HRC48 – Statement by H.E. Ms. Katrin Saarsalu-Layachi, Permanent Representative of Estonia at the adoption of the UPR outcome of Estonia – 30 September 2021

Madame President


Dear colleagues and representatives of civil society

Ladies and gentlemen

I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of the Republic of Estonia in connection with the final adoption of the outcome of the third Universal Periodic Review of Estonia in the Human Rights Council.

Today, with the adoption of the outcomes, we are approaching the conclusion of the third UPR cycle of Estonia in the Human Rights Council. As UPR is a continuous process, for the Estonian authorities this automatically means the initiation of the next stadium of the UPR process – the implementation of the recommendations and starting preparations for submitting a mid-term review report and fourth UPR report.

Submission of mid-term review reports has been a voluntary commitment encouraged by the OHCHR and implemented by Estonia as we have submitted relevant reports in 2014 and 2019. Estonian authorities are planning to proceed with this practice also in respect of the forth UPR cycle.

During the review on 4 May 2021 in the Working Group, Estonia received altogether 274 recommendations (comparing to 181 recommendations in 2016). Altogether, representatives of 95 states (comparing to 73 states in 2016) took the floor during the interactive dialogue, whose active participation is highly valued by Estonia.

We are also grateful to delegations who continue this UPR discussion at the Human Rights Council’s meeting today.

Growth in numbers of recommendations and participating States in the UPR review does not pertain only to Estonia. This is a more general trend and demonstrates the success of the UPR process and commitment of UN Member States, in co-operation with the UN, to promote universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, as declared in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The UPR process has also had to adapt to new realities. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work or study and we are simultaneously learning how to fight COVID-19 and trying to cope with life during the pandemic, we are glad that  the UPR process is continuing efficiently also at the time of pandemic by using the potential and benefits of new technologies. Hybrid meeting of the Working Group allowed us to organize the participation of a high-level delegation with a participation of broad range of experts. We would like to use this opportunity to thank and congratulate the OHCHR and the Secretariat for the efficient organization of the UPR work.

We highly value the role of all stakeholders for their reports and additional information to our national report and for their willingness to actively participate this HRC session. For us, an important aspect of today’s meeting is that the representatives of the civil society can express their views before the Council. I can assure you, that we will listen to you very carefully.

Special thanks go to the Chancellor of Justice, first time in the role of NHRI, and the Estonian civil society, for their reports and additional information and comments to our national report. The civil society, including representatives of children, young people and persons belonging to minorities, as well as the media has played an important role in awareness-raising activities about the UPR in Estonia and beyond.

Estonia’s commitment to principles of rules-based international order, respect and promotion of international law, including human rights law and international humanitarian law; democracy, rule of law and fight against impunity have been part of our foreign policy for many years. In May 2021, the Estonian Government adopted the Human Rights Diplomacy Action Plan which describes in detail Estonia`s commitments in the field of human rights and democracy.

The Estonian human rights policy is focused on three core areas. First, the protection of the rights of groups in the most vulnerable situations, primarily women, children and indigenous peoples. Second, the protection and advancement of freedom of speech and expression, including online, and freedom of the media. Third, advancing democracy, supporting civil society and combating impunity. Estonia has followed these goals as an elected Member of UN Security Council in 2020–2021, and looks forward to furthering them as a member of UN Human Rights Council in 2026–2028, if elected.

Estonia is a globally renowned leader in supporting the development of an open, transparent and inclusive, efficient and effective, trusted and secure information society. According to Freedom House 2021 Freedom on the Net index, Iceland together with Estonia are the leading countries of the Internet freedom. We are particularly glad that our country’s specific efforts to promote new technologies in all aspects of life nationally and internationally and in the field of cyber security have deserved member states’ attention during UPR.

During the next reporting cycle, we continue our attention to digital technologies to improve the efficiency of administrative process and the user-friendliness of services and to support democratic processes. Estonia is a firm believer in the advantages that a digital society and e-Government can bring, including in promotion and protection of human rights, such as access to justice, and greater transparency of decision-making processes, for a healthier democracy and better protection of the rule of law.

Estonia has been contributing into the enhancement of a holistic digital governance globally, combining both digital services and digital democracy forming part of our international cooperation activities. For example, promoting open governance in the South East Europe and Eastern Partnership countries or building digital governance architecture, including eID and data governance. Estonia has also pioneered or been instrumentally involved with a number of cybersecurity awareness-raising initiatives.

Estonia participates in different capacity-building programmes with international organizations and bilaterally.  During our Presidency of the UN Security Council Estonia on 29 June 2021 organized a first ever UN Security Council open debate on cyber security with the title “Maintaining international peace and security in cyberspace”.

As a member of the Security Council we have drawn the attention of the international community to the dire situation of children in armed conflict. For example we organized

an Arria formula meeting on Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on violations against children in situations of armed conflict” and were also responsible for organizing the annual debate on children and armed conflict during our Pesidency. In addition, during our Presidency we were glad to include 8 civil society briefers in the Security Council meetings, thereby supporting the important role of civil society in the UN deliberations.

Now turning to human rights areas, which deserved particular interest in the Working Group and where many recommendations were made.

First, some words about national proceedings on how the position of the national authorities on the recommendations of the Working Group report was formed. The report of the Working Group containing the recommendations was forwarded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comments to all ministries and to the representatives of the civil society who had participated in the UPR process. Based on the opinions expressed, the final decision was made whether to accept a particular recommendation or not. Finally, the Government accepted 192 recommendations and noted 84 of them.

We were actually ready to accept some parts of the noted recommendations; therefore it does not mean that we completely disregard all the noted recommendations. In addition, we would like to explain that we are quite willing to review some of the noted recommendations and to initiate proceedings for their implementation, but at this point of time, we have no clear timetable and it depends on the workload of the ministries who have the field of competence in a particular question.

In our comments, it was not possible to answer in detail to all the recommendations made and this is not possible today likewise. At the same time I would like to stress that all recommendations received will deserve attention of the national authorities. Efforts and concrete plans are made to implement accepted recommendations. Hereby, I would like to make a general remark regarding noted recommendations, more particularly 14 of them.

Increasing awareness of human rights among population is constant and ongoing process for the authorities. Best results can be achieved in cooperation of different stakeholders, where the civil society plays an important role. Annual human rights conferences are held by the Human Rights Institute. The next global Conference on Media Freedom will be held in Tallinn focusing on freedom of expression online and offline, fight against disinformation and protection of journalists among others.

The Office of Chancellor of Justice is currently compiling a comprehensive textbook on human rights to be used by large public, which will be accessible to everyone online free of charge.

Estonia has a long experience with horizontal integration policies having impact on various fields of life. Integration in Estonian society has been one of state’s priorities with the goal of an integrated and socially cohesive society where people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds actively participate in society and share democratic values, where everyone can feel comfortable and safe – to work, study, develop their culture, be a full member of the society.

Three integration development plans, developed in coordination with representatives of Estonia´s national minorities, have been adopted and implemented since 2000. The Ministry of Culture has the main responsibility for the realization of the national integration policy but also other ministries, local municipalities and civil society organizations play a central role in the integration activities.

Estonia has consistently taken legal and policy measures to promote the acquisition of Estonian citizenship and to lower the number of persons with undetermined citizenship and this process continues. We remain committed to motivating persons with undetermined citizenship to obtain citizenship as quickly as possible.

Currently already the fourth consecutive development plan Cohesive Estonia is prepared in the field of integration. Equal opportunities are created for self-sufficient coping and well-being for all people living in Estonia. The main areas of the interventions are supporting the local level and developing cross-sectoral partnerships, developing modern, smart and effective adaptation and integration as well supporting an innovative and responsible labour market.

Integration plans promote cooperation, tolerance and mutual understanding and advance intercultural dialogue. National integration measures are targeted at people with different migrant backgrounds, including long-term migrants, new immigrants from third countries, returnees and migrants from European Union countries.

Estonia continues its commitment to the cohesive policymaking and inclusive society i.e. through the adoption of the fourth consecutive Cohesive Estonia Development Plan for 2021–2030.

We welcome the recommendations made in respect of the gender pay gap. Although a constant progress can be seen in the decrease of the gender pay gap in Estonia, further efforts are needed for this decrease to continue. Reducing the gender pay gap continues to be our priority. According to the Government`s Action Plan for 2021-2023, the Minister of Social Protection is tasked to present to the Government by February 2022 amendments to the Gender Equality Act aimed at reducing the gender pay gap. The amendments are expected to pay a special attention on further increasing of pay transparency. In addition, activities have been and are being planned to be implemented to support and promote pay transparency though non-legislative measures.

Measures are also implemented to tackle other causes of our wide gender pay gap, including those to decrease gender segregation of education and the labour market and measures to address unequal sharing of care burden among women and men. There has been a pan-party political commitment to raise the (average) salaries of basic school and upper-secondary school teachers over the last years, with an aim to reach 120% of the average salary in Estonia. Still, actual salaries of both primary and secondary school teachers need to increase to reach the OECD average.

Estonia continues to enhance efforts to increase women`s participation in STEM fields, including in ICT, both in education and the labour market, and in leadership positions, among other measures by decreasing gender-stereotyping.

Estonia is dedicated to achieve long awaited progress in the field of equal treatment. We agree that it is necessary to amend the Equal Treatment Act. The amendments to the Equal Treatment Act are in the Government`s Action Plan for 2021-2023. The planned amendments will widen the scope of application of the Act concerning discrimination of persons on grounds of religion and other beliefs, age, disability and sexual orientation. The aim is to widen the scope outside the field of employment to also cover access to the services of social welfare, social security and healthcare, including social benefits, the area of education and access to and supply of goods and services, which are available to the public, including housing.

Estonia is committed to combatting all forms of violence regardless of where violence occurs or who is involved, and condemns all forms of gender-based violence. Reducing domestic and gender-based violence remains in the spotlight of our Government. In addition to round the clock women´s support centre service, the free of charge Victim Support Helpline is available at all hours across Estonia and is intended for all matters concerning crime and crisis situations, including for victims of gender-based and domestic violence.

Helpline provides emotional support and advice on further proceedings and, if necessary, passes the information to other specialists, for example the victim support service and police. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Social Insurance Board of Estonia continued to hold regular web briefings with women’s support centres to share good practices and solutions. Virtual meetings of multi-agency teams continued for sharing information about survivors of domestic abuse who have been assessed to be at risk of serious harm or homicide. I am glad to inform you that in Estonia the access to any of the necessary services for the victims was not disrupted during the pandemic. On the contrary, we launched some new services.

Estonia is committed to starting the process of the ratification of the optional protocol of the UN Convention against all forms of discrimination of women (CEDAW) in 2023.

One of the priorities of Estonia in child protection and criminal justice systems is reducing violence against children and helping child victims of abuse. Child victims of sexual abuse are offered comprehensive services based on the Barnahus model, and the Government is working to expand and develop services to ensure better support to children with traumatic experiences. In the coming years, Estonia will reform the child welfare system, in order to provide faster, more effective and cross-cutting support for children and families in need or at risk. Bigger emphasis will be put on prevention and child-centered service design. Additionally the child protection system will be renewed – our aim is to support the skills of professionals working with children, giving them needed tools and IT-solutions and to ensure an efficient provision of support and supervision both on the local and state level.

Important advances have also been made in child-friendly proceedings and in the protection of minors. Numerous measures have been taken to ensure that children, their parents and representatives of child protection services are well informed of their rights in criminal proceedings. The rights of parents or of representatives of child protection services to be present during criminal proceedings have been broadened, and the rights of a child to notify his or her legal representative, to individual assessment, medical procedures and special treatment upon deprivation of liberty have been specified.

Prosecutors have more legal bases to terminate criminal proceedings in cases where a minor has committed an unlawful act, and to instead issue a caution or assign community service or participation in a social programme. The code of criminal procedure allows for the questioning of a suspect who is a minor to be recorded to avoid unnecessary repeated questioning.

Estonia welcomes recommendations to adopt effective measures to prevent and investigate the crimes of trafficking in human beings while paying particular attention to victims and assures its continued commitment in combating trafficking in human beings at national as well as international level. Estonia engages actively in the networks of the European Commission, Council of Europe, Council of the Baltic Sea States (CBSS) as well as of the OSCE and UN.

With regard to victims, the Estonian Victim Support Act provides for various victim support services for victims of trafficking crimes, without distinction between different target groups. Victims of trafficking in human beings are provided support services, such as counselling, access to health services, material assistance, psychological assistance, monetary compensation and safe accommodation. Estonia is in the process of drafting a new act addressing also issues of trafficking victims. Estonia intends to have a special workplan for anti-trafficking activities in relation to national priorities of reducing and preventing trafficking.

Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to once more thank all participants in our debates in the Working Group and today in the Human Rights Council and members of the Troika – the Netherlands, Bangladesh and Senegal – for your cooperation and valuable contributions during the third UPR of Estonia.

Your active participation has made this experience valuable for us and helps to continue to improve the human rights situation in our country. Estonia maintains its strong commitment to implementation of its human rights obligations and we consider the UPR process a useful element of this work. The UPR process forms  a valuable contribution to our domestic debate and to our national human rights related activities, for instance when drafting and implementing new action plans and legislation.

Estonia considers the UPR process a success story of the Human Rights Council and we are looking forward to being back for the fourth cycle.

In the meantime, the Estonian Government will continue its efforts to fulfil the human rights commitments undertaken. Estonia is determined to work hard at national as well as international level in cooperation with other States to implement our common pledge of promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.


I would like to conclude here, and turn to the plenary to hear views on the adoption of Estonia’s UPR report.

Thank you very much!