ACCESSIBILITY AT UNOG A A A A The United Nations in the Heart of Europe


24 August 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of Finland on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Arto Kosonen, Director and Legal Counsellor of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, spoke about new measures to prevent racial discrimination in Finland, including the first National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights and the establishment of the Human Rights Centre, and its Human Rights Delegation.  Public debate on migration largely concerned the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, rather than people who immigrated for family reasons or work opportunities, the two most common reasons for immigration to Finland.  Measures to strengthen the rights of the Sámi indigenous people were in development while the National Policy on Roma had brought about successful cooperation between schools and Roma parents.  Measures were also being taken to monitor hate crimes on the Internet, prevent segregation of immigrants in urban housing and to support asylum seekers, as well as to tackle trafficking in persons. 

During the discussion, Experts commended Finland on its extremely positive programmes to tackle racial discrimination and its self-critical approach in recognizing challenges.  Experts asked about discrimination against Roma and the autonomy of the Sámi indigenous people, including measures to establish a Sámi parliament.  Hate crime on the Internet was a key area raised by Experts, who asked about monitoring techniques and education of young people as to the dangers of the Internet, and also whether any neo-Nazi groups were known to exist in Finland.  Issues relating to terminology, in particular the absence of the terms ‘black’ or ‘race’, were also raised as was use of the notion of ‘ethnic agitation’, which an Expert said had become a euphemism to make a racist crime more palatable for the perpetrators rather than the victims of racism. 

Speaking in initial concluding remarks, Carlos Manuel Vazquez, Rapporteur for the report of Finland, commended the State party on its many initiatives and plans which were very valuable and too numerous to mention.  He said that the issue of the definition of the Sámi and clarification of self-identification and self-determination of indigenous groups still needed to be addressed. 

In concluding remarks Mr. Kosonen thanked the Committee for their very constructive guidance on the common fight to end racism and implement the Convention and he hoped that the next time Finland came before the Committee they would have further consolidated legislation and fulfilled the Committee’s recommendations, as well as made progress in tasks such as developing policy towards the Roma. 

The delegation of Finland included representatives of the United for Human Rights Courts and Conventions of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Constitutional Law Committee of the Parliament of Finland, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education and Culture, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Employment and the Economy, and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations Office at Geneva. 
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Finland towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.

The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Monday, 27 August to review the combined fourth to sixth periodic report of Liechtenstein (CERD/C/LIE/4-6).


ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it.  Hopefully Finland was watching!  The live webcast can be accessed via the following link:

Report of Finland

The combined twentieth to twenty-second periodic report of Finland can be read via the following link: (CERD/C/FIN/20-22).

Presentation of the Report

ARTO KOSONEN, Director and Legal Counsellor of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, said earlier this year the Government adopted the first National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights which aimed to enhance awareness on the human rights implications of its work as well as develop new tools to observe whether rights were being realized.  At the start of 2012 the Human Rights Centre and its Human Rights Delegation began work.  It was operationally autonomous and independent but administratively a part of the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman.  Together the three bodies formed the National Human Rights Institution according to the Paris Principles.  A further body, the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations, influenced attitudes towards immigrants and ethnic minorities within Finnish society by distributing information, organizing debates and appointing well-known public figures as goodwill ambassadors for inter-ethnic relations.  In 2011 a period of increasing reports of hate crimes levelled out.  That increase may partly be a result of measures to encourage victims to report hate crimes to the police.  Public debate on migration largely concerned the reception of refugees and asylum seekers, rather than people who immigrated for family reasons or work opportunities, the two most common reasons for immigration to Finland. 

The cultural autonomy of the Sámi people and preconditions for the establishment of a Sámi Parliament were being developed.  The rights of the Sámi people, as an indigenous people, were being strengthened, for example by clarifying legislation on the use of land.  Three Sámi languages were spoken in Finland, North Sámi being the most commonly used with some 2,000 speakers.  Sámi-speaking children were supported in retaining their language, particularly in early childhood education.  In 2010 a National Policy on Roma was adopted, with education being a key area: successful cooperation between schools and Roma parents was a breakthrough in the history of Roma schooling.  The number of Roma pupils starting vocational courses had more than doubled in 10 years, as had teaching of Romany language.  A project to combat all forms of racist bullying and harassment in schools began five years ago and 90 per cent of pupils participated in it.  The Government-funded anti-discrimination programme ‘Equality is Priority’ was a broad civil society partnership including Roma and Sámi groups that conducted activities aimed at young people, such as media campaigns to break negative stereotypes and local advisory services for victims of discrimination. 

In June 2011 the Criminal Code was amended to create a more comprehensive definition of offences motivated by race, colour, ethnic or national origin, religion or beliefs, and it included legislation for hate crime published on the Internet.  Finland had ratified the Additional Protocol to the Convention on Cybercrime concerning the criminalization of acts of a racist and xenophobic nature committed through computer systems.  The police monitored the Internet within the limits of their resources, and often received tips from the public about racist online material.  The Government Integration Programme was an extensive action plan taking the needs of the immigrant population into account through mainstreaming in employment, education, housing and social and healthcare services.  Most immigrants lived in State-subsidised social rental housing of the same quality as the majority of the population, although housing shortages and high rents were a growing problem in the biggest cities.  There was a special project to prevent segregation and a concentration of immigrant housing in cities.  The Aliens Act contained measures to support asylum seekers, with special concern given to unaccompanied children seeking asylum; it defined situations for asylum applications and appeals.  No lists of safe countries of origin or asylum were used.  To counter trafficking in persons and to oversee reform of the National Assistance System for Victims of Trafficking, a Working Group was currently drafting a specific bill.   

Questions from the Experts

CARLOS MANUEL VAZQUEZ, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Finland, welcomed the delegation and noted that as Mr. Kosonen had headed the Finnish delegation to the Committee since 1996 it was as if they were picking up an ongoing conversation, which was indeed the purpose of the meeting.  It was a pleasure to be the Rapporteur to Finland, a country which took its human rights obligations and in particular its obligations under the Convention very seriously, not least shown by its promptness in submitting reports, follow-up reports, and reappearing before the Committee just three years since the last review.  The programmes outlined by the delegation were extremely valuable and positive, but nevertheless, the Rapporteur said he would focus on areas that needed improvement: those constructive criticisms should certainly not be regarded to mean that the situation of racial discrimination in Finland was bleak!  Finland was commendably self-critical in recognizing its problems, which was a welcome and refreshing approach, and which meant that most of the points raised by the Committee today would already have been acknowledged in the report. 

That said, the Rapporteur referred to the implementation of the Convention in domestic law, and that as Finland was a dualist system it was not directly applicable and only implementable by statute.  Could the delegation please clarify?  There were reports of discrimination against the Roma in private transactions, applying for houses, and sometimes in refusal to serve Roma in shops and restaurants.  What was the law on private transactions in terms of discrimination?  What was the role of non-governmental organizations in the preparation of the report, the Rapporteur asked?  He regretted that no non-governmental organizations from Finland had met the Committee before today’s review, contrary to normal procedure.  There was no law addressing hate crimes as such, but the law stated that hate crimes should be considered in a court.  Could more information on the application of such laws, and of the new laws on hate speech published on the Internet, be given? 

Roma faced the greatest discrimination of all ethnic groups in Finland.  The National Policy on Roma was welcomed, but as the report noted, special measures were required to reduce discrimination and prejudice faced by Roma.  Although the policy was quite new, could the delegation give more information on its concrete proposals?  The leadership role Finland had taken in the context of the Roma was welcomed, particularly in the European Union.  The Committee noted with concern the increasing anti-immigrant feeling in Finland, although it recognized the delegation’s update that the increase had now tailed off.  The new act on the integration of immigrants seemed very positive and had been praised by many non-governmental organizations.  Also the KiVa programme had been the subject of considerable praise in reducing the bullying experienced in schools by immigrants and the Roma.  What results had been seen, specifically, of those programmes?  Racial profiling was another issue, an Expert said. 

There were problems with the definitions of Sámi in terms of choosing candidates for the Sámi Parliament, especially in terms of the right to self-determination.  There had also been a case related to reindeer herding, and a case about Sámi people being obliged to slaughter their entire reindeer herd which was before the European Court of Human Rights.  Reindeer herding was often considered an indigenous occupation, but rules varied across Scandinavian countries.  Could the delegation please elaborate? 

It was undeniable that the Sámi people were the first inhabitants of the lands of Finland and their surroundings.  However, current legislation did not recognize the rights of Sámi people to their lands, as seen with the reindeer herding case.  Indigenous peoples had the right to use their lands and their natural resources. 

An Expert noted the difficulties in languages that meant that some Roma children could not attend school, as teaching in Romany language was not always available.  Although Finland had made good progress in that area, there was still work to be done.  Finland was a rich country: could it take socio-economic measures to ensure that all Roma children could attend school?  The Committee on the Rights of the Child reported several violations in that area. 

An Expert spoke about the dangers of the use of the Internet for young people, particularly regarding cyber crime and hate speech on the Internet and also racist computer games.  Had there been any outbursts of violence or racial hatred emulating from young people, which would be very alarming.  The Expert recalled the recent tragic event in a country close to Finland – Norway – of that nature that alarmed the entire world.  Hate speech on the Internet was like an iceberg: only 10 per cent floated above the water, and one could not be sure what was there: it could have a serious and deadly effect and the Committee was glad to know that State authorities were seized with the problem.  However, the State party could probably do more in terms of vigilance.  It would only be too easy for one lunatic to disturb the peace of society, and the Committee hoped that would not happen. 

An Expert spoke about issues relating to terminology.  She said there seemed to no longer be any black people in Europe, only ‘migrants, asylum seekers, ethnic minorities and so on’.  The colour-blindness was alarming, although it was partially understandable.  However, it probably hindered protection of the rights of ‘non Europeans’, particularly African migrants.  It also raised the question of self-definition: who defined the question of skin colour?  Many people chose to define themselves as black.  People were increasingly becoming shy of using the concept of race, or blackness.  The Expert asked why racist crime was not legally defined.  She also referred to the notion of ‘ethnic agitation’ which had become a euphemism to make the crime more palatable for the perpetrators rather than the victims of racism.  The purpose was not to make it easy for the perpetrators, but to protect the rights of victims. 

Another Expert agreed that the disappearance of the term ‘race’ was concerning.  People were becoming so concerned with political correctness that they sometimes lost sight of the original issue, he said, although that was a general issue for the Committee to discuss another time.  The Expert agreed that Finland’s progress was commendable and wondered if the deadline for its next report of two years should be waived in order for it to return to the Committee after a longer period.  The Expert also expressed concern about the term ‘ethnic agitation’ which looked as if a minority was causing agitation in order to gain their rights from the Fins. 

Response from the Delegation

A delegate began by providing the Committee with a little background on the Sámi indigenous people in Finland.  Twenty years ago Sámi representatives started demanding stronger land use rights and autonomy for the Sámi people.  Since then the Government had endeavoured to meet their demands.  However, there was a major difference between the settlement patterns of northern Finland to that of Lapland, Sweden and Norway.  In Finland new settlers arrived during the nineteenth century side by side with the Sámi people, working as fishermen, miners, farmers etcetera.  When the borders were drawn up between Finland, Norway and Sweden the traditional type of nomad reindeer herding stopped, and in Finland those areas were divided between reindeer herding owners and cooperatives, so each had their own land area to conduct reindeer herding.  Some Sámi people started farming the land, but 97 per cent of the northern part of Finland was registered to the State and on that land the reindeer herders acted together – those with Sámi origin and those with Finnish origin.  There was no monopoly held by the Sámi people, as most cooperatives consisted of a mixture of Sámi and Fins.  That was why a simple solution as seen in Norway and Sweden, where reindeer herding was a monopoly of the Sámi people, was not possible to apply in Finland. 

The National Action Plan on Human Rights included two important projects for the Sámi, particularly on strengthening their right to be a part of decision making and to be a stakeholder in land decisions.  In addition the Government had indicated its intention to ratify International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 during its term in office.  A delegate, who represented the Sámi people, spoke about negotiations for an ongoing Sámi Parliament, which were scheduled to last for five years, and were ongoing in conjunction with Finland’s Nordic neighbours.  In August 2012 the Ministry of Justice set up a working group to revise the Act on the Sámi Parliament and to prepare necessary proposals.  The term of the working group started last week and would continue to the end of May 2013.  Half of the working group members represented the Sámi Parliament. 

Sámi were defined in section three of the Act on the Sámi Parliament, for the purpose of standing for election to the Sámi Parliament.  The question of who fulfilled the criteria of being a Sámi was decided by the Supreme Administrative Court and the Board of the Sámi Parliament.  In those judgements the court paid attention not only to the language criterion but, more than in past rulings, also to the self-identification of the applicants. 

In schools the Sámi language was used as a mother tongue, or taught as a main language or as an additional language.  There were no obstacles to a child being educated in the Sámi language within the Sámi homeland.  However a large number of children lived outside the Sámi homeland, where instruction in the mother tongue was based on the availability of teachers who could teach in one of the three Sámi languages: North Sámi, Inari Sámi or Skolt Sámi.  North Sámi was the most commonly used Sámi language in Norway, Sweden and Finland, with some 2,000 speakers in Finland.  About 70 per cent of Sámi speaking children lived outside the homeland, mainly in the Helsinki areas, Rovaniemi and Oulu.

There had been a significant increase in instruction in Sámi as a mother tongue.  A working group had submitted a proposal for the revitalization of the Sámi mother tongue programme.  To meet the challenges concerning the right to Sámi language outside the homeland area there were three main programmes: reducing the minimum number of Sámi pupils requiring instruction in Sámi as a mother tongue from four to two children per school, a level required in order for a school to receive State funding; training teachers to teach in the Sámi language; and a proposal for a law to guarantee Sámi the right to be taught in their mother tongue anywhere in Finland.

The situation of the Roma in Finland had not always been as good as it was today.  For over 50 years a Government Advisory Body that incorporated representatives of the Roma and Roma non-governmental organizations had been in operation, and had step-by-step improved services for the Roma in different areas, from housing to education.  Challenges remained, however, specifically in the employment sector, and special measures may be needed for Roma or for Sámis. 

In 19 years Roma families’ attitudes towards education of their children and the education system had changed for the better.  An increasing number of Roma pupils completed their basic education today.  Nevertheless, too many still failed to gain their basic education certificate or did not seek further education, at least immediately upon leaving comprehensive school.  The results of a recent review undertaken from 2010 to 2011 of 862 Roma pupils in 329 comprehensive schools and their parents showed that the support linked to further education targeted specifically at Roma pupils had been beneficial.  Three out of five Roma children took part in pre-primary education which was only slightly less than the majority population.  Today 70 per cent of Roma children were doing excellently, well or satisfactorily at school, and 30 per cent of all Roma pupils were doing poorly in basic education.  The situation had however improved considerably compared to 2000 figures, when only 10 per cent of pupils were doing well.  The message of both principals and Roma parents was clear: cooperation between home and school worked.  Today 94 per cent of school principals considered the level of cooperation very good, good or at least satisfactory.  Similarly Roma parents and carers almost unreservedly valued cooperation with teachers and other school staff.  It was no exaggeration to say the successful cooperation was a breakthrough in the history of Roma schooling.

Concerning the housing situation of the Roma, a delegate spoke about the impact that the National Policy of Roma had had on Roma people.   A study published by the Ministry of the Environment in April 2012 found that the housing problems were based on many structural factors and poor socio-economic status.  Often the general population did not know or understand the cultural features of the Roma people while the Roma were not always familiar with the rules and procedures concerning the selection of residents to social housing and living in rental properties.  Consequently good practices had been disseminated through ongoing guidance for the housing authorities as well as regional seminars organized for housing authorities and the community forums.  In 2011 the Ministry for Foreign Affairs published a handbook on European policy towards Roma which aimed to promote Finnish policies to influence international policies towards Roma. 

The structure of the national anti-discrimination legislation covered the following grounds of discrimination: age, ethnic or national origin, nationality, language, religion, belief, opinion, health, disability, sexual orientation or other personal characteristics.  The prohibition of discrimination based on gender was covered by the provisions of the Act on Equality between Women and Men.  The scope of the Non-Discrimination Act did cover restaurants and other services, a delegate confirmed.  The Act also covered houses and apartments that were advertised for rent by public or private actors.  The exception was if an individual privately rented an apartment to a family member or friend without advertising it or making the transaction public, which was considered a private act outside the scope of the act. 

Avenues of redress for victims of discrimination were quite numerous, and victims of ethnic discrimination had access to a comprehensive but by no means overlapping array of complaints mechanisms.  The Ministry of Justice was currently reviewing the non-discrimination legislation to take into account European legislative developments.  The Non-Discrimination Act and the Equality Act would remain two separate Acts.

Racial profiling was not used by the Finnish police force.  However the police had an obligation to prevent illegal entry into the country.  The police focused on certain areas of law enforcement during certain weeks, for instance traffic surveillance or surveillance of illegal entry into the country.  The latter was based on data which, for example, may indicate that large numbers of illegal immigrants had been encountered in one particular area.  The Government was looking at how measures to prevent illegal entry into the country could be further clarified.  Measures to prevent the perception that the police handled people from ethnic minorities in a less favourable manner were ongoing and included media campaigns.  Further, tolerance and multicultural awareness were taught in police-training courses, and representatives of minority groups were recruited as often as possible as course trainers. 

In answer to an enquiry about whether there had been any other school shootings since the two mentioned in Kauhajoki (2008) and Tuusula (2007), a delegate said there had not been any other school shootings and the Government had taken serious measures to ensure that. 

There were currently no large neo-Nazi groups functioning, just some very small groups or individuals that were monitored by the Government and were not active in neo-Nazi activities.  In June 2012 an action plan to prevent violent extremism was published. 

Regarding hate speech on the Internet a delegate said the police were being trained on how to record and take into account hatred motives in criminal investigations and internal instructions were drawing attention to that issue.  The police continued to work to identify hate crimes and improve their criminal investigations; they had applied a low threshold for intervening in suspected hate crimes, racism and forms of intolerance in general and for receiving complaints or reports from the public.  The police took part in various international seminars, training courses and projects, and were given guidebooks. 

The June 2011 amendments to the Criminal Code concerning criminalization of ethnic agitation held that a person who publicized, spread among the public or kept for public use racist content could be liable by law to sentencing of a maximum of two years imprisonment.  The Office of the Prosecutor General collected data on hate crimes annually, classified as ethnic agitation, forms of work discrimination or extortion at work discrimination.  In 2011, 29 cases were prosecuted.  In 2011 the total number of cases in which perpetrators were convicted was 12. 

Turning to asylum seekers, a delegate reaffirmed that, under the Aliens Act, a detained alien must, as soon as possible, be placed in a detention unit.  Today Finland had one detention unit for aliens, located in connection with the Metsala reception centre in Helsinki with a 40-person capacity.  There was a need to either expand that detention centre or build a new one, but that had not yet been realized due to a lack of finances.  In 2011 the detention unit registered 460 new clients.  About 88 per cent of them were men, and of the total number of clients 17 were minors and four were unaccompanied minors.  The average time of detention of a person was 31 days; the longest period of detention was 150 days, the shortest being less than one day.  Although the decision on detention made by the authorities or a District Court was not subject to appeal, the person held in detention may make a complaint about that decision, without deadlines.  Special concern was given to the children of asylum seekers, and the new Government Programme said that children should not be taken into custody and had every right to attend school.  Proposed amendments to the Aliens Act would add that detention of unaccompanied children would be prohibited, and they would be submitted to Parliament in Autumn 2012. 

Speaking about racism experienced by some immigrant groups, a delegate spoke about representatives of Somali immigrants who had complained that they had faced discrimination over their skin colour, religion and nationality.  In response a group consisting of Government officials, members of the Somali community and non-governmental organizations was formed to examine the complaints and prepare a report on the discrimination suffered by Somali immigrants in Finland. 

There were estimated to be around 10,000 Muslims in Finland.  The oldest Muslim community in the country were the Tartars, a group of some 800 individuals originally from Turkey, who settled there over 140 years ago.  That group was highly educated, more so than the majority of Finns, and had been able to maintain its culture and language.  The Islamic Council of Finland launched in 2006 projects to improve understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims in Finland and raise awareness of cultural aspects.  The Council also worked to prevent Islamic extremists from operating in Finland. 

Discrimination against Russian speakers in the workplace had been referred to, and a report was recently launched to tackle that, a delegate said.  In general, a principal measure to prevent discrimination in the workplace was circulation of a publication called ‘Success from Diversity’ among both public and private employers, among other measures to ameliorate the situation of minorities in the employment sphere. 

Regarding the participation of non-governmental organizations in the drafting process of reports to United Nations treaty bodies, a delegate said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the coordinating body for that task and would send out initial draft reports to the most prominent non-governmental organizations.  The views of the non-governmental organizations would then be incorporated into a final version of the report, while other civil society organizations were also given opportunity for input. 

Finland did have a dualist system in terms of international conventions.  Although there were always discussions – usually by academics at universities – about the status of conventions, the human rights conventions themselves were embedded in national law.  

In response to the Experts’ questions on terminology, the definition of race, and the significance of the lack of use of the word race, a delegate said the Criminal Code still contained the word ‘race’ but other domestic legislation did not.  The terminology was discussed during the draft Constitution and the term ‘race’ was excluded because it was found unscientific.  However, the use of terminology was unsystematic given the inclusion of ‘race’ in the Criminal Code. 

Bullying in schools had significantly decreased mainly thanks to the KiVa Programme which began five years ago and today had the participation of 90 per cent of Finland’s schools.  KiVa had since become a permanent part of school policy, and provided a wide range of tools for pupils, teachers, parents and schools, for example an anti-bullying computer game aimed at children.  There was not yet any effective evaluation of effects of KiVa among Roma children who suffered from bullying. 

Concluding Remarks

CARLOS MANUEL VAZQUEZ, Committee Member acting as Country Rapporteur for the Report of Finland, commended the State party on its many initiatives and plans which were very valuable and too numerous to mention.  The Rapporteur particularly welcomed the pledge to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169, contemplated amendments to the Aliens Act, to the Non-Discrimination Act, efforts to address the land rights of the Sámi, and the examination of police internal guidelines.  The issue of the definition of the Sámi and clarification of self-identification and self-determination of indigenous groups still needed to be addressed. 

ARTO KOSONEN, Director and Legal Counsellor of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, thanked the Committee for their very constructive guidance on the common fight to end racism and implement the Convention.  Groups including municipal authorities and non-governmental organizations were involved in that but overall responsibility for implementation of the Convention fell on the Government.  Mr. Kosonen said he hoped that the next time Finland came before the Committee – probably in two years – they would have further consolidated legislation and fulfilled the Committee’s recommendations, as well as made progress in tasks such as developing policy towards the Roma. 

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