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4 November 2015

AMBASSADOR REINILÄ UNVEILS FINLAND’S STRATEGY FOR FOSTERING THE RULE OF LAW IN CENTRAL ASIA

1 Ambassador at Large Mrs. Laura Reinilä holds a Master of Political Sciences and a    bachelor of Natural Sciences from the University of Helsinki. She is an alumnus of the Ecole Nationale d´Administration in Paris. Diplomatic career consists of several positions in the Political Department at the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs as well as foreign postings starting from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, and the Embassies of Finland in Moscow, Canberra and Paris. Mrs. Rainilä was nominated to be Finnish Ambassador to Ukraine in 2003. She then served as resident Ambassador in Tunis (2007-2010),   and was accredited at the same time to Libya, before to be appointed as Ambassador at Large for the Rule of Law projects in Central Asia, in the Development Cooperation team at the Department for Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia (2011-2015).

Q. Ambassador, Finland launched the Wider Europe Initiative in 2008, its bilateral development cooperation programme in Eastern Europe, South Caucasus and Central Asia. For the 10 year period from 2008 – 2018, about 100 million Euros will have been allocated to fund this initiative. Why such a significant proportion of Finland’s budget for development cooperation had been earmarked to the this region?

Laura Reinilä: The Wider Europe Initiative (WEI) was launched in 2008 by the Finnish Minister for Development Cooperation, Dr. Paavo Väyrynen. His aim was to promote development in the former Soviet Republics that were entitled for official development aid (so-called ODA-countries). The regional coverage was reduced in 2012, when the Finnish Government decided to put emphasis to the development cooperation for least developed countries and middle income countries in Central Asia. Therefore the WEI Phase II became smaller in size than the first phase.

Q: Support to development of the rule of law, democracy and good governance has been one of the key objectives of the Wider European Initiative. Why has the Finnish Initiave focused on these goals in Central Asia?

Laura Reinilä: All the mentioned goals – rule of law, democracy and good governance – aim at “sustainable societal development” which is one of the five priorities in the WEI. They will remain important goals for the Finnish development cooperation even in the future.

Q: The EU’s Strategy for a New Partnership with Central Asia was launched in 2007 and the EU-Central Asia Rule of Law Initiative a year later, as was the Finnish Initiative. How do Finland’s bilateral action and the European Initiative complement each other?

Laura Reinilä: The EU Rule of Law Platform for Central Asia has managed to have more regional cooperation in Central Asia than Finland has had through its various projects. The first project “Equal before the Law: Access to Justice” covered the years 2011-2013 and aimed at strengthening regional cooperation, but, in fact, the cooperation took mainly place between Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Some regional activities – mainly trainings and conferences – were arranged in Strasbourg by the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

Today the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs is funding two separate projects implemented by the UNDP offices in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (2014-2018) and they do not include regional activities.

Q: Which areas of legal cooperation in the Central Asian region do you view as having been particularly successful?

Laura Reinilä: In fact, Finland has not had any legal cooperation in Central Asia, although some experienced lawyers have participated in project activities. Discussions that Dr. Pekka Hallberg, former President of the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court had with Central Asian Ministers of Justice, presidents of Supreme and Constitutional Courts and Chairmen of the Parliamentary Committees gave him material to the book “Rule of Law Prospects in Central Asia – Rural Areas and Human Problems” which has been translated into Russian, Kazak, Kyrgyz and Tajik languages. This book has proved to be useful and popular and it will be shortly updated.

Our projects have aimed at promoting human rights for vulnerable groups – rural women, children at risk, disabled people – and at providing them free legal aid. As there are some kind of Ombudsmen institutions in all Central Asian countries, it was natural to arrange a Conference for the Central Asian Ombudsmen in Helsinki in March 2012. It succeeded in making the five Ombudsmen to meet for the first time.

As a follow up, the Office of the Tajik Ombudsman requested support for capacity building which is given through our current UNDP project. It started with the mission of Mr. Mikko Puumalainen, Deputy Chancellor of Justice to Dushanbe in October 2014. In May 2015, a Study tour to Finland that was arranged for a Tajik delegation led by the Ombudsman. It focused to the role of the Finnish Parliamentary Ombudsman in monitoring closed institutions as well as in improving rights of the disabled people and those of children.

Q: What are the main challenges to the development of the rule of law in Central Asia?

Laura Reinilä: The main challenge seems to be the independence of judiciary. As long as the judiciary is working under political or economic pressure, people do not have confidence in it. This is the main challenge for the Central Asian governments. The more there will be confidence in judiciary, the more there will be also confidence in administration, in rule of law and democracy. I believe that strengthening human rights will also strengthen confidence in governments. If governments pay attention to the vulnerable groups of population, they cannot be considered as enemies of the people, but will be seen as serving them.

Another challenge worth mentioning is the importance of accountability and responsibility. If authorities will follow more closely international standards they will also adhere to these principles that are in the center of European legal systems.

Q: Since their independence, the Central Asian states have come a long way to reform their legal frameworks. Still, in many areas, implementation of the rule of law is lagging. What recommendations would you give to the Rule of Law Platform to increase the efficiency and ensure the sustainability of its action?

Laura Reinilä: It seems to me that new legislation might have been drafted and voted in the parliaments too quickly. The foreign expertise has given the governments good opportunities to find contemporary formulations, but perhaps it could have been better to move more slowly. It is necessary to prepare effective implementation plan already before a new law becomes a part of legislation. Authorities who will be responsible for the implementation should be informed and trained in time. Recently I have been told that in a country outside of Central Asia, the new constitution is not implemented by judges as there are many contradictory laws in force and that it would take a long time to get other legislation on the same contemporary level.

The important role of prosecution complicates situations in Central Asia and make it more difficult for us, representatives of other legal traditions, to advise how to build necessary checks and balances in their countries.

In this context I would like to highlight the role of civil society organizations that could assist governments in implementing legislation. If they are involved already in discussions leading to legal reforms, they will be highly motivated to contribute to their successful implementation, too.

Q: In September 2014, Finland hosted the Rule of Law Platform’s regional seminar on constitutional law in Helsinki. Following the seminar, a day of visit of Finnish rule of law institutions was organised (including the Supreme Court of Finland, the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, the Supreme Administrative Court of Finland). Despite the different Finnish social, economic and political context, how would you explain that this seminar and the following visits appeared to have been so relevant for the Central Asian delegates ?

Laura Reinilä: Thank you very much for the positive assessment. There are certainly many other European countries besides Finland that have civilian law systems comparable to those of Central Asian countries. What made the difference last year might have been the fact that Finland is a relatively small country and has not developed a complicated court system like in some bigger civilian law countries. During that Conference, the Finnish legal experts tried to assist representatives of Central Asian countries to develop their own thinking instead of telling what models should be followed. All countries have to build their institutions on the basis of their own needs and legal traditions.

Q: Finland is funding two rule of law projects which currently operate in the region: “Widening Access to Justice for Legal Empowerment in the Kyrgyz Republic” and “Strengthening Rule of Law and Human Rights to Empower People in Tajikistan”. These two projects are expected to wind up in 2018. Following the evaluation of these two projects, will the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs decide to extend its cooperation in rule of law in Central Asia?

Laura Reinilä: Both UNDP projects will have midterm evaluations in late 2016. I hope that the evaluation reports will support follow up projects. I believe that in the field of Rule of Law the support should be consistent. True changes are made by governments. When there is a chance to work closely with them for a longer time, it is possible to create good working relationships that could pave way to real reforms.

Q: Ambassador, you have met and worked with an increadibly large number of actors in the legal and judicial reform in Central Asia. The Platform’s cooperation with yourself has been particularly inspiring to our team and to our partners. You have informed that you would be leaving the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs this autumn. On a personal note, may I ask about your plans?

Laura Reinilä: Thank you very much for your kind words. The past 4½ years have been interesting and challenging for me as the work with development cooperation activities was a new professional experience. So I am most grateful for this time and for the many good contacts that I have had the pleasure to make through these projects and during my travels in Central Asia.

Retirement opens up new opportunities to be available for friends and grandchildren and to give more time to personal interests. My daughter has asked me to write something about my foreign experience to the attention of her children, which I will do with pleasure.

Ambassador, thank you for this interview and for Finland’s very valuable contribution to the success of the Rule of Law Initiative.