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HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS INITIAL REPORT OF FINLAND

HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS INITIAL REPORT OF FINLAND
12 July 2013

The Human Rights Committee today considered the sixth periodic report of Finland on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Arto Kosonen, Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland, introducing the report, said that the Government had adopted the first National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights in 2012, which focused on 67 concrete rights-based projects.  An action plan to reduce violence against women was currently being implemented.  In light of the increase in the number of hate crimes between 2010 and 2011, the Ministry of Interior had launched a campaign to combat xenophobia and racism.  Applications for asylum were assessed on an individual basis and effective remedies were available.  The Government would further expand the cultural autonomy of the Sami people and had set up a working group to prepare the revision of the act on the Sami Parliament.  The Parliament had recently approved the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention against Torture and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Committee Experts inquired about the direct applicability of the Covenant and several Experts noted that Finland’s reservations with regards to the Covenant were not relevant and should be withdrawn.  Comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was needed to address all types of discrimination.  What measures had been taken to address problems faced by migrants, especially women, and to ensure their integration in the Finnish society?  According to information received by the Committee, less than 10 per cent of rapes were reported, of which less than 20 per cent were prosecuted, what had been done to address the problem and to reduce the structural violence against women?

In closing remarks, Mr. Kosonen said the discussion had very useful to the national debate on human rights, and looked forward to the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee, which would be shared with all relevant stakeholders. 

Nigel Rodley, Chairperson of the Committee, also in concluding remarks, noted that the reservations issue had allowed for an interesting discussion.  Committee Members had found it difficult to understand the reservation on Article 10 of the Covenant.

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

The concluding observations and recommendations of the Committee on the report of Finland will be released towards the end of the session of the Committee, which concludes on Friday 26 July.

The Human Rights Committee will resume its work on Monday, 15 July, at 3 p.m., when it will consider the second periodic report of Albania (CCPR/C/ALB/2).

Report of Finland

The sixth periodic report of Finland on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights can be read here: (CCPR/C/FIN/6)

Presentation of the report

PÄIVI KAIRAMO, Permanent Representative of Finland to the United Nations Office at Geneva, presenting the report (CCPR/C/FIN/6), said that the Committee’s views on how to further improve and advance the realization of the Covenant were very important to Finland.  Finland’s delegation participating in the review included representatives of four ministries and the Permanent Mission to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as members of Parliament.

ARTO KOSONEN, Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the Finland’s national human rights institution, called the Human Rights Centre, had started its work in 2012.  The Centre was independent but administratively connected to the Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman and its annual budget was approved by Parliament.  The Centre’s task was to promote the implementation of human rights and cooperation between various actors but it could not handle complaints or deal with individual cases.  The Centre had a 40-member Human Rights Delegation, which acted as a national cooperative body for actors in the field of human rights.  The Office of the Parliamentary Ombudsman, the Human Rights Centre and its Human Rights Delegation constituted Finland’s national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. 

The Government adopted the first National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights in 2012, which focused on 67 concrete rights-based projects.  An independent external evaluation of the Action Plan would be carried out and the report thereto would be submitted to Parliament in 2014.

The reform of anti-discrimination legislation was one of the most important ongoing law projects.  The objective was to prepare legislation that took into account the European legal framework, improved legal protection for victims of discrimination and strengthened obligations to actively promote equality.  The new law would extend the scope of the current non-discrimination act, covering all public and private activities.  The draft law would be submitted to Parliament by the end of 2013, together with a draft bill concerning the reform of the gender equality act that would extend the prohibition of gender-based discrimination.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman was investigating allegations that Finnish airspace or airports could have been used for illegal transfers of persons.  The Parliamentary Ombudsman exercised independent and impartial oversight to ensure that authorities and public officials observed the law and fulfilled their duties in the discharge of their functions.  The Ombudsman was expected to conclude the investigation by the end of 2013.  The material collected did not support allegations that Finnish authorities had been in any way a party to illegal rendition flights.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs had found no evidence suggesting that aircrafts illegally transporting persons had landed at Finnish airports with the knowledge of the authorities.  However, due to the limited information available, it was not possible to exclude altogether the possibility that Finnish airports or airspace could have been used without the knowledge of the Finnish authorities.  All the available flight information had been made public on the Internet.  Finland did not allow its airspace or airports to be used in illegal activities under international human rights law or international humanitarian law.

The Government, in the context of the adoption of the third internal security plan, had prepared a national action plan for the prevention of violent extremism in cooperation with various stakeholders.  An action plan to reduce violence against women was currently being implemented.  The National Institute for Health and Welfare had published quality guidelines which defined guiding principles for shelters; and a survey on domestic violence against Roma women had been launched in 2013.

Amendments had been adopted to improve the firearms legislation, which included more precise provisions on the prerequisites for acquiring firearms and on acceptable purposes for their use.   Medical officers had to report to the police any person assessed as unsuitable for holding firearms because of his health or behaviour; and the police assessed the suitability of applicants on the basis of such reports.

In the framework of the internal security programme, the Government enhanced its efforts against human trafficking.  The Ministry of Interior envisaged the creation of a coordinator against human trafficking to foster the cooperation between the authorities and other stakeholders. 

Foreign nationals accounted for 3.6 per cent of Finland’s population and immigration to Finland was a relatively recent phenomenon.  The Government had adopted a strategy entitled “future of migration 2020”, to assess immigration and its impact on Finnish society, and which defined the objectives of its immigration policy.  An action plan based on that strategy would be adopted by the end of 2013.  A survey on the health and well-being of immigrants was conducted last year and showed marked differences between immigrant groups and genders.  Municipalities had to pay attention to vulnerable groups and it was urgent to develop mental health services for persons with an immigrant background, as the current service system reached only some among those who needed help. 

The Ministry of Justice had set up a working group to prepare the revision of the act on the Sami Parliament.  The working group would propose a definition of Sami people to determine a person’s eligibility for inclusion into the electoral roll of the Sami Parliament, with participation from the Parliament.  Authorities’ obligation to consult with the Sami Parliament would probably be further expanded.  The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry intended to appoint a working group to increase the participation of the Sami in decision-making regarding State lands and waters.

The National Policy on Roma had been launched in 2012 by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.  Roma organizations had been consulted about their views on the policy, and the priorities identified related to children and youth work, support to families, prevention of exclusion, and inclusion in society.

The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health intended to set up a working group to examine the need to amend legislation on the legal recognition of transgender persons.  The Minister of Defence had appointed a rapporteur to review legislation exempting Jehovah’s Witnesses from military service.  The Parliament had recently approved the ratification of the Optional Protocols to the Convention against Torture and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. 

There were very few juvenile prisoners in Finland, with a total number of 87 juvenile prisoners aged between 15 and 20, accounting only for 2.7 per cent of all registered prisoners as of 1 March 2013.  Given the small number of juvenile prisoners in facilities scattered across Finland, close to their families and places of residence, their strict separation from other prisoners would mean they would practically live alone, which was not considered to serve their best interests.

The National Police Academy conducted annual studies on hate crime.  However, because individuals’ ethnic origin could not be recorded in the police data system for compiling statistics, the study did not show how many Roma women and Sami women had reported instances of discrimination.  In 2011, a total of 80 cases of suspected ethnic discrimination had been recorded and women had filed complaints in 25 cases.  The number of hate crimes had increased between 2010 and 2011. 

A 2012 study on discrimination at work showed that Russian-speakers had to file more job applications before being interviewed for a job than non-immigrant job seekers with corresponding education and work experience.  The Ministry of Interior had launched a project to combat xenophobia and racism, and a campaign had been launched to lower the threshold for reporting racist offences to the police.

The Parliament adopted an act on the promotion of immigrant integration in 2010, which covered all aliens residing in Finland; the act contained more detailed measures to promote the integration and employment of immigrant as well as more detailed definitions of the authorities’ responsibilities.  A national integration programme aimed at promoting the integration of immigrants through the local communities, in order to ensure their inclusion in all sectors of society.  Language skills, vocational training and work were key priorities for the integration of immigrants. 

Several measures to prevent violence against women had been carried out in recent years.  There were 123 family shelters for victims of violence in Finland, a relatively low number compared to the population.  The ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was under consideration.

The maximum duration of arrest was 96 hours, within which suspects had to be released or proposed for detention, and the average length of remand imprisonment in police detention facilities was 14 days.  Seven prisons in Finland were slightly overcrowded and efforts had been made to reduce overcrowding by establishing remand prison departments in several detention facilities.  The detention of children had to serve their best interests.  Maintaining family ties of underage prisoners was of particular importance, if those ties supported their best interest.  Therefore, juvenile prisoners were detained close to their place of residence.   Between September 2012 and February 2012, only 10 minor prisoners were registered in Finland’s prisons.
 
The conscript act contained provisions for penalties for refusals of military service, equivalent to those for refusing non-military service under the non-military service act, and which consisted of imprisonment for a period corresponding to half of the objector’s remaining service time, now shorter than six months in all cases.

Applications for protection by asylum-seekers were assessed individually and effective remedies were available.  Aliens who considered that the conduct of the police had been inappropriate in the case concerning their removal from the country could file an administrative complaint with the National Police Board. 

The Government would further develop the cultural autonomy of the Sami people.  The National Roma Policy was being implemented by different ministries and a mid-term report on its implementation would be submitted in 2013.  Roma people were living in the same residential areas and the quality of their housing was the same as for the majority of the population. 

Questions by Experts

Experts requested additional information about the Human Rights Delegation of the Human Rights Centre.  How was it composed?  What was its supervisory body and how was its independence ensured?  Regarding the reservations made to the Covenant, Experts noted that they were not relevant. 

The detention of juveniles aged 18- 21 together with adults was not a problem since the age of majority was set at 18 in Finland.  The detention of children under 18 in separate facilities would be against the best interest of the child if it implied the child would be detained alone or far away from his family.  The reservation on Article 20 paragraph 1, regarding the obligation to prohibit war propaganda, was not relevant.  The delegation had said that the most serious forms of war propaganda were criminalized under the Criminal Law.  Experts referred the delegation to the General Comments on Article 19, which took the same position.  Freedom of expression could be limited with regards to war propaganda.

To what extent would reforms introduced or planned help better identify victims of trafficking, which was the first step to combat human trafficking?  Victims of trafficking who had been engaged as sex workers were not viewed as victims but rather as witnesses in court proceedings.  How would it be possible to ensure that the victims of human trafficking were first and foremost seen as victims?  What measures had been taken and what were the results of policies aimed at eradicating human trafficking, forced labour and slavery?

Another Expert inquired about the direct applicability of the Covenant and requested information about the training offered to law enforcement officers, especially judges, regarding the application of the provisions of the Covenant. 

Experts noted that the Committee had stressed the importance of respecting human rights in the context of measures taken to combat terrorism and were pleased to learn that Finland did not allow the use of its airspace or airports for illegal activities.  Information suggested that Finland could have been used as a fake destination to conceal flights used in the United States’ secret rendition programme.  What measures had been taken to prevent the use of Finnish airports or airspace for such activities in the future?  What measures had been taken to ensure that intelligence activities were carried out in conformity with the provisions of the Covenant?

Further legal resources were needed to address all types of discrimination and Experts welcomed the announcement on the draft bill dealing with this issue.  What practical measures would be applied immediately to make sure that equal legal redress was available for all forms of discrimination?  What measures would be taken to bridge the gap between men and women with respect to wages?  What penalties were imposed on employers who did not comply with legal provisions on equal pay for work of equal value? 

What measures had been taken to address problems faced by migrants, especially women?  Could the delegation provide the Committee with information about the specific programme for Roma women?  A migration strategy had been put in place by the Government; did it take into account multiple forms of discrimination and did it adopt a gender sensitive approach?  What measures had been taken to prevent racism and hate crimes, which were on the rise?  Was it true that a gender change was only legally recognized if the person was infertile?   The partners of biological mothers or fathers could only take a paternal leave after the adoption was legally recognized, which could take up to six months after the birth, what measures had been taken to ensure that LGBT people could enjoy their right to parental leave?

Another Expert inquired about the integration of migrants.  The law on that question had been revised, what were the outcomes of measures intended to integrate migrants into Finnish society?  Migrants recognized that racism and xenophobia existed in some public services; what had been done to change the behaviour and culture of State officials and civil servants in this regard?  What reasons prevented Finland from ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families? 

When would Finland be able to ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence?   What had been done to make sure that appropriate services were provided to women victims of violence, including migrant women victims of violence?  A situation of impunity existed regarding sex crimes.  According to information received by the Committee, less than 10 per cent of rapes were reported, of which less than 20 per cent were prosecuted.  What had been done to address this problem and to reduce structural violence against women?

Response by the Delegation

The National Human Rights Institution was small but very active and, since its inception one year ago, it had played a crucial role monitoring the implementation of Finland’s international human rights obligations.  The Human Rights Centre was seeking to obtain “A status” according to the Paris Principle, but its resources were currently very limited and it was not possible to carry out large-scale studies.  The Parliamentary Ombudsman appointed the 40 members of the Human Rights Delegation for a five-year term.   The Delegation had three tasks: it dealt with human rights issues of national importance; it approved the national human rights action plan; and acted as focal point for cooperation with all relevant stakeholders in the field. 

Regarding the reservations made by Finland upon its ratification of the Covenant, the delegation thanked the Committee Experts for the information provided on the applicability of Article 10 regarding prisoners aged between 18 and 21, and recalled that only a handful of juvenile prisoners were held in custody.

The anti-discrimination law was presently being amended, although its current scope was wide with respect to ethnic discrimination, and the law applied both to public and private sectors.  Health and safety authorities ensured compliance with all legislation at work places.  The Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Chancellor of Justice could receive complaints regarding discriminatory acts.

Two surveys had been launched in 2013, on discrimination against Roma people and on minorities and immigrants’ access to social and health services, and their results would be published in January 2014.  The results of these studies would be duly assessed and the authorities would take appropriate actions.  A programme was being carried out to narrow the gender pay gap and realizing the principle of equal pay for equal work.  The programme was running actively to strengthen gender equality at work and an awareness-raising campaign would be launched soon.  The gender equality act prohibited discrimination at work and the act on employment contracts protected the right of workers to return at work after parental leaves.  Amendments to the gender equality act were under consideration before the Parliament.

The Government had set up a working group in order to revise the Criminal Code regarding human trafficking and in order to provide better protection for victims, in particular to victims of sex trafficking.  The National Police had published guidelines concerning the appropriate response to human-trafficking related crimes and increased the awareness concerning the appropriate assistance required by victims.  The police had to carry out investigations on all allegations of human trafficking received.  According to the guidelines special attention had to be paid to the identification of potential victims.  Vocational training was offered to police officers working on immigration and human trafficking.  Statistics showed that the number cases of human trafficking in pre-trial investigations and pending before courts was increasing.

The Government acknowledged that the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was one of the fundamental human rights treaties.  In Finland, all migrant workers enjoyed the same rights as national workers.  On the basis of comments from relevant authorities, the Government believed that the ratification of the Convention was not necessary since national legislation offered an appropriate level of protection to migrant workers.  The Convention contained unclear concepts regarding the legal definition of migrant workers.  The delegation also noted that the Convention did not concern only the national legislation but also regulations adopted in the framework of the European Union.

Response by the Delegation

The first national integration programme, with a particular focus on migrants’ employment, had been launched recently.  Statistics showed that migrants were more likely facing unemployment and, due to the current economic situation, unemployment was on the rise among all social groups in Finland. 

The Government had taken measures to avoid the use of Finnish airspace or airports for illegal activities, investigations were being carried as thoroughly as possible and with all the available means.  The delegation underlined the importance of the investigation undertaken by the Ombudsman.  The Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice were overseeing all activities and had requested information from the intelligence services.

The delegation described strategies to combat domestic violence and violence against women.  Local authorities were engaged in activities to eradicate domestic violence.  A bill amending legislation on domestic laws would be soon submitted to the Parliament.  Petty assaults were now subject to public prosecutions, as well as all sex offences against children, and it was intended to provide for automatic prosecution all sex offences, irrespective of the victim.  The legislation criminalizing rapes was undergoing a revision process.  Decisions to use mediation in cases of domestic violence were carefully taken by the relevant authorities.

The “discrimination monitoring project” played an important role in the provision of up-to-date information on discrimination, and contributed to the improvement of policies and legislation.  The monitoring group collected data on discrimination and published quadrennial reviews, and the group’s first four-year action plan had been adopted in 2010.  According to the law, statistics could not include personal data regarding individuals’ ethnic origin or religion but it was possible to use data on mother tongues.  Provisions on the legal recognition of gender changes were under review and the Government’s action plan on gender equality included measures intended to grant equal rights to all families.

Questions by the Experts

Experts raised questions about the detention of asylum-seekers and irregular migrants.  Was it true that the duration of detention periods of asylum-seekers had constantly increased over the last years?  What judicial remedies were available to asylum-seekers and irregular migrants held in detention?  The right to access a lawyer at the start of any legal proceeding had to be guaranteed.  What methods were in place to ensure that suspects could prepare their legal defence?  What steps had been undertaken to protect juveniles in detention from violence?  One of the Experts expressed concerns about the length of the alternative non-military service, twice as long as the period of military service.

Experts also inquired about the asylum procedure.  Appeals in accelerated procedures did not have a suspensive effect, which could lead to the violation of the principle of non-refoulement.  How could this situation be justified given that the majority of negative decisions were made in accelerated procedures?  What measures had been taken to ensure that foreigners were not ill-treated during deportation operations and that had access to effective remedies and compensation, if such ill-treatment occurs?  What measures had been put in place to ensure that the best interests of children were taken into account whenever a decision to deport their parents was made by the authorities, and what was the practice in this regard?

The Committee received information about an action plan to reduce corporal punishment, what measures had been taken to eliminate the corporal punishment of children in practice in all settings, including detention in facilities and State institutions?  When did Finland plan to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child and to establish a communication procedure?  What measures had been taken to ensure that the rights of the Sami people were protected and they were not subject to discrimination?  High rates of unemployment existed among Roma people, what measures had been taken to change this situation?

Response by the Delegation

Asylum-seekers were not often detained during the first steps of their application, and they were only held in detention after a negative decision had been made and with the intention to secure their removal from Finland.  Consideration was given to vulnerable people with specific needs, such as pregnant women, and asylum-seekers could be temporarily held in police facilities.  Detention was a measure of last resort and decisions were made on a case by case basis.  The duration of detention was kept to a minimum and aliens were released as soon as possible.  According to the alien act, persons under 18 could only be place in police custody if their parents or legal guardians were held in detention.  All detainees were entitled to consult with an independent doctor.  Detention facilities, including police facilities, were undergoing extensive renovation.  Measures had been taken to alleviate the overcrowding of prison facilities, such as the granting of paroles.

Access to lawyers during pre-trial detention was guaranteed by the new criminal investigations act, which would enter into force in 2014.  The suspects had to be informed about the charges brought against them in writing and they could contact a lawyer of his choice.  Suspects had the right not to incriminate themselves and detentions were always decided by a court.

Around 10,000 Roma individuals lived in Finland and were well integrated into Finnish society.  Regarding education, reports showed progress in the results of Roma children, most of which attended regular classes.  Concerning employment, Roma people could benefit from all State services in this regard on a non-discriminatory basis.  Housing problems were in general the same as those faced by the Finnish people and young Roma did have to wait for a long period to find their first apartment, but this was the case for all social groups. 

According to the available statistics, only European Union Member States and Australia were considered as safe countries in the context of asylum procedures, and this is why appeals did not have a suspensive effect in those cases.  Police guidelines underlined that the final decision of a court had to be made before enforcing the removal.  The Government had recognized and was addressing the problem of ID documents for refugees and the authorities currently issued travel documents for refugees, which indicated that the authorities were not able to verify the identity of that person. 

The Government was committed to further enhance the cultural autonomy of the Sami people and intended to ratify International Labour Organization Convention 169, concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries.  A new ministerial working group regarding Sami issues had been created, which envisaged the extension of Government’s obligation to consult Sami authorities on decisions that might affect them.  In addition, new acts on mining and on water took into consideration the interests of Sami people.  They were also involved in the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan.  Sami culture was protected by the Constitution and the Sami, as an indigenous people, had the right to develop and use their language and culture. 

The removal of aliens from Finland was based on the provisions of the alien act, and medical conditions could require the presence of a doctor or a nurse during the deportation.  However, the delegation recognized that the police did not systematically conduct medical examinations of persons removed.  

Birth certificates only contained the name of the mother and this caused some problems in countries that could not issue ID documents on the basis of such certificates.  The authorities could produce an informal document to solve the situation, but a permanent solution to this problem had not been found yet. 

The police had stepped up Internet surveillance after the school shootings that took place in 2009 and 2010.  Internet monitoring was centralized and linked to national crime prevention structures.  Doctors were obliged to, and healthcare staff entitled to, report to the police the unsuitability of a patient to acquire a firearm based on its medical records.  A working group had been set up to deal with the firearms legislation. 

Finland had lobbied for the adoption of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the rights of the child, which established a communications procedure, but was disappointed by the final result because of the absence of a child-friendly procedure.  The Government had nonetheless signed the Optional Protocol and the ratification bill would be sent to Parliament.

Concluding remarks

ARTO KOSONEN, Director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that the discussion had been very useful to the national debate on human rights.  The comments of the Committee Experts on the reservations were appreciated.  Mr. Kosonen looked forward to the conclusions and recommendations of the Committee, which would be shared with all relevant stakeholders. 

NIGEL RODLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, said that the dialogue had been very constructive and that the reservations issue had allowed for an interesting discussion.  Committee Members had found it difficult to understand the reservation on article 10.  Mr. Rodley noted that the Government could take additional measures to address issues of human trafficking and violence against women.


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CT13/019E