IHF FOCUS: fair trial; prisons and detention facilities; right to privacy; ethnic and national minorities; intolerance, xenophobia and racial discrimination; asylum seekers; women’s rights; persons with disabilities.
soon emerged around Prime Minister Jäätteenmäki. She was accused of having
obtained and used certain classified documents during the election campaign to
criticize her main rival’s foreign policy. In the end she had no choice but to
submit her government’s resignation to the president. The coalition parties
agreed that a change of prime minister would suffice to restore their mutual
confidence, and Matti Vanhanen from the Finnish Centre Party was elected by
parliament as the new prime minister. The current Finnish government was
appointed to office in June 2003. As a result, the unique period during which
The general social and economic situation remained stable in
Related to these big societal debates was the discussion about the well-being of Finnish children. Even though the situation of most children appeared to be good, mental health problems among them increased, as did the number of children placed in public care. In many cases the roots of this malaise could be traced to the deep economic depression of ten years ago when unemployment rose to an unprecedented level and the state cut its social expenditure, reducing, inter alia, services supporting parents and children. As Finland chose to decrease spending on preventive measures then, it faced a situation in 2003 where health care and social services did not have enough resources to treat an increasing number of people in need, many of them children who suffered from their families’ financial and social problems.
In general, much remained to be done to overcome discrimination, prejudice and xenophobia and to foster tolerance and integration of minority groups into Finnish society.
In 2003 several laws relevant to human rights and fundamental freedoms were adopted by parliament. They revised or completed legislation in areas such as nationality, right to use Finnish, Swedish and Sami languages before the authorities, good governance, freedom of religion, freedom of expression in the media, public order, and equality.
In 2003 the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) issued five
· In Suominen v. Finland the applicant alleged that she had been denied a fair trial as the district court refused, without giving a reasoned decision, to admit part of the evidence she submitted. The court considered that the applicant had not had the benefit of fair proceedings because the district court had refused to admit the evidence she proposed. The lack of a reasoned decision hindered the applicant from appealing in an effective way against that refusal. The ECtHR unanimously found a violation of article 6 (1) of the ECHR.
In Fortum Corporation v. Finland the applicant company alleged
that it was denied a fair hearing within the meaning of article 6 because the
When taking into account that the majority of cases decided by the
Prisons and Detention Facilities
delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman
or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) visited
As regards police establishments, the delegation criticized material conditions in two police stations (state of repair, cleanliness) and regretted that it was still common for persons to be held on remand in police establishments, often for lengthy periods of time—an issue the CPT had addressed in 1992 and 1998. Such practice carried a risk of abuse of discretionary power and, moreover, police stations were not suitable for long periods of detention. The delegation pointed out that none of the inspected establishments offered persons on remand an appropriate regime of activities. The provision of health care also continued to be of concern.
As to prison conditions, the delegation was concerned with the extent of inter-prisoner intimidation and violence at Sukeva Prison and at the former Turku Remand Prison as well as by the sparseness of organised activities, and by the shortage of psychological, psychiatric, counselling and rehabilitation services at those two prisons. Material conditions (overcrowding) were also of concern at Kuopio Prison and at the former Turku Remand Prison. In the delegation’s opinion, doctors should visit all three prisons more frequently.
deputy parliamentary ombudsman also paid attention to conditions in detention
facilities, both before and after the CPT visit. In March he recommended that
accused persons be transferred from police establishments to prisons as soon as
December, he expressed concern at deficiencies relating to the surveillance of
persons in police custody because during his inspection he found that in some
police stations, persons taken into short-term custody had been left alone for
unreasonably long period of times, sometimes for more than two hours. In small
police stations such persons had been left completely alone, unable to contact
the outside world, for up to two hours, when the only police patrol had to
carry out an urgent mission. Of 90 police stations in
The deputy ombudsman
also drew attention to the uneven quality of investigations made into deaths in
custody. Some 20 such deaths occur in
concern was also expressed at the detention in prisons and police
establishments of asylum seekers and aliens with irregular status pending the
inquiry into their status. The situation improved because special detention
units were established for that purpose. For instance, the deputy parliamentary
ombudsman, the minority ombudsman and the CPT delegation all welcomed the
inauguration of the temporary Helsinki Custody Unit for Aliens in July 2002.
The CPT delegation noticed certain shortcomings in its operation (e.g.
insufficient access to daily outdoor exercise; inadequate health care
provision) and hoped that the opening of a new permanent detention unit in
Right to Privacy
The right to privacy was among the domestic human rights issues that
gained attention in 2003. One problem in the implementation of this
constitutional right was related to the confidentiality of communications, in
particular the legality of actions taken by the police and the courts in
respect of phone-tapping, and by the police in respect of the acquisition and
use of telecommunications identification data.
Another privacy issue that gained coverage was the tension between the right to
privacy and the freedom of expression (freedom of the press). In recent years
there have been several high-profile court cases dealing with this conflict and
the situation remained unsettled. Many feel that Finnish courts have put too
much emphasis on the right to privacy at the expense of freedom of expression
and thus, ignored the relevant jurisprudence of the ECtHR. Two cases in which
Finnish newspapers claim a violation by
Ethnic and National Minorities
is one indigenous people in
Swedish-speaking Finns (ca. 290,000 persons or 5.6% of the population) are best
characterized as a de facto linguistic
minority. The other established minority groups are: Roma (10,000), so-called
Old Russians (3,000-5,000), Jews (1,300) and Tatars (800).
situation of the Sami and the Roma were the focus of international and domestic
concern. The most recent example dated from August 2003 when the CERD issued
its concluding observations on the sixteenth periodic report submitted by
First, the CERD was of the opinion that
while the CERD noted the efforts undertaken by
number of attempts have been made during the years to resolve the land
ownership problem. The latest attempt to draft legislation was abandoned after
strongly conflicting views were received on a draft government bill in the
autumn of 2002. In September 2002 the Sami Parliament published the results of
its own investigations contesting the state’s title to land. The government
considered that the Sami Parliament had given up the effort to find a solution
based on the protection of an established right to use the lands within the
Sami Homeland and had, instead, decided to claim land title. As a response, the
government commissioned a new research project that would focus on the history
of dwellings, populations and land use in certain areas of
The Sami Parliament was critical of the most recent legislative projects. It repeatedly criticised the government for not trying to secure the status of the Sami as an indigenous people—a status guaranteed by the Finnish Constitution—but having as its primary objective equal treatment of the Sami and other local residents in the northern part of Finland. In the view of the Sami, the latter approach is not able to protect the Sami culture and their traditional means of livelihood, especially reindeer herding.
Finally, the Sami Parliament criticized the government’s plans to reform the Mining Act on the grounds that the status of the Sami was not taken into account in a manner required by the ILO Convention. The Mining Act has great significance for the Sami as it affects the use of lands within the Sami Homeland and thereby the traditional Sami livelihood.
The CERD was concerned about the difficulties faced by Roma in the
areas of employment, housing and education, as well as about reported cases of
discrimination such as denial of access to public places, restaurants and bars.
It recommended that
In addition to these well-known problems, the treatment of Roma prisoners (120-140 persons as of the end of 2003) was on the domestic agenda since it emerged that several of them were being held in isolation for security reasons. A working group set up to consider the position of Roma prisoners concluded in January 2003 that they were in many respects in a worse position than other prisoners. Of relevance here was that isolation was not resorted to on the basis of the Roma being dangerous, but because of the racist attitudes of other prisoners. As a result, Roma prisoners did not have equal opportunity to participate in prison activities such as education, work and rehabilitation. The working group stated that equal treatment of prisoners did not permit the establishment of separate sections or groups for Roma prisoners, for doing so could be regarded as discrimination on the grounds of origin.
Intolerance, Xenophobia and Racial Discrimination
the end of 2002, the number of foreigners residing in
legislation complied well with international standards of equality and
non-discrimination. Racial discrimination was prohibited by section 6 of the
Finnish Constitution and in the Employment Contracts Act, and it was
criminalized in the Penal Code. Furthermore,
it was not the lack of legislative measures but the implementation of existing
legislation that was the problem in
the CERD issued its concluding observations, the first ever report on the
living conditions of immigrants in
December 2003, statistics regarding racist crimes in
was noteworthy that only 26 discrimination cases were reported; among them was
a case in which a foreigner was denied entry into a restaurant on apparently
racist grounds. This sort of racial discrimination was a common phenomenon in
to preliminary information, approximately 2,800 persons sought asylum in
The conditions of entry into and departure from Finnish territory were provided for in the Aliens Act (378/1991) which was being reformed in 2003. A new law was deemed necessary as amendments and additions to the current one made it difficult to comprehend. A government bill on a new Aliens Act was submitted to parliament in January 2003, but it lapsed because parliament was not able to discuss it before the March elections. The bill was submitted again to the new parliament in June 2003 with only technical amendments, but it had not been adopted by the end of the year.
so-called “accelerated procedure” introduced into the Aliens Act in July 2000
was the focus of intense criticism by the human rights community. The procedure
was originally created as a reaction to the growing number of Roma asylum
seekers from Central and
and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had previously criticized
this procedure, and in 2003 the matter was taken up by the CERD and the
Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Alvaro Gil-Robles. The
CERD pointed out that although a refusal of entry could be appealed, it could
also be enforced within eight days irrespective of an appeal, which would not
delay deportation. In the CERD’s opinion, such a narrow time limit might not
allow for the proper utilization of the appeal procedure, and could result in
an irreversible situation even if the decision of the administrative
authorities were overturned on appeal. The CERD urged
delegation found that in October 2002 members of a family (of whom two were
minors) had been forcefully injected with sedating and neuroleptic medication
without proper examination by a doctor in the context of deportation by plane.
The delegation stated that, “practices of this kind were totally unacceptable”
and urged the Finnish authorities to urgently draw up “detailed instructions on
the use of force and/or means of restraint authorized in the context of
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, who happened to be visiting
The incident led to two separate investigations. The Ministry of the Interior concluded that the policemen in question had not acted against orders but had, in fact, been in a difficult situation in which there had been both a right and a justifiable reason to use coercive measures (in this case fetters, handcuffs and use of force). The parliamentary ombudsman was still investigating the actions of the police on her own initiative.
The National Board of Medicolegal Affairs (TEO), disciplined both the doctor and the nurse by issuing them a written warning stating that they had had no right under Finnish law to give medication to the members of the deported family against their will, and that the doctor should have personally examined all family members. The nurse said that she had injected the children (a girl aged 11 and a boy aged 12) without any medication in order to obtain the psychological effect, but this was not considered relevant as an injection automatically equals interference with personal integrity.
As things stood at the end of 2003, there were no specific legal rules concerning the execution of deportation orders. Nevertheless, according to Finnish law, the police could not order or give any medication to persons who were being deported. Only a doctor could do so and injections had to be administered by a nurse with authorization from a doctor who had personally examined the family.
It remained to be seen whether this incident will lead to reforms in the instructions and practices concerning deportation, in particular as it appears that other types of questionable deportations took place occasionally, such as deportation of women who were heavily pregnant, deportation of families in two ‘parts’, and deportation of young immigrants to countries in which they had no ties after they had been convicted of a crime in Finland. In any case, it was clear that deportations should, in the future, be carried out in a manner that respects the dignity of asylum seekers and the principle of proportionality even in cases where the law allows immediate deportation or the use of coercive measures.
May 2003, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) issued its views on an
individual communication against
Direct, indirect and structural discrimination continued to occur in the labor market. Women were also likely to be affected by a form of discrimination in which they are discriminated against on two or more grounds simultaneously, such as sex, age and pregnancy. As a result, women were severely underrepresented in upper management, among senior government officials and among university professors. Professional segregation was common in the Finnish labor market, and typically female jobs tended to receive lower respect and lower salaries. In general, women were paid 20% less than men. Women also engaged in part-time work more often than men (66.1% of part-time workers were female) and their employment contracts were more often temporary (women 19.5%; men 12.5%).
the situation was better. The law required a minimum of 40% membership from
each sex on all state committees, commissions, and appointed municipal bodies.
In education, the majority of students in upper secondary school and at university were women, which occasionally gave rise to proposals suggesting changes to better suit the needs of boys. No concrete measures had been taken by the end of 2003.
6 of the Constitution prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sex. The Act
on Equality between Men and Women, in force since
From the point of view of women’s rights, it was significant that Finnish authorities were drafting Penal Code provisions related to trafficking in persons, based on the Palermo Convention and its Protocol. Legislation in force in 2003 did not expressly cover such trafficking even if many acts that were generally related to it were punishable offences. One controversial aspect of this legislative project was whether or not to criminalize the purchase of sexual services. At the end of 2003, the outcome was still unclear.
Finnish law criminalized rape, marital rape and domestic abuse, violence
against women, in particular domestic violence, continued to be a serious
Persons with Disabilities
A rights-based approach to disability has been gaining strength in
rights-based approach culminated in
The most recent legislative development benefiting persons with disabilities was the adoption by parliament in December 2003 of the Equality Act (see above). Disability was included in the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the context of employment and occupation, and the act established the goal of reasonable accommodation of disabled persons as a genuine obligation of employers. Certain other obligations of employers vis-à-vis disabled employees were also contained in specific legislation in the area of employment.
As regarded people with severe disabilities, Finland was criticized for putting too much emphasis on placing them in institutions instead of prioritizing the building of appropriate housing units and securing appropriate support services.
Despite the existence of domestic laws protecting the disabled in
Women with Disabilities
Women with disabilities were an invisible group in Finnish society. There was little research or statistical information on them and the conditions in which they lived, their employment or their education. The focus was always on the disabled as a group, even though women constituted approximately 60% of them. Also, women with disabilities were largely ignored by NGOs working in the field of disability and by women’s organizations. There was clearly a need to make these women visible by engaging them in advocacy, and by integrating them into research and into policy-making concerning both women and disability.
Women with disabilities suffered from multiple forms of discrimination: they faced discrimination because of their gender and because of their disability. Older women with disabilities formed a special group in need of particular attention, since they faced discrimination also because of their age. Furthermore, it was brought forward that women with disabilities were particularly vulnerable to violence and needed more support in their efforts to report offences to the police and to cope with the harmful effects of abuse.
 Based on the report from the Finnish Helsinki Committee to the IHF, January 2004. For other concerns, please see the IHF, Human Rights in the OSCE Region, Europe, Central Asia and North America, Report 2003 (Events of 2002), at http://www.ihf-hr.org/documents/doc_summary.php?sec_id=3&d_id=1322
 In Eerola v.
Finland the applicant complained that the criminal proceedings against him
were unfair, given the changing composition of the first-instance court.
Whereas the proceedings were presided over by a professional judge accompanied
by three lay judges, a total of 20 lay judges participated in the eight
hearings, which made it difficult for them
to form their own opinion of the facts. See Eerola v.
 Suominen v.
 K.A. v.
 CPT, Preliminary observations made by the delegation of the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) which visited Finland from 7 to 17 September 2003 (Strasbourg, 21 October 2003), at http://www.cpt.coe.int/documents/fin/2003-38-inf-eng.htm. A detailed visit report will be delivered in the spring of 2004.
 Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman,
“Tutkintavangin säilyttäminen poliisivankilassa,” Decision No. 458/4/01,
 Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman,
“Päätös putkakuolemien tutkintaa ja vapautensa menettäneiden valvontaa
koskevassa asiassa,” Decision No. 2865/2/00,
 See Decisions No. 200/4/01 and No.
2949/2/02, both dated
 See International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights – The fifth periodic report by
 See the website of Statistics Finland, at http://www.stat.fi.
 UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5,
 UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5,
 Ibid. paras. 11, 12.
 See International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights – The fifth periodic report by
 Ibid., p. 9. See also Annual
Report of the Sami Parliament 2000, ch. 2.3, and the chapter on
 UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5,
 Rikosseuraamusviraston julkaisuja 2/2003: Romanien asema ja olosuhteet vankiloissa sekä yhdyskuntaseuraamusten suorittajina. Työryhmän raportti 20.1.2003.
 For more information on these provisions of the Finnish Penal Code, see IHF, op.cit., pp. 146-147.
 See the Government Bill on the Equality Act (HE 44/2003 vp).
 See “Positive aspects” in the concluding observations of the CERD Committee (UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5, paras. 7-10).
 Ibid.para. 13.
 Ibid. para. 14.
 Pohjanpää, Paananen & Nieminen, Maahanmuuttajien elinolot. Venäläisten, virolaisten, somalialaisten ja vietnamilaisten elämää Suomessa 2002, Tilastokeskus. Ca. 1,300 persons participated in the study.
 See the chapter on
 UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5 (
 Finnish Ministry of Interior, Poliisin tietoon tullut rasistinen rikollisuus 2002, Sisäasiainministeriön poliisiosaston julkaisusarja 12/2003.
 Helsingin Sanomat, ”Vahtimestarille sakkoja ulkomaalaisten syrjinnästä,” 21 October 2003.
 Helsingin Sanomat, ”Useasta maasta turvapaikkaa hakeneiden määrä kasvanut,” 31 December 2003.
 See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – The fifth periodic report by Finland (2003).
 See the chapter on
 UN Doc. CERD/C/63/CO/5,
 Opinion of the Commissioner for
Human Rights, Mr Alvaro Gil-Robles, on certain aspects of the proposal by the
Government of Finland for a new Aliens Act (CommDH(2003)13,
 CPT, op.cit.
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, news release,
 Ministry of Interior, ”Sisäasiainministeriön selvitys erään perheen käännyttämisestä valmistunut: Poliisimiehet toimivat virkavelvollisuuksiensa mukaisesti,” 21 November 2003, at http://www.poliisi.fi.
 TEO, ”Terveydenhuollon oikeusturvakeskuksen päätös 6/2003 koskien ammattihenkilöiden menettelyä ukrainalaisperheen maasta poistamisen yhteydessä,” 3 December 2003, at http://www.teo.fi.
 See Helsingin Sanomat, ”Komitea moittii ankarasti Suomea maasta poistettujen huumaamisesta,” 27 October 2003; ”Turvapaikkaa hakenut lapsiperhe yritettiin käännyttää kahdessa erässä,” Helsingin Sanomat, 7 November 2003; and a documentary ”Karkoitetut” (”Deported”), aired by YLE 1 (Finnish public service broadcasting company) on 19 October 2003.
 The figures are taken from Statistics Finland, at http://www.stat.fi/tk/he/tasaarvo_tyo.html and http://www.stat.fi/tk/he/tasaarvo_tulot.html.
For information on prostitution and trafficking in women in
 Markku Heiskanen, & Minna Piispa, Usko, toivo, hakkaus. Kyselytutkimus miesten naisille tekemästä väkivallasta. Tilastokeskus, Tasa-arvoasiain neuvottelukunta, 1998.
 See Institute for Human Rights of Åbo Akademi, Vammaisten henkilöiden oikeudet Suomessa, 2003. Authors: Jukka Kumpuvuori & Marika Högbacka, supervisors: Catarina Krause, Martin Scheinin, at http://www.abo.fi/instut/imr/.
 See ibid. and the decision of the Deputy Chancellor of
Justice No. 912/1/01,
 See, for example, letters to the
editor published in Helsingin Sanomat on
 See Institute for Human Rights of Åbo Akademi, Vammaisten henkilöiden oikeudet Suomessa, 2003.
 See Helsingin Sanomat,
“Heikoimmatkin pitää hoitaa,”
National Council on Disability, ”Valtakunnallisen vammaisneuvoston lausunto YK:n kaikkinaisen naisten syrjinnän poistamista koskevan yleissopimuksen toimeenpanoa koskevaan Suomen viidenteen määräaikaiskertomukseen,” 9 September 2003, at http://www.vane.to/paatokset.html; and Statement of the Finnish Association of People with Mobility Disabilities (Suomen invalidiliitto ry) regarding the fifth periodic report by Finland on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women , 15 September 2003, at http://www.invalidilitto.fi/tiedotus.