than likely that the rules have been created by the United Nations. In the complex and interrelated world we are living in, international law brings clarity and predictability to all our actions and relations.

The centrality of international law was highlighted already in the Charter of the United Nations, which, in its Preamble, sets the goal “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.” Over the decades, the United Nations has achieved significant success in creating an international legal order based on more than 500 United Nations treaties and other instruments as well as an important body of jurisprudence by international courts and tribunals established by the United Nations. The latest achievement was the adoption by the UN General Assembly of the Arms Trade Treaty in April this year.

The rule of law is a core principle of the international system with its main components: legality, equality, accountability and participation. Respect for the rule of law is a critical prerequisite for the development of the main pillars of the UN: international peace and security, human rights and development. The High Level Meeting on the Rule of Law that was held at the United Nations in September 2012 marked the beginning of a new phase in strengthening the rule of law within the United Nations system and everywhere in the world.

While addressing the High-Level Meeting, the President of Finland described the meeting’s outcome document as an agenda for peace and an agenda for sustained economic growth and sustainable development; for a world free from poverty and hunger and a world where the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms is secured for all alike. This describes well the importance and centrality of the rule of law both at the national and at the international level.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The rule of law is the thread running through the themes of today’s seminar. The first part of our seminar is devoted to the fight against impunity in respect to the most serious crimes of concern to the international community.

The United Nations has led the way in advancing international criminal justice. The ad hoc Criminal Tribunals established by the UN Security Council for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990′ies, have made considerable progress in the development of the international criminal jurisprudence. Their case-law has contributed greatly to the development of international criminal law in areas such as individual criminal responsibility and crimes of sexual violence.

The ad hoc tribunals helped pave the way for the creation of the International Criminal Court in 2002, which is the pinnacle of our efforts to promote international criminal justice. The ICC represents an outstanding achievement in terms of promoting an end to impunity. There is a consensus today that there can be no impunity for the most serious crimes under international law. With currently 122 States Parties, the Rome Statute’s core message of fighting impunity is embraced universally.

However, the Court continues to be faced with challenges, not least due to instances of non-cooperation. While the ICC is an independent, judicial institution, it is not alone on the international scene. It needs to interact with other actors and it needs support from other actors, including the United Nations and the State Parties to the Rome Statute. The Statute contains important provisions on the relationship between the Court and the Security Council, including the power of referring situations to the Court. The referrals by the Security Council of the situations in Sudan and in Libya to the ICC marked important milestones. We firmly believe that the Council should take decisive action in relation to the horrendous crimes that are being committed in Syria and refer the situation to the ICC. Together with more than 50 countries, Finland joined Switzerland’s initiative at the beginning of this year to urge the Security Council to refer to the ICC the situation in Syria.

In its statements at the Security Council, Finland has urged the Council to assist the Court in fulfilling its tasks in situations referred to it by the Council. The mandate of the Court is limited and does not extend to issues such as execution of arrest warrants or taking action in cases of non-cooperation. We very much look forward to hearing from Judge Kourula and Assistant Secretary General Mathias on how the United Nations, as well as State Parties to the Rome Statute, could further strengthen the support to the Court.

During this Seminar, we will also hear about how the rule of law is applied within the United Nations. International sanctions are an important element of the comprehensive approach in conflict prevention and management. They can be a very important tool to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, to react to serious human rights violations or other threats to international peace and security. Finland regards it important that sanctions be as accurately targeted as possible, that the negative impacts to those not concerned be minimized and that the targets of sanctions retain the due protection of law.

Finland is a member of the so-called like-minded group on targeted sanctions. During the past years, the group has actively taken part in the discussions in New York on developing UN sanctions regimes, in particular the al Qaida regime, and has made several proposals for improving fundamental procedural guarantees. We have been very pleased to see the progress made in this regard, as most recently witnessed in December 2012 with the renewal and strengthening of the mandate of the al-Qaida regime Ombudsperson.

In order to protect the effectiveness, legitimacy and long-term sustainability of our sanctions system it is important to ensure that it meets the standards of fairness and procedural rights. We are looking forward to hearing Professor Cameron’s ideas for ways to further strengthen these safeguards.

Another topical issue relates to the situations where the United Nations is fulfilling its mandates to maintain peace and security. In such situations, the United Nations is facing a number of complex legal questions: which legal norms are applicable, what exactly are the troops authorized to do and what responsibilities do they have. The United Nations Human Rights Due Diligence policy is an important tool in this respect. We are looking forward to the dialogue between Professor Jarna Petman and Assistant-Secretary-General Mathias on these issues.

Ladies and Gentlemen

To conclude, I would like to express once again the strong support of Finland to the United Nations and to the International Criminal Court. The United Nations is the cornerstone of global multilateral cooperation and the highest authority in the area of international security, and the International Criminal Court is the centerpiece of our criminal justice efforts. We pay tribute to their important achievements in promoting justice and peace. Finland’s objective is that international cooperation be built on transparency and the promotion of human rights. These institutions have also central role in this respect.
As a staunch supporter of the two institutions, Finland wishes to contribute to their efforts in a meaningful way. I am grateful for the speakers who will be addressing the seminar today, and I am confident that today’s seminar will provide us with food for thought and concrete ideas on where we should focus our efforts in the years to come.

I thank you.



Originally published on Heidi Hautala's homepage.

Photo by ekenitr.