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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination discusses situation in Finland, Republic of Moldova and Armenia with civil society representatives

Committee on the Elimination
  of Racial Discrimination

25 April 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with civil society representatives from Finland, the Republic of Moldova and Armenia, whose reports will be considered this week.  

In her opening remarks, Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, welcomed civil society representatives from the three countries and underlined the importance of a dialogue between the experts and civil society. 

Throughout the discussion, numerous civil society representatives presented the issues that they were working on, and the issues they considered as major challenges. 

Those challenges included the definition of the Saami people in Finland and the powers of the Saami Parliament to define those who had the right to vote in the Saami Parliament elections, and the expropriation of Saami fishing rights. 

In the Republic of Moldova, they discussed the issue of incomparably high levels of intolerance against the Roma people, particularly exclusion from education and employment, and the rising hate speech against various minorities.

In Armenia, civil society representatives pointed out to the low ethnic diversity in the country, and the high level of discrimination and negative attitudes towards people from Azerbaijan and Turkey due to historical reasons.  It was almost impossible to receive a refugee status without belonging to the Armenian Church and speaking the Armenian language.

Speaking on the situation in Finland were Sami Parliament, Veahcaknjarga Fishing Cooperative, and Amnesty International.  Concerning the Republic of Moldova,
Promo Lex took the floor.  Speaking on Armenia were Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial Brussels, and Citizens’ Labour Rights Protection League from Azerbaijan. 

Ms. Crickley, in her closing remarks, thanked representatives of civil society from Armenia, Finland and the Republic of Moldova for their presentations and contributions to the discussion. 

The Committee will next meet in public on Tuesday, 25 April at 3 p.m., to start considering the twenty-third periodic report of Finland (CERD/C/FIN/23).

Opening Remarks

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, welcomed civil society representatives from Armenia, Finland and the Republic of Moldova.  She underlined the importance of a dialogue between the Committee Experts and civil society. 


TIINA AIKO SANILA-AKIKO, Sami Parliament, noted that the reality was not so rosy in Finland, expressing concern about the 2011 elections for the Sami Parliament and the eligibility to vote.  The Saami should not be subjected to forced assimilation and should exercise their right to self-determination.  She reminded that the Supreme Administrative Court had issued rulings about the elections of the Saami Parliament, which had been contrary to the decisions of the relevant Saami institutions.  Those decisions had impact on the composition of the Saami Parliament, thus weakening the role of the Saami Parliament as the defender of the Sami people’s rights.  There was a real danger that the 2020 elections would become a moment of forced assimilation of the Saami people.  The power to the Government of Finland to define who the Saami people were undermined the right of the Saami people to self-determination.  The International Labour Convention 169 remained unratified by the Government of Finland.  Saami’s political participation was limited in many ways.  For example, in forest and river management, and resource allocation.  The current allocation for the Saami Parliament was not adequate.  The Saami Parliament should have the powers to determine cultural issues, as well as social and health services that were fragmented.  The Saami did not trust authorities, and social and health-care providers.  Suicides had been on the rise in the Saami regions, reaching 53.8 per 100,000 persons.  One strategy to curb the number of suicides among the Saami was to strengthen their self-determination.  The Saami Parliament expressed hope that the Committee would continue to uphold the right to self-determination by the Saami people.   In 1960, 75 per cent of the Saami spoke their native language, whereas in 2007 only 26 per cent spoke their language. 

KATI ERIKSON, Veahcaknjarga Fishing Cooperative, spoke about the situation of fishing rights holders on the Finnish side of the Deatnu River.  The salmon fishing in the Deatnu River had been regulated through bilateral agreements between Finland and Norway since 1873.  There were two grave violations of the Saami rights in the new agreement.  First, the new agreement reduced the traditional Saami fishing up to 80 per cent, thus violating the cultural and property rights of the Saami people.  The agreement had not contained a single provision on Saami fishing rights, and it completely prohibited the traditional fishing of those Saami who had property rights in fishing and who were non-local in the Deatnu Valley in Finland.  Secondly, the Saami had largely been excluded from effective participation in the negotiations between the Finnish and Norwegian governments.  The Saami Parliament in Finland had complained to the Finnish Chancellor of Justice about the deficiencies and negligence with respect to the negotiating process.  The Deputy Chancellor had pointed out that the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry had in some respects failed to comply with the negotiating obligation, whereas the Constitutional Committee of Finland had concluded that the Government should continue negotiating in order to secure traditional fishing methods forming part of the Saami culture.  The Saami people in the Deatnu Valley had strongly opposed the agreement and were afraid of its consequences on their culture.  The Finnish Government should postpone the ratification of the Deatnu agreement, and an international expert assessment of the impact of the proposed agreement on the rights of the Saami should be conducted. 

SUSANNA MEHTONEN, Amnesty International, focused on the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants.  Since 2015, when Finland had received an unusually high amount of asylum-seekers, legislative amendments had restricted and undermined the rights of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants, ultimately placing asylum-seekers at higher risk of refoulement.  All of those amendments could be directly tracked back to the Government’s programme on asylum.  The right to appeal and the right to legal aid had been restricted.  Legal counsels could no longer be present in personal interviews and asylum-seekers could not choose their counsel in first instance.  They were allowed free legal aid only from the Public Legal Aid Offices, which were not specialized in refugee law.  A new fee-system for asylum counsel did not reflect the complexity of asylum proceedings and opened up the system for abuse.  Those amendments had come into force in autumn 2016 and there had already been reports of unqualified legal aid and uneven practices across the country.  A whole category of international protection – a residence permit granted on humanitarian grounds – had been removed from the law with retroactive effect.  Persons staying in Finland on those grounds now had to seek residence permits on new grounds.  New legislation would force persons into an irregular status.  Finland had not taken sufficient steps to limit the use of administrative detention of asylum-seekers and migrants.  It continued to detain unaccompanied children, families with children and other vulnerable groups.  Recently, Parliament had approved legislation, which had introduced directed residence with reporting obligations as a new non-custodial enforcement arrangement.  The law allowed placing persons in police holding facilities, which amounted to solitary confinement.  In 2015, there had also been a marked increase in suspected hate crimes: an increase by 52 per cent.  The most common ethnic groups to be targeted were the Somalis.  Victims of trafficking were often not recognized, whereas violence against non-native women remained a concern. 
Questions by Experts
GUN KUT, Country Rapporteur for Finland, asked about the voting for Saami Parliament elections, 6,000 voters in the registry.  Was that number correct?  What was the nature of the decision for establishing the voting right for the Saami Parliament? On what basis had the Supreme Court made a decision to include persons in the Saami voting registry? What was the situation on the Saami outside their native region, which comprised four regions, and what were their native regions?  As for the Saami-related legislation, was it realistic to expect the State Party to ratify the International Labour Organization Convention 169 and other relevant texts?

Reports had indicated that the situation had been deteriorating lately: to what extent was it due to the lack of political will in the country.  Who were the most vulnerable groups of persons? 
Answers by Civil Society

TIINA AIKO SANILA-AKIKO, Sami Parliament, clarified that 5,900 persons were in the Saami voting registry, whereas 93 new voters had been added by the latest decision of the Supreme Administrative Court.  It was important to notice the three criteria in the Act of the Saami Parliament:  A Saami was a person who had at least one parent who knew the Saami language, and who registered as an elector for the Saami Parliament, and in the forestry or fishery register.   The Supreme Administrative Court had not followed the wording in the Saami Parliament Act but had created a new term for the definition of a Saami person.  The Supreme Administrative Court did not have any real knowledge of the Saami society and it did not follow the current law, which was very worrying.  A research paper commissioned by the Finish Government had criticized the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court.  The Saami homeland was defined by the Act of the Saami Parliament.  Some 200,000 euros were necessary to organize proper language education for the Saami children outside their homeland area, which was shameful for a country with the reportedly best educational system in the world.  It was expected that the next step would be discussed in May 2017.  Some 75 per cent of Saami children lived outside the Saami homeland.  That number would rise in the future.  Social and health-care services for the Saami should also be improved.  As for the ratification of the Nordic Saami Convention, the Saami Parliaments of Sweden, Norway and Finland were currently handling its implementation.  The Saami Parliament was not satisfied with the text.  Concerning the ILO Convention 169, the commissioned study was supposed to bring new information and perspective with respect to the ratification.  Positive paragraphs were lacking on other legislation dealing with Saami issues.  There was a pessimist mood within the Saami Parliament on its ratification by Finland. 

SUSANNA MEHTONEN, Amnesty International, reminded that the anti-immigration agenda dictated a lot of the latest asylum-seekers legislation in Finland.  At the European Union level, there would be more deterioration in the rights of refugees and asylum-seekers, leading to externalized focus, such as the agreement with Turkey.  In the Government programme, the focus was on Afghani, Iraqi and Somali asylum-seekers due to the feeling that Finland had too high an approval rating in comparison with other countries.  Somali asylum-seekers were particularly vulnerable due to the humanitarian protection status.  Another group specifically targeted were victims of trafficking and torture.  Without good legal aid, there was a bigger risk of refoulement. 
Questions by Experts
Several Experts asked for clarification about the definition of the Saami people and about the exact number of cases that were considered to be included in the registry of Saami voters.  Were the 93 persons added to the voting registry test cases, which would lead to many more being added to the registry?

Another Expert raised the issue of harsher asylum laws in Finland and the role of the Saami with respect to the climate change agenda.  A question was also raised on the expropriation of rights.  Had any assessment of the impact of bilateral treaties on the Saami population been conducted?
Answers by Civil Society
TIINA AIKO SANILA-AKIKO, Sami Parliament, explained that the Electoral Committee dealt with the applications for the inclusion in the voting registry.  It was further the Board of the Saami Parliament, which took up the decision process, followed by the Supreme Administrative Court.  The Supreme Administrative Court’s role was to ensure that the Saami Parliament had followed the law.  However, the Supreme Administrative Court had taken up the role of determining who the Saami people were without having enough knowledge of the Saami society.  The Supreme Administrative Court had potentially created a precedent, which could influence the outcome of the next elections for the Saami Parliament and could impact the decision-making of the Saami.

KATI ERIKSON, Veahcaknjarga Fishing Cooperative, noted that the Saami were very affected by climate change because they lived off the land and fishing.  As for the expropriation issue, she noted that a major land reform took place in Finland at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century.  In the Deatnu valley, the Saami had been allocated salmon fishing rights. 
Concluding remarks

ANASTAS IA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, noted that more study was needed about the decision of the Supreme Administrative Court. 

Republic of Moldova

DIMITRU SILUSARENCO, Promo Lex, pointed out to an incomparably high level of intolerance towards the Roma people, who were being stereotyped as “thieves, liars, beggars, lazy and dirty.”  The Republic of Moldova lacked efficient mechanisms for the implementation of national policies and laws to fight racial discrimination.  In the 2016 presidential campaign, hate speech had expanded, affecting mainly four groups, namely the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, women, ethnic minorities and Unionists.  The obvious case of hate speech towards minorities had been the so-called “30,000 Syrian refugees of Maia Sandu,” when at the end of October 2016 news had surfaced that the Republic of Moldova had agreed to receive 30,000 refugees from Germany.  That news had started a huge wave of hate in society, on social networks and in media.  The country lacked a disaggregated system of data collection at all levels, including crime registration.  As a result of persistent stereotypes, Roma were particularly excluded from education and employment, suffering high exclusion from education, healthcare and access to social assistance.  Notwithstanding the difficult economic context in the country and the lack of funds, Promo Lex believed that equality could not be ignored or postponed due to insufficient funds. 

YANDUAN LI, Country Rapporteur for the Republic of Moldova, raised the question of the implementation of laws and social measures to combat discrimination in the country.  The common reason was the lack of the funding.  Were there any other reasons except the economic one?  Was there enough political will to combat discrimination? 

With respect to the census data of 2014, the number of Moldovans had grown from 77 per cent to 83 per cent of the population, whereas the number of ethnic Ukrainians and Russians had dropped.  What were the reasons behind that?  What were the mechanisms for combatting discrimination?  One was the Bureau of Inter-Ethnic Relations and the other one was the Equality Council.  What was the role of the Ombudsman in combatting discrimination?  How many persons of African descent lived in the Republic of Moldova? 
Answers of Civil Society
DIMITRU SILUSARENCO, Promo Lex, explained that the lack of political will and political instability had suspended the care for human rights and had led to the low level of implementation of measures to combat racial discrimination.  The Inter-Ethnic Bureau was rather a mechanism to communicate with the United Nations.   The Equality Council still lacked sufficient powers and could only make recommendations, rather than sanction and bring moral damages.  The Ombudsman Office had undergone changes recently and there was hope that it would be more efficient.  So far, it had only made some public campaigns and research.  There was no data on the number of persons of African descent.  Nevertheless, they faced the same level of discrimination as the Roma.
Questions of Experts
Referring to the rising hate speech in the Republic of Moldova, an Expert asked whether there were any statistics on hate crimes and whether the national legislation was in line with Article 4 of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.  Another Expert reminded that in 2009 the police had mistreated ethnic and racial minorities, and that an investigation had been launched.  Was there any information about the follow-up?

Another Expert raised the issue of the credibility of information about the situation of racial discrimination in the Republic of Moldova.  Had all the cases of discrimination been identified objectively?  The information conveyed by civil society was genuine information and how could it be ascertained that the country discriminated against cultural minorities.

An Expert raised the issue of the language in the Republic of Moldova: why was a distinction made between Romanian and Moldovan?  Ukrainian, Russian, Gagauz and Bulgarian qualified as minority or regional languages.  Were there any steps to promote the autonomy of the Gagauz community?
Answers by Civil Society

DIMITRU SILUSARENCO, Promo Lex, explained there was no specific law that sanctioned hate speech, so the only practice was the Equality Council’s activity to stress that hate speech was a form of discrimination.  Official data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs states that only four cases ended up in the court with examination or sentence.  As for impunity for police officers, a new anti-torture department had been created, but no efficient measures had been installed to prevent abuses by the police.  Information was always subjective, but the presented cases were based on the studies done by the civil society.  With respect to the distinction between Moldovans and Romanians, it presented a big problem in the country and it required extensive discussion about the identity of individuals.  As for the Gagauz autonomy, the representative was not able to respond to that question.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, highlighted the issue of the rising numbers of Moldovans and Romanians in the country, as opposed to the decreasing numbers of Ukrainians and Russians, noting that the question could be further discussed with the Committee Experts. 

STEPHANIA KULAEVA, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial Brussels, reminded that in Armenia minorities had often been discriminated against, as minorities had only accounted for two per cent of the entire population.  An anti-discrimination law was supposed to be adopted in 2017, but there was no draft text available.  There was a concern about right-wing political parties and the fact that some members of the Government gave them support.  There were cases of racial discrimination on social networks.  The negative attitude towards people from Azerbaijan and Turkey was due to historical reasons.  A course on the history of the Armenian Church was mandatory for all children, and religious classes were forced on all children in school.  Russian Molokans were isolated.  There was no effort to preserve the Bosha community, as well as of other cultural minorities.  Armenia did not accept refugees from Syria and other conflict-affected countries in the region who were not of Armenian origin.  It was almost impossible to receive a refugee status without belonging to the Armenian Church and speaking the Armenian language.

SAHIB MAMMADOV, Citizens’ Labour Rights Protection League from Azerbaijan, stated that the Armenian media, including State-owned television channels and agencies, as well as Armenian school textbooks, provided a wide range of broadcasts and publications igniting hatred against the Azeri nation.   The Government of Armenia had banned ethnic Azeris from entering Armenia.  Thousands of historical, cultural and architectural monuments had been completely destroyed, whereas Azeri toponyms had been fully changed.  Over 320,000 Azeri Turks had left Armenia during the last deportation in 1988.  Armenia was the only mono-ethnic country in the region and almost all ethnic groups had been driven out of the territory of present-day Armenia.  Thus, Armenia was violating all the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and it was ignoring its international commitments. 
Questions by Experts
NOUREDDINE AMIR, Country Rapporteur for Armenia, pointed out to a high level of discrimination of ethnic minorities in Armenia, in particular against the Azeri minority who had been deported from the country.  He stated that he would demand clarification about the cases of discrimination from the State party.  He reminded that the Committee did not deal with religious questions.  However, it was tasked to deal with ethno-religious issues.

Another Expert asked about the support received by civil society in the country.  There was some type of financial cooperation.  Had they played any part in the drafting of the State party’s report?  Had the draft bill on asylum become part of legislation and what was the level of discussion about it?

Was it correct that there were no longer people of Azeri ethnic background in Armenia?  What was the purpose of broadcasts in the Azeri language if there were no Azeris in the country?  Was there explicit prohibition of accepting Muslim asylum-seekers?  Were Syrian refugees settled in the Nagorno-Karabakh region? 

Another Expert asked for clarification about whether it was possible to receive Armenian nationality.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, noted the low level of diversity in Armenia.  She asked about the particular forms of racial discrimination experienced by minorities. 
Answers by Civil Society

STEPHANIA KULAEVA, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial Brussels, pointed out to the discrimination faced by minorities which had no States behind them, such as the Bosha, Molokans and Assyrians.  Political problems with the neighbouring countries had led to a difficult position of certain minorities in Armenia.  Many residents in Armenia were in fact of Armenian origin who had come to the country during the conflict in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.  Civil society representatives had not been consulted during the drafting of the State party’s report.  There were many refugees from Iraq and Syria in Armenia.  However, almost all of them were of Armenian origin.  As for the discrimination of Muslim Syrians, they could not receive asylum-seeker status unless they were of Armenian origin. 
Questions by Experts

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Country Rapporteur for Armenia, reminded that 11 minorities had taken part in the consultation process in the drafting of the State party’s report.  The Ombudsman had not participated in the consultations and had not appeared to have supported the State party’s report.  What were the reasons for the exclusion of 37 minorities? 

Answers by Civil Society

STEPHANIA KULAEVA, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial Brussels, explained that the number of people belonging to ethnic minorities was quite small, and most belonged to those minorities whom the State had consulted during the drafting of the report.  It was a pity that some community leaders, such as the Yazidis, Jewish and Assyrians, had decided not to take part in the consultations.  Some of them were often not connected with their representatives and were not aware of the political context. 
Question by Experts
An Expert asked whether the existing recognized minorities held Armenian citizenship. 

Answers by Civil Society

STEPHANIA KULAEVA, Anti-Discrimination Centre Memorial Brussels, confirmed that those who did not have Armenian ancestry could not receive a refugee’s status.  Most of those minorities who had lived in Armenia held Armenian citizenship. 

Concluding Remarks

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Chairperson of the Committee, thanked representatives of civil society from Armenia, Finland and the Republic of Moldova for their presentations and contributions to the discussion.  


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