Finland adopts human rights and human security-centered development policy; coalesces Nordic states towards forging common policy

17 Feb

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin

On 16 February 2012, Finland’s parliament approved human rights and human security-centered international development cooperation policy. Its overarching themes are: (a) poverty reduction, (b) tackling the problems of inequality and (c) promotion of human rights.

The approval of the policy has also come with the concentration of Finnish aid for the long-term on six key recipient countries. These are: Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Nepal, Tanzania and Zambia. From the get go, two countries were dropped from the existing list of Finnish aid receiving countries: Nicaragua and Vietnam.

Of Nicaragua, Minster of Development Cooperation Heidi Hautala told YLE news, “The government in Nicaragua is quite authoritarian and the budget isn’t transparent.” Therefore, she has decided to shift the existing cooperation program from the government in support of and to strengthen non-governmental organizations.

The case of Vietnam is different. Because of the growth it has registered over the years and the markedly improved average standard of living the country has attained, Vietnam is no longer eligible for Finnish aid.

What is new in the reformed development policy?

In the context of country operations, the new policy aims at increasing attention on human rights and the provision of support for the use by each developing country its of own resources for its development. At the same time, the minister pointed out, Finland would redirect its efforts in concert with the needs of the recipient countries, reflecting global division of tasks and Finnish competencies and strengths.

Finland's Development Cooperation Minister Heidi Hautala (Courtesy of Finland's foreign ministry)

Minister Hautala is very clear in her mind about what she expects from her partner developing countries. For instance,in the case of Ethiopia already in late October at a ceremony marking the launching in Addis Abeba of the Responsible and Innovative Land Administration in Ethiopia (REILA), which Finnish experts are presently working in Benishangul-Gumuz, she stressed:

    In Ethiopia-Finland cooperation, our main point of entry is the human pillar. The main resource to develop is the human resource, and the major part of our cooperation supports such human development. Without securing the freedom and rights of all individuals, including marginalized groups, women and youth, we will not achieve sustained development.

Today, Finland is not the only country tinkering with its aid policy. Lately, the reform of foreign aid has taken front seat in most developed countries. This is partly because of uncertainties in the national economies and signs of weaknesses at the global level. Partly also it is to get new actors from emerging economies to assume their international responsibilities towards the less developed countries.

In acknowledging that, Finland also has held the view that development “has become more and more distinctively global cooperation, where various types of new actors are yielding influences.” With that in view, therefore, its just approved policy instrument aims to ensure that its development policy becomes ”value-based cooperation.” In so doing, however, it has pledged to meet “the needs of the weakest”, as a press release by the foreign ministry has indicated.

Another important consideration by donor nations is also their desire to leverage the Rio+20 Conference in June to advance the agenda of sustainable development to help them carry forward their national goals as well as the tasks started by the UN Millennium Development Goals. In regard to that, Finland’s minister of development cooperation was upfront in stating:

    The MDG agenda is still valid and we are committed to reaching those goals as well as our aid targets but we should start thinking about the time after 2015. The GSP [Global Sustainability] provides a good basis for this in terms of aspects to consider. For example we hope the Rio +20 will recommend starting the process of formulating Sustainable development goals (SDG’s).

Heidi Huatala’s Ethiopia experience

Minister Heidi Hautala assumed her current responsibilities in June 2011. Her commitment to human rights and human freedoms were already made public in her engagements with Ethiopian officials during her first official visit to the country in her present capacity last October (see previous article). Firstly, she made her starting point with Ethiopian officials from the prime minister down, his deputy and to the finance and economic development minister alerting them of her concerns about Ethiopia’s human rights records.

During an interview with The Reporter in Addis Abeba, she was asked if she raised her concerns over human rights with the prime minister. Here response was: “Yes I did. We talked about the problem in relation to the detention of journalists. And I prefer to hold the details of our discussion.”

Most important in revealing her conviction is that, following her tour of projects and places where certain activities were carried out, she made her position on human rights and human security clear during that same visit in Addis Abeba in stating, “It’s great to see the many areas in which the country has developed in recent years. On the other hand, development always needs a free civil society, and I hope that this will also take place here.”

In pursuing that point, days after her return from Ethiopia on 11 November at a meeting in Helsinki she compared Ethiopia and Zanzibar to make her point:

    In Ethiopia, ” she said, “development has progressed well when measured by many indicators: children can go to school and clean water is available. But freedom of expression has shrunk and, in their own words, organisations are living in an atmosphere of fear … By contrast, in Zanzibar the atmosphere was different. Although the development targets still need work … civil society organisations were full of energy and power.”

Finnish aid level & the activities it fund in Ethiopia

Although Finland has pledged to strive to commit 0.7 percent of its GDP to international aid by 2015, Heidi Hautala in August indicated that the 2012 level would be frozen at the 2011 level, which was €1,074 billion (net €834.5 million). This has not gone well with her as she criticized her government’s decision as “detrimental to Finland’s international credibility.”

Individual recipient countries would see this reflected in the level of their share in Finland’s aid in the coming years. Already, for instance, in the past Ethiopia has benefitted marked increases from €3.97 million in 2007 to €14.33 million in 2010 and 2011. It is very likely that the same amount could be maintained for 2012. This does not include commitments, if any, to the land demarcation projects that are currently underway.

In the past, programs and projects financed by Finnish funds in Ethiopia have, together with other donors, focused on special education and improvement of quality of education program. In recent years, however, the funding focus has shifted to community water development. This has been met with great success in Amhara and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states. For instance, in Benishangul-Gumuz the program targets the Metekel zone and its five woreda-districts, reaching 250,000 people.

In the the light of the human rights, human freedom and security and natural resources disposal issues on which the two countries cannot see eye to eye, how they would handle their development cooperation going forward is not easy to foresee. However, frictions along the road cannot be excluded, if the current trend of imprisonments of journalists, opposition politicians and their supporters and totally disenfranchised youths from the streets of Addis Abeba continue to be thrown to prison charged as terrorists and languish in prisons. If the undercurrent in the international community is read accurately, those disagreements between Ethiopia and Finland would not simply remain a dysfunctional aspect of the bilateral relations between Ethiopia and Finland alone.

It is important to recall in this connection that a process to forge common Nordic policy on major development policy and development cooperation issues is currently underway amongst Nordic countries. On 2nd February, they met in Helsinki as the guests of the Finnish development cooperation minister. Their agenda, according to DiploNews, was to to see beyond them, i.e., to extend their preoccupations with human rights as part of EU policy approach as well. DiploNews also reported that their discussion focused on placing human rights on the EU agenda using as a vehicle the forthcoming EU presidency under Denmark’s chairmanship.

Highlighting the growing sentiment, Norway’s Minister of International Development Erik Solheim said at that Nordic development minister’s meeting:

    Although the agencies’ results are often difficult to assess at the field level, their work must be more visible and it must be possible to measure the results. Our taxpayers demand information about the results of assistance and there is the wish for support to be directed where results can be obtained.

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