High Level Segment of the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights

Statement by Mr Paul Teesalu,
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia
High Level Segment of the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
Geneva, 26 February 2019

Mr President,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to address you today.

Last year we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Once again, we have officially declared, that human rights matter. Every country can do its part and I’m very pleased to inform that from January 1st in Estonia there is National Human Rights Institution. We hope that this institution will support Estonia’s continuing work in protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights even in more challengeable times as now, when we see tendencies in the world to change the approach to human rights and to even modify their substance. Therefore, we must admit that there is a lot to do to ensure that human rights are protected, promoted and provided universally not only in our rhetoric but also in practice.

Protection and promotion of human rights is the cornerstone of sustainable development. Whereas more than 90% of the targets of the SDG-s are linked to international human rights principles, they provide a good framework for the promotion of human rights around the world. The year 2030 may have seemed to be in the distant future but now we must concentrate our efforts to stay focused and engage in firm and urgent actions in order to fulfil targets of SDGs on time.

Mr President,
In two weeks, the President of Estonia will give a speech at the High Level Event of the PGA on how women leaders can change the world. Empowerment of women and girls, as well as their full enjoyment of all human rights is a prerequisite for inclusive and peaceful societies. Gender equality benefits us all. This should be equally acknowledged and worked for by everyone and the role of men in achieving gender equality can in no way be underestimated.

Unequal power relations and stereotypes are among the root causes of gender based violence, which is often systemic in nature and occurs across a range of settings, both online and offline. It is the responsibility of us, and ultimately of all states, to ensure that these blatant violations are not accepted and that perpetrators are held accountable.

We would like to emphasize the importance of ensuring sexual and reproductive health and rights, as well as comprehensive sexuality education, which are crucial tools also for preventing maternal mortality and morbidity.

Estonia welcomes the growing emphasis on gender equality and empowerment of women and girls in the work of the UN, including the recent emphasis on fighting sexual harassment in all settings.

The work carried out by women human rights defenders is crucial to advance the rights of women. As stated among others in the latest report of the Special Rapporteur (on the situation of human rights defenders), many women human rights defenders continue to face significant risks in their human rights practice. We are looking forward to the presentation of the report (on the situation of women human rights defenders by the Special Rapporteur) later this week.

Unfortunately, over last couple of years 1,019 human rights defenders were killed in 61 countries across the world. It is strongly deplorable that attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders who engage with the United Nations are still frequent.

As a member of the UN NGO Committee, Estonia hopes to contribute to the better inclusion of civil society in the UN activities. In addition, as civil society becomes increasingly dependent on digital technology, also the protection of human rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and right to privacy online, increase in significance. Estonia is happy to share with Iceland the 1st place in the Freedom of the Net report on internet freedom.

The global trends concerning internet freedom are however worrying. According to Freedom House/Freedom on the Net latest report, “a cohort of countries is moving toward digital authoritarianism” by embracing the model of extensive censorship and automated surveillance systems.

Because of these trends, global internet freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year in 2018. We regret that many governments adopt laws, regulations and policies (or misuse counterterrorism and national security laws) in order to restrict civil society space online.

Mr President,
This year we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We should utilize this anniversary for galvanizing renewed support for the implementation of the Convention and its Protocols worldwide.

Estonia remains committed to the promotion and protection of the rights of the child. Every child should benefit from inclusive and quality education without discrimination based on gender, origin or any other grounds. We are glad to see that more and more girls are in school now than ever before but we should not stop here.

Every child has the right to protection from violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Estonia continues to advocate for the prohibition of physical and psychological punishment of children. We are running a nation-wide programme for bullying-free schools and to fight cyber bullying.

Estonia also actively supports the work carried out to alleviate the sufferings of children in conflicts, including by supporting the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and armed conflict.

The protection of rights of indigenous peoples has been one of Estonia’s human rights priorities. We continue to support the human rights of indigenous peoples, including their participation in meetings of UN bodies on issues affecting them.

The International Year of Indigenous Languages gives us the possibility to raise global awareness of indigenous languages. During this year we mobilize different stakeholders and resources for coordinated action in this field around the world, both as members of the Steering Committee and by contributing also financially.

Mr President,
I would like to conclude with recognizing the role of the Human Rights Council as an indispensable body concerning the prevention of conflicts. We must make better use of the tools and mechanisms of the Council in providing the early warning signs in order to react and take action in a more timely manner.

On the fifth anniversary of the Russian military aggression against Ukraine, we draw once again your attention to grave violation of international law including extensive violation of human rights. Respect for territorial integrity and the prohibition of the use of force are fundamental principles of international law. Regrettably, there are still many countries whose territorial integrity have been violated and where the conflicts are still without the solution.

Running for the UN Security Council for the period of 2020-21, Estonia affirms a long-term commitment to take more responsibility in promoting international peace and security and ensure a more inclusive society based on the rule of law. We will strive towards greater accountability, coherence and transparency and will underscore that conflict prevention where the human rights play a crucial role, needs more attention and resources within the UN system.

As to the prevention, for accountability to prevail also in cases of the most serious crimes, let me mention that Estonia continues to call for the universal ratification of the Rome Statute.

I would also like take this opportunity to commend the High Commissioner for her excellent work so far. Estonia continues to support the integrity and independence of the High Commissioner and her Office, including its field offices. We reaffirm our full cooperation with all mandate holders and would like to stress that as to the prevention efforts, it is also highly important for all countries to cooperate and give access to Special Procedure mandate holders.

Mr President,
Human Rights Council must be valued as a crucial body for holding us all on the right track concerning both the normative framework as well as the practical implementation of human rights standards around the world.

Thank you!