All human beings are born free and equal in their dignity and rights—this was confirmed by nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over 60 years ago in 1948. That first step to create international human rights standards was followed by a number of human rights conventions that have defined the rights due to every individual—political and civil, economic, social and cultural rights. These rights are indivisible, inalienable, and universal.
Estonia is a party to the United Nations (UN) conventions on human rights and is dedicated to protecting and promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms in Estonia and through international organisations. Expanding the observance of principles of human rights, democracy and rule of law, as well as the development of international law, is one of Estonia’s five foreign policy priorities. Estonia’s particular focus is on supporting freedom of expression and media and issues related to the rights of women, children and indigenous peoples. Estonia places a high importance on close co-operation with organisations working to promote human rights, and has therefore presented its candidature for membership of the UN Human Rights Council 2012-2015.
At the elections that took place on 12 November 2012 in New York Estonia was elected a member of the Council for the term 2013-15.
1. Estonia’s activities for promoting human rights in the global arena
Estonia’s membership in international organisation and its bilateral relations provides it with a number of opportunities to address the protection, promotion, as well as violations of human rights. Estonia is actively engaged with human rights issues within the framework of the European Union (EU), UN, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Council of Europe.
Within the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy, Estonia has focused on keeping its human rights priorities on the EU agenda and also served as a representative of the EU in negotiations on these topics with third countries in the UN. The EU has defined human rights as an important foreign policy area and Estonia has supported the achievement of human rights goals that are important to the EU, including abolishing the death penalty and eliminating violence against women.
Over the years, Estonia has intensified its human rights-related work in the UN. Estonia was the chair of the Consultative Committee of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) from 2007-2009, and an Estonian expert was a member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues from 2005-2007. For more than ten years Estonia has also made regular voluntary contributions for promoting human rights, including the rights of women, children, and indigenous peoples. The contributions have supported the activities of the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the UN Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), and the UN Fund for Indigenous Populations.
Estonia became a Member of the UN Human Rights Council
Estonia was a member of ECOSOC from 2009-2011
Since the beginning of 2009, Estonia has for the first time belonged to the 54-member UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), which addresses economic, development, humanitarian, social, and human rights topics. In 2009 Estonia was the vice president of ECOSOC, leading the Council’s humanitarian aid-related discussions and negotiations. Estonia will continue working as a member of ECOSOC, paying particular attention to human rights, including the rights of women and indigenous peoples.
Estonia's action plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1325 “Women, peace and security”
The experiences gained in maintaining peace and security over the last several decades have reaffirmed that security, development and human rights are indivisibly linked to one another. The changing nature of conflicts has made evident the need to protect civilians in crisis management and the importance of the balanced participation of both men and women in ensuring sustainable peace. UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (adopted in 2000) addresses the role of women in maintaining peace and security. The resolution, approved ten years ago, was the first Security Council decision that acknowledged the disproportionately large effect armed conflict has on women and children. In the text, the Security Council set the goal for the international community to improve the resolution of conflicts by systematically taking into account the gender perspective.
In the following years the Security Council has approved resolutions supplementing Resolution 1325, namely resolutions 1820 (in 2008) and 1888 (in 2009), which address sexual violence in conflicts and the information-gathering and monitoring mechanisms necessary to combat the spread of sexual violence. Another detailed follow-up resolution 1889, addressing the role of women in peace-building was adopted in 2009. Estonia was one of the co-sponsors of resolutions 1820 and 1888 and has supported the inclusion of their principles in the decisions of other UN bodies. Estonia also participates in the EU task-force on Resolution 1325.
In order to further emphasise the issues brought forth in Resolution 1325, in 2010 Estonia compiled a national action plan with the goal to define and systematise Estonia’s activities in the field of international peace missions and development cooperation incorporating the gender perspectives to date and to set future priorities. The working group compiling the action plan was led by the Foreign Ministry.
An Estonian ambassador is a co–facilitator of the reform of the UN development system
Since 2007 Estonia has participated in the UN discussions on the UN gender equality reform to strengthen the promotion of gender equality and the situation of women . The goal of the reform is to incorporate the idea of gender equality more strongly into the UN’s work by bringing together in one unified entity all parts of the UN responsible for policy-making and operational activities in the field of gender equality. The gender reform is a part of the discussions on the system-wide coherence reform aimed to increase the efficiency of the work of the UN development work. The president of the General Assembly has appointed Estonian Ambassador Tiina Intelmann as one of the co-facilitators of negotiations on the reform for the duration of the 64th General Assembly (September 2009 – September 2010). The other co-facilitator of the negotiations is Tunisian Ambassador Ghazi Jomaa.
More information about Estonia’s human rights-related activities in the UN
Cooperation with special rapporteurs of international organisations
In order to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms, Estonia co-operates comprehensively with UN special rapporteurs, the OSCE high commissioner on national minorities and the human rights commissioner of the Council of Europe, as well as the special rapporteurs of the European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). In recent years, Estonia has been visited by the UN special rapporteur on racism and racial discrimination and the UN special rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. In the spring of 2009 OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Knut Vollebaek and the Council of Europe ECRI rapporteur team paid their routine visits to Estonia. In June 2009, Foreign Minister Paet and High Commissioner Vollebaek hosted a regional roundtable to introduce the Bolzano/Bozen recommendations package (more on this topic at http://www.osce-hcnm.org).
European Court of Human Rights
There is a representative of the Government of the Republic working in the Foreign Ministry who tracks the responses and the fulfilment of sentences from complaints issued against Estonia by the European Court of Human Rights. Of the complaints filed against Estonia, the most common are those that complain of the excessive length of legal proceedings. A representative of the government representative also participates in work to further develop the Court and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Fulfilling human rights conventions
The Foreign Ministry co-ordinates the compilation of reports on Estonia’s implementation of the human rights conventions. To prepare the reports, the Foreign Ministry gathers information from other state institutions and NGOs.
Reports on conventions.
On February 2, 2011 the first Estonian Universal Periodic Review (UPR) will take place at the United Nations Office at Geneva.
UPR is a new and unique human rights mechanism of the United Nations Human Rights Council aiming at improving the human rights situation on the ground of each of the 192 UN Member State. Under this mechanism, the human rights situation of all UN Member States is reviewed every 4 years (48 States are reviewed each year during three UPR sessions dedicated to 16 States each). The result of each review is reflected in an “outcome report” listing the recommendations made to the State under review including those that it accepted. The Government of the Republic approved the Estonian national report for the UPR on October 22, 2010 and recommendations to Estonia reported on February 4, 2011.
2. Human rights are a pillar of the European Union
Respecting human rights along with fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the principles of rule of law are a pillar of the European Union. These universal and indivisible rights addressed in the memorandum of association of the EU were strengthened with the approval of the Charter of Fundamental Rights. The EU member states are convinced that making progress in this area of concern is a primary responsibility of the international community. For this reason the EU has paid specific attention to respecting human rights both within and outside the union’s borders.
The EU has initiated over 30 human rights-related dialogues and consultations with third countries on five continents, and this number is growing fast. This demonstrates the growing importance of human rights in international relations. In order to guide human rights activities in its member states, the EU has adopted human rights guidelines on seven topics. The EU also participates in the UN human rights fora, presenting important initiatives to promote human rights issues which are relevant for all individuals.
Estonia actively participates in the EU working groups that deal with human rights issues. In recent years Estonia has paid particular attention to combating violence against women, participating in the EU task force on eliminating violence against women. The EU guidelines on the topic were approved at the end of 2008.