Finland deserves a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council …

Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin. (Photo: EPA-EFE / FRANCISCO SECO / PISCINE)

Finland’s Ambassador to South Africa, Raija Anne Lammila, is quite confident that her country will get one of the other two seats. But she is by no means complacent. And neither did his government.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

When you look at some of the countries entering the United Nations Human Rights Council, Finland should be a shoo-in. Some others have appalling human rights records. On the other hand, Finland is one of the most democratic and egalitarian countries that respect human rights on the planet. However, due to the peculiarities of the regional representation system, Finland is fighting hard to win a seat on the council, for the period 2022 to 2024, in the elections to be held by the United Nations General Assembly in October of this year. year.

The council of 47 nations has 13 seats for African states, 13 for Asia-Pacific states and eight seats for Latin American and Caribbean states, but only seven for the “Western European group of states and others ”(WEOG) (ie Western Democracies) and only six seats for Eastern European states.

The vote is staggered, so this year there will be a vote to fill three WEOG seats. But there are four candidates: Finland, Italy, Luxembourg and the United States. The United States is almost certain to win one, to welcome him back to the board that the Trump administration resigned in June 2018, claiming the board was a “protector of human rights abusers.”

Finland’s Ambassador to South Africa, Raija Anne Lammila, is quite confident that her country will get one of the other two seats. But she is by no means complacent. And neither did his government.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin presented to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year the reasons why Finland should sit on the council.

Over the past century, she said, Finland had grown from a poor agrarian country to a stable, equal and prosperous nation “by including everyone and placing human rights, fundamental freedoms and equality at the very center ”.

Gender equality and free, quality education have been essential to Finland’s success. “Through our human rights-based foreign and development policies, Finland is committed to promoting human rights and equality and to combating extreme poverty globally. “

If elected to the council, Marin said, Finland would focus on women’s and girls’ rights, climate change, the digital space and human rights. She said the rights of women and girls had been pushed back in many countries: discrimination, violence and trafficking in women and girls had increased, in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Sexual and gender-based violence is still used as a weapon in conflict, repression and ethnic cleansing. We are deeply concerned about what we hear from the Uyghurs, Rohingyas and Tigray people. “

Marin also said that “digitization must become a force for the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, because it changes the way the world works… It is essential that we bridge the digital divide.

“Finland wants to promote a safe digital space for all and allow everyone to have their voice heard without the threat of violence, harassment or hate speech. We cannot allow authoritarian governments to use Internet and media shutdowns as a political tool, ”Marin said.

Last month, the Finnish Embassy hosted a briefing at the Forge Academy in Fourways to showcase their efforts to bridge the digital divide in South Africa – and how that could advance human rights. It was part of his campaign for election to the UN council.

Ambassador Lammila said it was important to protect human rights online and in person. The benefits of digitization were unevenly distributed and this became more evident during the Covid-19 pandemic, when so many people were working from home.

It was essential that no one was left behind. Marginalized people must have access to the Internet and to the necessary equipment and skills.

Lammila said Finland consistently tops the global digitization rankings and is the world leader in ensuring digital access.

In South Africa, Finland does this by supporting several initiatives, including the Southern Africa Innovation Support Program (SAIS), a regional company that supports the growth of start-ups by boosting innovation. SAIS is also breaking down the barriers that prevent women from becoming entrepreneurs in the field of digital technologies.

Finland also supports the Forge Academy, where last month’s event was held. It was launched in November last year as an incubator to teach students how to find a job or start a business in the fields of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality and digital media. of the New Economy of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), its website says.

Forge Academy CEO Arthur Wade Anderson said the institution is a digital lab where students can experience 4IR technologies as well as a virtual classroom accessible from their homes.

Pat Wiehahn, Head of Strategic Relations and Transformation at Nokia South Africa, said at its launch that Nokia was supporting Forge with industry standard technology training, “to become the 4IR Academy Blue Ribbon in South Africa and Africa ”.

“The current mismatch between the skills of young people and the needs of employers threatens to worsen, as Industry 4.0 transforms businesses and jobs faster than workers can adapt,” she added. .

Finland is also supporting the South African company Contextualize, which works with the Finnish company Code School Finland to teach computer programming to South African teachers.

Contextualiser’s technical director, Marcus Duveskog, said Code School Finland is the world leader in its field, using Finland’s renowned teaching expertise (which emphasizes creativity and play rather than discipline or rote learning).

This teaching method was so effective that it allowed even teachers with no programming experience to learn how to teach it to students in a short period of time, Duveskog said. It sounds like a quick fix for SA’s great deficit in teacher skills.

And indeed, Contextualize and Code School Finland are currently running pilot programs, teaching 11 teachers in four public schools, two in the Western Cape and two in the Eastern Cape. These schools wanted to introduce coding but didn’t know how. “In the next phase, probably later this year, we want to introduce it to 100 schools, targeting low-resource schools where they haven’t currently had that kind of opportunity.”

And they were planning to go beyond South Africa into the region. Duveskog said that in order to grow, the company would also need to train teachers to teach other teachers to teach coding.

With the next step being to step up operations, Duveskog said he would have liked to meet the senior official from the Basic Education Ministry who was invited to last month’s briefing but did not arrive. Although he was already working with the provincial departments of education in the Western and Eastern Cape, “we would have liked to have aligned with the program of the Department of Basic Education.”

Nokia’s Wiehahn suggested that if one wanted to work with the government, one should approach them with “end-to-end solutions.” If you take a half solution and a lot of questions, you won’t be successful. If you take a complete solution, you will be successful, ”she advised, adding that one should not expect the government to do too much because it simply does not have the money.

Finnish company Funzi is also participating in Finland’s efforts to bridge the digital divide in South Africa. Funzi’s mission is “to bring learning to 90% of the world’s population using the power of mobile”.

Its founder and chairman, Aape Pohjavirta, speaking remotely from Finland, said that Funzi, created only in 2014, already has 8.5 million users worldwide. “We consider learning a human right and South Africa is very important to us.”

Funzi in turn supports the South African non-profit Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, which helps young Africans overcome barriers to employment. He works with around a million young people, tackling not only skills shortages but also other barriers to employment such as a lack of professional networks.

Brent Davidoff, senior learning specialist at Harambee, told the rally how 2020 has been a turning point for the organization, as it engages in the breach of call centers for staff dealing with the enormous surge in claims for benefits from the Unemployment Insurance Fund and the Covid-19 Temporary Employee / Employer Relief Program (TERS). “We’ve helped almost a million people get paid,” he said. It had helped build confidence with a grateful government – and so Harambee had continued to help 50,000 young people overcome many obstacles to securing teaching positions. Many of them now have permanent teaching jobs.

So these are Finnish human rights in action. DM168

This story first appeared in our Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.

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