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COMMITTEE AGAINST TORTURE CONSIDERS REPORT OF FINLAND

10 November 2016

The Committee against Torture completed this afternoon its consideration of the seventh periodic report of Finland on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture.

Krista Oinonen, Director of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, presenting the report, stressed that the prohibition of torture was absolute and comprehensive, and it applied to both civil and criminal matters.  In 2015, the number of asylum seekers had increased considerably in Finland: 32,000 persons had applied for asylum, as compared to 3,600 in 2014.  Despite such a steep increase, Finland had shown solidarity.  The maximum period permitted as a rule for remand would be shortened from the current 30 days to seven days; only exceptionally could prisoners be held for longer periods.  In April 2016, Finland had adopted a national action plan for the prevention of violent radicalization and extremism.  The funding for shelters for victims had gradually increased, and a 24/7 helpline would be operative later in the year.  The first national plan against trafficking in human beings for 2016-2017 had been adopted.  The National Institute for Health and Welfare had launched a pilot project for crisis centres for victims of sexual violence.

In the discussion which followed, Committee Members asked about the detention and treatment of migrants and asylum seekers, including children migrants, especially in the context of the Europe-wide migration crisis.  Questions were raised about the functioning of the national preventive mechanism, implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, juvenile prisoners, access to health care in prisons, and audio and video recordings of interrogations.  Other issues brought up by Committee Members included violence against women, alternatives to detention, use of electroshocks and restraint techniques, human rights training programmes, and intersex children and provisions for the legal change of gender.   Experts inquired about the transfer of remand prisoners from police stations to prisons, treatment of those apprehended for intoxication, and deaths in custody.

Ms. Oinonen, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for asking many pertinent questions.  The dialogue was very constructive and vivid.  The delegation acknowledged that there were still some questions which had not been replied to, and said Finland would provide some statistics subsequently. 

The delegation of Finland included representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 11 November at 10 a.m. to start considering the sixth periodic report of Monaco (CAT/C/MCO/6).



Report

The seventh periodic report of Finland (CAT/C/FIN/7) can be read here.


Presentation of the Report

KRISTA OIONEN, Director, Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, informed that the prohibition of the use of evidence obtained through torture had taken effect on 1 January 2016.  The prohibition was absolute and comprehensive, and it applied to both civil and criminal matters.  In 2015, the number of asylum seekers had increased considerably in Finland: 32,000 persons had applied for asylum, as compared to 3,600 in 2014.  Despite such a steep increase, Finland had shown solidarity within the European Union by receiving hundreds of asylum seekers from Greece and Italy, within the relocation scheme.  A registration centre had been opened in the town of Tornio near the Swedish border, in order to be able to register all asylum seekers in this exceptional situation.  Ms. Oionen stated that in 2016 a nation-wide project had been launched to develop the mental health measures provided to refugees.  Social and health professionals working in reception centres for asylum seekers had been trained to identify mental health problems and to give first aid to persons in need.  In autumn 2016, the Government had submitted a legislative proposal presenting a new interim measure alternative to detention – an obligation of an alien to stay in a particular reception centre, which meant that an alien applying for international protection might be obliged to stay in a designated centre and report to the centre from one to four times a day, if it was indispensable for establishing whether the person met the requirements for entering the country or staying there.  For children, staying in such centres was an alternative to detaining the child, and had the best interest of children in mind. 

Currently, the only alternative to remand was an ordinary travel ban, which was seldom used.  The Government had prepared a proposal to introduce two new alternatives – intensified travel ban before sentencing, and electronic monitoring obliging the suspects to remain in their dwelling, or another place suitable for living.  The Government was pleased to inform that it had prepared a proposal to reduce the holding of remand prisoners in police facilities.  A remand prisoner would be placed in prison immediately after the court’s decision on remand.  The maximum period permitted as a rule for remand would be shortened from the current 30 days to seven days; only exceptionally could prisoners be held for longer periods.  Currently, however, there were no sufficient facilities for accommodating all remand prisoners – some 80 persons per day.  Since January 2016, the responsibility for prisoners’ health care had been under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.  The rationale was to make prisoner health care a more integral part of other health care, and bring it under the same supervision. 

In April 2016, Finland had adopted a national action plan for the prevention of violent radicalization and extremism.  There were no plans to amend the Criminal Code in respect to extremist movements or hate speech, but the need to amend the Assembly Act was being currently assessed.  The Parliament was considering a Government proposal to criminalise travelling for the purpose of committing a terrorist offence.  In May 2016, Finland had signed the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism.  The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence had entered into force in August 2015, informed Ms. Oionen.  The funding for shelters for victims had gradually increased, and a 24/7 helpline would be operative later in the year.  The first national plan against trafficking in human beings for 2016-2017 had been adopted.  It aimed at guaranteeing high-quality and comprehensive shelter services all over the country.  The National Institute for Health and Welfare had launched a pilot project for crisis centres for victims of sexual violence.  Its measures included developing the coordination of and national cooperation on anti-trafficking activities and improving the outreach work to find victims of trafficking, the identification of victims and the assistance provided to them.    


Questions by Experts

ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Finland, noted that in the reporting period Finland had ratified a number of international conventions and optional protocols.  The State party had also adopted various pertinent pieces of domestic legislation, including action plans against domestic violence and the prevention of circumcision of women and girls.  A new criminal investigative act and a new police act had entered into force in the said period as well, which were all positive developments.

The Expert asked whether the rights listed in the Convention were invoked in national courts, and whether examples could be provided.  Did the State party plan to amend its legislation to ensure that acts amounting to torture were not subject to the statute of limitation?

A remand prisoner had the right to inform his family or a third party of his situation, said Ms. Racu.  Lack of such notification was highly exceptional and should be limited to short-term remand.  Those who did not speak Finnish appeared to be at a particular disadvantage, sometimes they could not inform their family for several days.  The Committee was concerned that the notification of arrest with delay was still widespread in Finland. 

Information had been received that access to health care in police custody remained problematic.  The lack of routine medical screening on arrival to police custody had resulted in serious medical conditions going undetected and, even, possibly, in deaths, said the Expert.  What steps had been taken by the authorities to improve access to medical care for the persons kept in police remand prisons, and what steps had been made to ensure that all newly-arrived detainees were medically screened within 24 hours of their arrival by a doctor or a qualified nurse?

On the issue of audio and video recording, the Expert wanted to hear about the standardization of those techniques used for recording investigations.  Was it still a common practice that hearings were audio and video recorded at the discretion of the lead investigator?  Were hearing rooms for juveniles fully equipped?

A question was asked on complaints on police actions, and the delegation was requested to provide full statistics.  Could more details be provided on the use of force by the police, including restraint beds?  How about administrative investigations and disciplinary proceedings against police officers during the reporting period?

Turning to the issue of violence against women, the Expert said that the national action plan and the key provisions of the Istanbul Convention were reportedly not fully implemented.  Could more detailed information be given in that regard?  Every third woman in Finland reportedly suffered violence from her intimate partner during her lifetime.  The country should have at least 500 shelter places, while Finland currently had about 120.  It was estimated that annually more than 5,500 women suffered from sexual violence, for whom there seemed to be a very poor support network.  How many centres were fully functional to provide support for victims of domestic violence?

Questions were raised about the Alien Act.  Applicants for asylum used to be allowed to choose their own counsel, but not anymore.  The risk that victims of torture were not recognized and that evidence of torture was not taken into account in the asylum procedure had increased significantly, said the Expert.  Was the provision on the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman monitoring any deportation operations already in force?  Access to legal aid and medical care were not always guaranteed to all asylum seekers.

What steps were being taken to ensure that victims of torture among asylum seekers were effectively identified and treated accordingly?  The Committee would also like to hear about the capacity of the Joutseno Reception Centre. 

The Expert noted the positive changes in reducing the maximum length of solitary confinement from 14 to 10 days.  More information was asked on the conditions in the Pasila Police Prison.  What were extra-regime activities for remand prisoners?  What steps were being taken in the direction of securing that prisoners enjoyed a regime of activities?

SAPANA PRADHAN MALLA, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Finland, asked for details on training provided for security agents on human rights and detection of torture and ill-treatment.  Information was requested on the extent of the training, targets and the number of participants.  How about the Criminal Sanctions Training Centre?

The Committee was concerned about the lack of separation of tasks between the Ombudsman’s office and the national prevention mechanism activities.  Did the mechanism have a comprehensive strategy preventing reprisals?

Questions were raised about the duration of remand custody and on whether anything was being done to reform the law or practices. 

Were intoxicated persons taken to a detoxification centre or to the police, asked the Expert?  Did the police still use electroshock devices, and, if so, could the purpose and uses be specified?

Information was sought on the number of deaths of persons in police custody and if such deaths had led to investigations, prosecutions or sentences.

The delegation was asked to elaborate on measures taken to address the issue of reported overcrowded immigration detention facilities and to correct the lack of comprehensive statistical data on immigration detention.  Could a person deprived of liberty submit a request for a review of the detention decision?

Several questions were raised about the detention and treatment of mental patients.

There were 26 prisons in Finland – 15 closed and 11 open institutions.  Was that due to the decrease of crime or having an alternative prison system?

Ms. Pradhan Malla also wanted to know about mechanisms in place to ensure that all victims of torture in Finland had access to necessary treatment rehabilitation, including reparations as expected under international standards.

Did courts decide on a case-to-case basis on whether evidence obtained through torture was admissible?

On the issue of human trafficking, the Expert asked about sentences in such cases and reparations provided to the survivors.  A reflection period for victims of human trafficking in accordance with the Alien Act could be granted by the police or border guard officials to those without a residence permit.  It should be given to all victims of trafficking, despite their migration status; police and border guard officers should be issued with clear instructions in that regard.

The issue of transgender persons was also brought up by the Expert.  A high number of such persons had self-harmed themselves.  What was the State party doing in that regard?  What steps were being taken on necessary legislative, administrative and other measures to guarantee respect for the autonomy and self-determination, as well as physical and psychological integrity of transgender persons?  What initiatives had the Government undertaken to stop unnecessary surgeries and review the treatment practices of intersex children?  

Another Expert noted that the gravity of the crime of torture itself should be at the basis of the determination of the penalty.  An aggravated crime of torture should not be exempt from life imprisonment.

On the conditions of detention, a question was asked about the high number of cells without toilets.  What progress had been made towards the improvement of hygienic facilities?  A question was also raised on the conditions in cells for holding remand prisoners, which were described as “completely inadequate”. 

An Expert said that depriving individuals of liberty in police centres for longer periods was not acceptable; there ought to be various legal guarantees in place for such cases.  It was disproportionately affecting foreigners.  Staff in detention centres needed training, stressed the Expert.  How about high-security facilities – what were the conditions there?

Persons between 15 and 17 could be detained for up to 72 hours, which could be extended by a further 72 hours under exceptional circumstances.  Were those provisions still in place or had they been changed, she inquired. 

In psychiatric facilities, some individuals were not listened to, and sometimes for an extended period of time.  Were there intentions to reform the existing provisions?

It seemed that the phenomenon of sexual violence against vulnerable women – women migrants, Roma women and those with disabilities, for example – was significant.  The delegation was asked to comment. 

Another Expert asked about training of public officials, such as police officers, who came into contact with persons deprived of liberty.  How was such training assessed?  The delegation was asked to inform about steps to implement such training and education programmes, and whether they had had any effect in decreasing the number of cases of torture and ill-treatment.

The issue of the time limits to bring up charges of torture was raised by an Expert, who stressed that the crime of torture could not be subject to a statute of limitations.  Those who perpetrated crimes of torture had to be prosecuted even if they were not nationals of the State party.  It would be welcome if Finland revised its Criminal Code in that regard.

Turning to asylum seekers, the Expert asked about the number of individuals returned to their countries of origin or third countries.  What measures were taken to ensure the principle of non-refoulement was respected?  Finland’s efforts vis-à-vis Syrian refugees were praiseworthy, said the Expert.  There was nothing worse for refugees than excessive administrative procedures, he said, and applauded the efforts by the State party to make them more efficient.  How about diplomatic assurances, including those provided by Afghanistan?  Did a true right to appeal exist in practice?

A question was asked about the lack of statistics on the number of aliens placed in police detention, which was rather surprising.  What alternatives were considered to police detention, and which measures were taken to separate minors from adults?

The practice of transporting prisoners in handcuffs should be allowed only in most serious cases rather than widely used.  The delegation was asked to provide information on the length of time individuals were kept restrained.  What measures were being taken to implement the national preventive mechanism’s recommendations in that regard?

Statistics were requested on forced sterilizations, and the delegation was asked about steps taken to put an end to such an inhuman and degrading practice.

An Expert noted that around 30 per cent of refugees, on average, had been subjected to torture, which was why it was important to identify them at an early stage and provide them with necessary protection.  The PALOMA Project was thus very important, and further details were requested on it.

Medical doctors in the system ought to be trained to identify torture victims, stressed the Expert.  How was that ensured in practice and how many doctors were actually put in place to tend to the needs of Finland’s prison population?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation said that the period since the submission of the last report was unprecedented, with a high influx of migrants to Finland.  The timing of the dialogue was crucial.  Finland collected statistics in line with the Personal Data Act.  Personal data was considered to be sensitive if relating to ethnic origin, and the delegation could not provide statistics on ethnic groups.

Public powers could only be exercised by public authorities, said the delegation.  Anyone who had sustained damage or a loss of rights due to the actions of public officials would have the right to reparation, and the official would be held liable for damages. 

The Istanbul Convention had entered into force recently, and Finland was about to establish a non-stop helpline for victims of domestic violence.  Funds had been allocated for shelters with 118 places, which was admittedly insufficient.  Shelters were cost-free for users.  A pilot centre for the victims of violence with all services that victims needed would start operating soon.  Violence against women was one of the six priority areas of the Gender Equality Plan adopted in May 2016.  The goal was to create a unified treatment chain for victims of domestic and sexual violence, which would include medical, physical, mental and legal support.  The treatment chain covered both public and third party services.  Violence was taken into account when assessing the need for social welfare support, explained the delegation.  A coordination mechanism – a permanent committee – would be established under the Ministry of Social Welfare and Health.  In the healthcare sector, particular attention was paid to early identification of domestic violence and intervening in a timely manner.  Medical examinations reached wide parts of the population.

Paediatric endocrinologists were increasingly avoiding corrective surgeries of intersex children.  Workers in medical facilities were trying to dismantle the existing rigid gender norms.  Discussing and reflecting on the topic with the family or the child were also regularly applied.  Legislation strictly prohibited discrimination on gender orientation and identity, and those who had undergone gender reassignment were not discriminated against.  The victim of discrimination could plead his or her case in front of a court if needed. 

The Ministry of Justice had prepared a proposal on alternatives to remand and imprisonment, including a travel ban.  At the moment, the only alternative was an ordinary travel ban, informed a delegate.  An intensified travel ban could be introduced if necessary, including before sentencing the suspect.  Electronic monitoring could also be imposed as an alternative to remand and imprisonment.  There could be prohibitions to go to certain places and/or contact certain persons, such as other convicts, suspects or victims.  The sentence needed to be less than two years of imprisonment for an alternative measure to be applied.  The number of remand prisoners in 2015 had been around 700. 

The main principle on remand prisoners was to place them into prison directly after the court’s decision in that regard.  There were not enough places in prisons for all 80 remand prisoners every day.  One of the ways to deal with that challenge was to shorten the time that remand prisoners were kept in police facilities, from 30 to seven days.  Remand prisoners could be placed in facilities only when necessary – when they needed to be separated from others, for safety reasons, or when required by the investigation of the crime.  In all those cases, the maximum duration would be seven days. 

According to the Act of Imprisonment, persons under 18 had to be kept separate from adult prisoners, unless required otherwise by their best interests.  The daily average of minor prisoners had stood at eight in 2015.  Due to the small number, it had been difficult to keep them totally separate from adult prisoners.  The priority was to keep minor inmates close to their families.   New guidelines on minors in prisons were being currently prepared, which aimed to take into better account the minor prisoners’ needs for education, rehabilitation and social reintegration.

Regarding prison facilities, the delegation said that as of now there were 118 cells without toilet facilities; 73 of them in the Helsinki prison and 45 in the Hamelin prison.  Renovations in the Helsinki prison should be completed at the beginning of 2017.   The Hamelin prison would be completely renovated by 2019; at that point the last cell without a toilet would be put out of use in the country. 

Protection of privacy needed to be ensured when inmates were speaking to their lawyers.  Surveillance equipment in prisons did not extend to toilets, said a delegate.

Intoxicated persons were not kept in police facilities, but elsewhere, clarified the delegation.  Lately, there had been discussions in Finland on where such persons should be placed, but no concrete actions had been undertaken yet.  The National Police Board had instructed local police districts to analyse all cases in which electric shock devices were used; data was being collected and an analysis would be subsequently prepared.

The Government was currently drafting the second National Plan on Human and Fundamental Rights, with very concrete projects and measurable indicators.  All concluding observations by United Nations treaty bodies and Council of Europe bodies had been taken into consideration when drafting the policy.    

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation informed that the Convention was very well integrated into Finland’s national legislation.  Finland had a dualistic system, and the approval of any international treaty produced effects of international law, which then had to be enforced internally.  Finland was very thorough in ensuring that the domestic legislation was in line with the country’s international human rights obligations.  In addition, courts exercised the so-called human rights friendly interpretation in their dealings.  In recent years, there had been several decisions in which courts had referred to the Convention against Torture. 

With regard to the training provided, the delegation said that an extensive study by the Human Rights Centre, which was referred to in the report, included a lot of details.

The Parliamentary Ombdusman was the best suited to be the national preventive mechanism.  It enjoyed the budgetary autonomy of the Parliament.  Budget proposals were not a subject of negotiations with the Government.  The Government had thus no opportunity to affect the budget of the Ombudsman’s office.

Finland was very much committed to the principle of non-refoulement.  The so-called country guidelines were not equivalent to defining countries as safe or unsafe.  No negative decisions were made solely on the basis on the information on the country of origin; personal circumstances were also taken into consideration.  Even if the Dublin Regulations applied or if the applicant came from a safe third country, he was still interviewed in Finland.  No country was automatically considered to be safe.

As for the victims of human trafficking, assessment was always conducted on whether they could receive relevant treatment in the country of origin.  Investigations into cases of asylum seekers followed European legal principles.  An applicant always had the right to appeal to the Administrative Court or the Supreme Administrative Court.  Since July 2015, the applicant had seven days to apply for an enforcement ban, explained a delegate.  All asylum applicants were interviewed personally by Finnish experts; recognizing victims of torture and human trafficking was part of the training for those officials.  It was said that amendments on humanitarian protection and family reunification had come into force this year.

On the issue of detention, a delegate said that minors over 15 could be detained, but that was used very rarely.  No unaccompanied minors had been detained in 2016; in 2015, there had been 11 such cases.  A child’s best interests had to be taken into consideration, and its views heard, whenever decisions affecting the child were made.  Detention measures for minors were put in place exceptionally and only when there was a clear plan of repatriating them.  Families were placed in special family sections.  No schooling opportunities were provided because the rationale was to send them back as soon as possible.  Detention of entire families and vulnerable groups was used only as a final resort and was very rare.

Placing persons in police facilities was avoided and could be used only if all detention facilities were full or too far away geographically.  Increasing capacity in detention units helped in that regard.  Detained migrants could be transferred to police facilities only for safety reasons and under very strict rules, after all the circumstances had been looked into.  Legal remedies were available through local courts, which had to be notified of the transfer decision.  The detained person always had to be informed about his rights and was entitled to legal aid. 

Speaking about the general conditions of detention facilities, Finland was ready to expand facilities if the existing ones proved to be insufficient.  Doctors and nurses were available on a regular basis, and also urgently when needed.  The use of force was avoided whenever possible, and restricted to persons who had special training in that regard.  The Immigration Service performed monitoring functions and ensured that the conditions in reception and detention centres were satisfactory.  Staff in those centres had been trained to provide emergency psychological care.  Furthermore, in all reception centres, staff were also trained in social work.

The Ministry of the Interior had launched a public consultation process on the assistance system to the victims of human trafficking.  Even victims who might be removed from the country according to the Dublin Regulations would be assisted.  The victims were provided with a reflection period.  Instructions had been issued to border servicemen vis-à-vis female genital mutilation.

On the issue of appeal procedures for asylum seekers, the delegation said that those could be heard at the Helsinki Administrative Court and the Supreme Administrative Court.  The courts prioritized consideration of asylum appeals.  The length of proceedings was one factor which contributed to the legal protection of asylum seekers; and it was down to around four months in 2016.  Asylum seekers had the right to get legal aid during the entire proceedings. 

There were 26 prisons in Finland at the moment, 11 of which were open, clarified the delegation.  The current funding was sufficient to cover expenses of all existing prisons.  Prisoners’ immediate freedom could be restricted by using handcuffs when they were being transported and there were risks of them fleeing.  Decisions on using those restrictions were made on a case-to-case basis, which was sometimes difficult because of the high number of transported prisoners. 

There were some 240 female prisoners in Finland in November 2016.  They were housed separately from male prisoners; in seven prisons females had their separate units, while there was one prison fully dedicated to females.  Female prisoners’ needs were assessed regularly; the needs of female Roma prisoners were also assessed separately.  Rehabilitation programmes were available for all female prisoners.

The delegation said that the prohibition of the use of evidence received through torture did not cover evidence received through other forms of ill-treatment.  The maximum penalty for torture was 12 years of imprisonment, which was a long punishment by Finnish standards. 

The statute of limitations, based on internationally adopted principles, was linked to the gravity of the crime.  For torture, the deadline to bring forward charges was within 20 years of the time the crime was committed.   The delegation understood the Committee’s point of view on that issue, which would be passed on to the Ministry of Justice.

In 2012, the European Union had issued a directive on audio and video recordings during court hearings.  In 2015, a guidance note had been issued to police districts across Finland. Investigations into some minor crimes did not require recordings. 

Around 800 to 900 reports on the excessive use of force by the police were submitted every year.  The definition of the excessive use of force was very wide, and it included verbal insults.  The person in question needed to feel that the use of force was excessive.  There was a national system in place for monitoring the use of force by the police.  Lack of notifications to family members after arrest was highly exceptional and was limited to very short-term apprehensions, said the delegation.  The arrested person had the right to notify his or her counsel in all cases.  A crime suspect who was arrested needed to be informed of his right to a counsel without delay; foreign nationals needed to be informed, in as far as possible, in writing in a language the party in question understood.

The delegation said that the number of asylum seekers in Finland had grown rapidly, which was why new reception centres had been constructed.  There was a law in place stipulating private security services, the focus of which was mostly on objects rather than persons.  After training, private security persons could assist the police in guarding reception centres.  It was concluded that that practice was not problematic or in contradiction with the Constitution. 

The Mental Health Act had been revised following the European Court of Human Rights decision on the case X v Finland.  The patient had to be given a possibility to obtain an assessment and statement on the need for treatment from an independent physician.  Possible alternative forms of treatment needed to be presented to the involuntarily held patient.  If the patient refused a certain treatment or measure, he had to be cared for, as far as possible, in another medically acceptable way in mutual understanding.   Conditions for treatment given irrespective of the will of the patient were included in the Mental Health Act.  The so-called chemical restriction was not allowed in Finland, and those interventions were typically used in urgent situations.  The delegation added that the National Action Plan for Mental Health and Substance Abuse Work had included a programme to reduce the use of coercive measures in psychiatric hospital treatment.  Preparations were currently underway for a comprehensive reform of the Mental Health Act.

The City of Tampere Psychiatric Clinic for immigrants was operating within the municipal health service and was publicly funded, with the support from the Slot Machine Association (RAY).  The long tradition of Government collaboration with social and health non-governmental organizations was typical of the Finnish society.   RAY funding was always discretionary, and the necessary continuity of such funding was guaranteed by those measures. 

Finland had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and amendments had been subsequently made to relevant domestic legislation.  Provisions had been added for the use of restrictive measures and on what to do once restrictive measures had ceased. 

From March 2017 onwards, for the gender of a person to be legally recognized, it would no longer be necessary for the person to present a medical statement.  There were two hospitals in Finland familiar with the treatment of transgender persons where they would be given the comprehensive treatment they required.  About 75 per cent of transgender persons seeking treatment were given a diagnosis.  In 2015, 105 transgender persons had had their gender legally recognized; in 2016, that number currently stood at 120. 

Regarding violence against minority women, the delegation said that a national action plan included measures for vulnerable population groups.  Particular support was provided to Roma women, who could not frequently rely on the next of kin.  The National Institute for Health and Welfare had carried out a project of support to Roma women in shelters in 2014-2015.

The National Action Plan to reduce corporal punishment of children had ended in 2015.  A child victim study recently carried out by the Police Academy indicated a steady decline in the violence experienced by children.  Since 2008, more serious forms of violence, such as spanking, had decreased by more than half.  The number of adults who approved of corporal punishment currently stood at around 15 per cent. 

The purpose of the new Social Welfare Act was to ensure that social services were provided on the basis of need.   The national alcohol retail monopoly had run a campaign on the dangers of misuse of alcohol, especially when related to children. 

Prison health was now the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.   Medical examinations were performed upon arrival in a comprehensive way; sometimes they were slightly postponed if the new arrival was intoxicated.  Prisoners arriving after regular hours were examined in nearby medical facilities if there was an assessment that an urgent medical examination was necessary.  The majority of physicians in the prison system were psychiatrists by training.  Foreign arrivals were given a questionnaire, which was available in more than 50 languages.

Follow-up Questions by Experts

An Expert was very pleased that a large number of improvements had been made in the country.  The State party was encouraged to speed up the process of transferring responsibilities for prisoners to the Ministry of Justice.

The Committee remained concerned over the use of electroshocks and physical restraints which were degrading and painful, and their cancelation would be appreciated.  Statistics on complaints against police officers were appreciated, but specific data on complaints regarding restraints would also be appreciated.

There was concern over cases when juveniles were detained with adults and the delegation was asked when that practice would be discontinued.

The Committee regretted that Finland had introduced limitations on legal aid for asylum seekers, except for children.  Were there no statistics on the number of asylum seekers and migrants who were currently detained?  More details were asked about deportation procedures.

Another Expert asked about steps to monitor the evaluation of various training programmes and their effectiveness.

There seemed to be wide discretion given to courts to use evidence obtained unlawfully. 

The Expert voiced her concern over the statute of limitations for the crime of torture, because it could lead to impunity.

A question was asked about the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol, for which only a 12-month plan was in place.

Statistics were key to assessing progress made, and the Committee encouraged gender-segregated data. 

The delegation was asked to provide further information on the budget for the national preventive mechanism.

Were there any plans to look for alternative arrangements for intoxicated persons, other than just sending them to police facilities?   

An Expert said that the most serious stage in criminal proceedings took place at police stations, even if the detainee was held there for only 24 hours.  Any delays in having the detainees access their counsel was thus dangerous.

More information was requested on administrative detention for foreigners

The issue of universal competence introduced under the Convention was brought up by an Expert, who asked whether Finland had ever applied it.  He also asked about mutual assistance programmes and returnee schemes, which seemed to include conditionality.

The Expert also said that the support of Finland to the Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture would be welcome.

Would the State party consider providing counselling to intrasex people by those people themselves, asked another Expert?

A question was also asked about the doctor-prisoner ratio in the penitentiary system.

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation explained that the Government had taken up human rights training and education as one of the main themes in the national action plan on human rights.

The Ombudsman was independent, acted as the national preventive mechanism and had the right to decide on the working of his own office.  It was the Ombudsman’s duty to oversee the implementation of deportation.  The Ombudsman’s Office had two to three persons performing those tasks, and could provide direct feedback to the police and include it in its yearly report.   Persons who were to be deported needed to be informed of it in due time, and that should not be left to the last moment.

The next plan for the implementation of the Istanbul Protocol would probably cover a four-year period, noted the delegation.  A pilot unit for the victims of sexual violence had not started its work yet.

The comments of the Committee on intersex children would be transmitted to the Government, the delegation said.

There were currently about 130 patients per doctor in prisons.  Outside of the regular hours for prison doctors, general public health services could be provided.  It was stressed that treatment and rehabilitation centres provided comprehensive services.

The Government’s proposal on alternative detention was still in the Parliament, which was currently looking at it.  The detention of minors was very rarely, and it happened only when it was absolutely necessary.  No minor under 15 could be detained. 

The delegation stated that the principle of non-refoulement was always taken into consideration when making decisions on removal from the country.  Preconditions for the detention of aliens in general were spelled out in the Aliens Act.  Detention always had to be last resort, and the detained person had to be released as soon as possible.

The policy in Finland was to keep remand prisoners in police stations to the degree possible.

Because of the small number of minor prisoners, it was very difficult to keep them separated from adults, because that would either put them far away from their families, or amount to isolation.

Handcuffing could last for a maximum of a couple of hours, but the time was normally less than one hour.

Concluding Remarks

KRISTA OINONEN, Director of the Unit for Human Rights Courts and Conventions at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, thanked the Committee for asking many pertinent questions.  The dialogue was very constructive and vivid.  The delegation acknowledged that there were still some questions which had not been replied to, and Finland would provide some statistics subsequently.  The dialogue would help assess the extent to which the Finnish authorities had implemented the Convention.   The concluding observations would be thoroughly reviewed.



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