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Public International Law

Finland’s priorities in the sphere of public international law include the elimination of impunity for the most serious crimes under international law, the global promotion of the rule of law, and the general strengthening of the rules-based international order.

Public international law essentially governs relations between states and the activities of international organisations. It provides a foundation for a stable international order and a basis for international peace and security. Jointly agreed international norms and monitoring compliance with them are indispensable for the good functioning of the global community.

The Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is actively involved in developing public international law and in promoting its implementation. The UN plays a key role in this action: its core functions include developing public international law and promoting compliance with it, and the UN Charter itself constitutes one of the main sources of public international law.

An extensive network of several hundred international treaties has been established under the auspices of the UN over the past decades, and they are crucial for regulating international relations and also for the legal and judicial development of the Member States.

The UN International Law Commission is a key player in developing public international law.

Among regional organisations, the Council of Europe is particularly significant for Finland as a developer and promoter of international law.

Finland is moreover actively engaged in the debate within the EU on the development of public international law and the promotion of its implementation.

Finland’s priorities in the sphere of public international law include the elimination of impunity for the most serious crimes under international law, the global promotion of the rule of law, and the general strengthening of the rules-based international order.

Finland is also actively involved in developing international marine law and international humanitarian law and in reinforcing their implementation.

The Legal Service of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs supports decision-making in foreign and security policy issues by providing expertise and advice on public international law.

Ending impunity for the most serious international crimes

Fighting against the impunity of those who have committed the most serious crimes under international law – genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes – is one of Finland’s priorities in the field of public international law.

Ending impunity is also one of the priorities of Finnish UN policy. Finland works actively within the UN, the EU and other international fora to lessen impunity.

Finland also provides financial and political support to and is engaged in practical cooperation with the permanent International Criminal Court (ICC) and such ad hoc international criminal courts as the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), and the Special Court for Sierra Leone (no longer in operation), striving to ensure that these courts and their residual mechanisms will be able to complete their mission correctly.

States have the primary responsibility for prosecuting the most serious international crimes. It is very important for the victims and for the implementation of their rights to see justice delivered at national level.

If, for one reason or another, national prosecution measures are impossible, international courts, especially the ICC, play a crucial role.

In the area of ending impunity, Finland gives emphasis to enhancing the position and rights of victims. Lessening impunity can also be seen as part of more general support to the development of the rule of law in fragile states.

International Criminal Court (ICC)

The ICC was established by the Rome Statute, which entered into force in 2002. Today 123 countries are party to it. The ICC sits in the Hague, the Netherlands.

From the very beginning, Finland has shown support for the ICC by taking an active part in the Statute negotiations and by ratifying it instantly.

The ICC is competent for crimes committed by individuals: genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Moreover, a decision is to be made after 1 January 2017 on the activation of the Court's jurisdiction over the crime of aggression.

Investigation of a situation can be initiated by a party to the Statute, the ICC Prosecutor, or the UN Security Council. In the first two cases, the Court only has jurisdiction if the state in whose territory the crime was committed, or the state whose citizen is accused of the crime, is party to the Statute or has specifically accepted the Court’s jurisdiction.

ICC Trust Fund for Victims

Finland has been working actively to ensure that the legal position of victims and their rights under the Rome Statute are effectively recognized.

Under the Statute, victims have the right to participate in the Court's proceedings and they are also entitled to reparations.

Established by decision of the Assembly of States Parties in 2002, the Trust Fund for Victims (TFV) operates within the jurisdiction of the ICC with mandate based on the Rome Statute.

The Trust Fund has a two-fold mandate: to implement reparations following the Court’s judgements and, prior to conviction, to provide assistance to victims of crimes that fall within ICC jurisdiction.

Although the primary responsibility for paying Court-ordered reparations to victims lies with the convicted party, the ICC can charge the Trust Fund to disburse the reparations, for example, in the event that the guilty party is found to lack means.

Moreover, the Court may order the money and other property collected from the convicted party through forfeiture during the proceedings or thereafter to be made available to the Trust Fund for the purpose of reparations. The rest of the funds for reparations disbursed by the Trust Fund come from states and other entities as voluntary contributions or donations.

The implementation process of the first-ever ICC decision on reparations is just starting. General project support, however, has been provided through the Trust Fund ever since 2007. More than 110,000 victims of crimes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Uganda have already received concrete assistance through the Trust Fund.

Supporting victims of sexual violence has been given priority in the Trust Fund's project activities.

As member of the Board of Directors of the Trust Fund, the former Finnish Minister Elisabeth Rehn is the representative for the group of Western countries. Finland also counts among the most long-standing supporters of the Trust Fund.

Finland has pledged to support the Trust Fund in 2012–2015 with a total of EUR 800,000, this amount being earmarked for assisting victims of sexual violence.

Justice Rapid Response

Justice Rapid Response (JRR) is an intergovernmental cooperation forum striving to enhance the international community’s capacity for bringing to justice those who have committed the gravest international crimes and the most serious human rights violations, and to ensure strict compliance with international law in post-conflict situations.

The main function of JRR is to assist states and international organisations, following a request by them, in investigating the gravest of international crimes by providing criminal justice expertise.

At the same time, it improves the ability of help-seeking states and organisations to respond to serious violations of international law and human rights and to implement international criminal law.

While JRR has been operational, it has responded to requests for expertise regarding crisis situations in Haiti, Kyrgyzstan, Côte d'Ivoire and Syria, for example.

Amongst international bodies, the UN and the ICC are JRR’s main cooperation partners.

The JRR Executive Board is currently chaired by Finland, the other members being the Netherlands, Canada, Switzerland, Sweden, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Columbia, Argentina and South Korea.

Finland also supports JRR activities financially.

International Humanitarian Law

In the field of international humanitarian law, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is in charge of the substance and coordination of Finnish participation in the development of international humanitarian law and its implementation through dialogue and cooperation between states and collaboration with the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs has set up a working party on international humanitarian law with the specific tasks of promoting the Geneva Conventions, exchanging information, and monitoring the development of humanitarian law. It brings together representatives for the different administrative branches and various organisations.

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