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Experts of the Committee against Torture Praise Finland’s Commitment to Implementing Treaty Body Recommendations, Ask about Prison Overcrowding and Forthcoming Asylum Law Amendments

06 May 2024

The Committee against Torture today concluded its consideration of the eighth periodic report of Finland, with Committee Experts praising the State party’s commitment to implementing recommendations from international human rights bodies and raising questions about prison overcrowding and forthcoming amendments to the Aliens Act and Border Protection Act.

Naoko Maeda, Country Co-Rapporteur and Committee Expert, said the Committee welcomed that the State party had, in 2023, committed to reviewing and implementing recommendations from international human rights bodies, establishing a human rights database and involving civil society in policy development.

Ms. Maeda also cited reports that the number of prisoners, including remand prisoners, had increased significantly, all closed prisons were already full and the majority of prisoners were elderly. What were the causes of overcrowding? What policies encouraged greater use of alternatives to detention according to the Tokyo Rules? Had the State party taken steps to build new facilities and increase prison staff?

Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, Country Co-Rapporteur and Committee Expert, said several national and international entities had expressed grave concerns over the Aliens Act and Border Protection Act, including forthcoming amendments. Legislation reportedly continued to place asylum seekers and migrants at a high risk of being subjected to refoulement. Could the delegation address these concerns?

Introducing the report, Krista Oinonen, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and head of the delegation, said the Government would annually review the decisions, conclusions and recommendations issued to Finland by international human rights bodies and decide on measures to be taken. A new database of concluding observations adopted by the United Nations and the Council of Europe's treaty bodies had also been launched.

The delegation said the State party was taking measures to address overcrowding in prisons. A new prison with remand facilities was being built and would be completed in 2025, allowing for more space for prisoners. New resources had been allocated to probation services. Approximately half of convicted offenders served community sentences as part of their sentences. Intensified travel bans were also imposed as an alternative to detention.

Ms. Oinonen said that in April, the Government submitted legislative proposals to tighten the asylum policy in line with the European Union Directives. The Finnish Aliens Act would be amended to introduce a new border procedure, which would enhance the examination of unfounded applications and the return of applicants whose application had been rejected, in full compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. The delegation added that the Government considered the situation that asylum seekers would face if they were returned to their home countries. The proposed amendments of the Aliens Act were still draft amendments that would be carefully examined by the Constitutional Law Committee.

In closing remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for participating in the high-quality dialogue. The Committee intended to continue to engage in dialogue with Finland. It appreciated the financial and moral support provided by Finland to the Committee and the treaty bodies system, particularly in the context of the liquidity crisis faced by the United Nations.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Oinonen said the Committee had asked many pertinent questions throughout the dialogue, which had allowed the State party to address issues in a constructive manner. The Committee’s concluding observations would be added to the State party’s database of concluding observations from international human rights bodies. Various entities would review the observations with a view to achieving their implementation.

The delegation of Finland consisted of representatives from theMinistry for Foreign Affairs; Parliament of Finland; Ministry of the Interior; Ministry of Justice; Ministry of Defence; Ministry of Social Affairs and Health; and the Permanent Mission of Finland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will issue concluding observations on the report of Finland at the end of its seventy-ninth session on 10 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, and webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 6 May at 4 p.m. to hear reports on follow-up to articles 19 and 22 of the Convention and reprisals.

Report

The Committee has before it the eighth periodic report of Finland (CAT/C/FIN/8).

Presentation of Report

KRISTA OINONEN, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and head of the delegation, said Finland remained steadfast in its commitment to upholding human rights and combating all forms of torture. Everyone had the right to be happy and safe in Finland. The Government was strengthening the basic structures of the rule of law by preparing and implementing Finland's fourth National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights. In August 2023, the Government issued a statement on promoting equality, gender equality and non-discrimination in Finnish society, which would be implemented this Spring. The Government would also annually review the decisions, conclusions and recommendations issued to Finland by international human rights bodies and decide on measures to be taken. The first review was due to take place this year. A new database of concluding observations adopted by the United Nations and the Council of Europe's treaty bodies had also been launched. It empowered stakeholders, including civil society, to actively monitor and advocate for the fulfilment of human rights commitments. At the beginning of 2020, the National Courts Administration was established as a separate agency from the Ministry of Justice to better safeguard the independence of courts.

An exceptional situation prevailed on Finland's eastern border. Russian authorities were actively organising entry of third country citizens, aiming to sow discord and disunity in Europe and undermine Finland’s support for Ukraine. To calm the situation, the Government had closed the border and was preparing for different scenarios. The closure of border crossing points prevented migrants in the neighbouring area from arriving to appalling conditions at the border area. The situation was understandably difficult for Russian citizens and dual citizens living in Finland. Border security was such a critical issue for Finland which would continue to take precedence until the State found a permanent solution.

In April, the Government submitted legislative proposals to tighten the asylum policy in line with the European Union Directives. The Finnish Aliens Act would be amended to introduce a new border procedure, which would enhance the examination of unfounded applications and the return of applicants whose application had been rejected, in full compliance with the principle of non-refoulement. In January 2023, the so-called Reception Act was amended to improve the status of victims of human trafficking. The police had significantly developed their anti-trafficking measures during the last five years. A nation-wide anti-trafficking unit was set up in 2021 alongside an anti-trafficking and people smuggling function in the National Bureau of Investigation and a nation-wide antitrafficking police network.

Since 2018, all prison cells in Helsinki and Hämeenlinna prisons had been fitted with appropriate sanitary facilities for prisoners. Since 2022, separate wards had been established for underage prisoners and underage remand prisoners in some prisons to separate minors from adult prisoners.

The Government Programme included several measures on combatting different forms of violence. The Committee for Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence had drawn up two national implementation plans for the Istanbul Convention. Key national measures against violence against children included the Non-violent Childhood Action Plan and the National Implementation Plan for the Lanzarote Convention. The development of Barnahus units had been supported since 2019. The first National Child Strategy also contributed to the work against violence. The network of support centres and shelters for victims of violence over 16 years of age had expanded rapidly.

In 2023 and 2024, the Finnish Defence Forces' internal audit on legality focused on training on the use of force by public officials. The Finnish Defence Forces were also carrying out a nationwide audit on detention facilities for persons deprived of their liberty in the Defence Forces. The findings would be published and brought to the attention of the auditees for possible measures.

To improve legal safeguards for patients, amendments had been made to laws on judicial review of the decisions on forcible administration of medication, which entered into force in April this year. Involuntary medication of mental illness of a patient required issuing an administrative decision if the patient objected to the medication or if their will could not be clarified. Patients had the right to appeal against the decision. In April 2023, a new Act on the recognition of gender entered into force, which separated legal recognition of gender from medical examinations. The previous requirement of infertility was abolished.

Questions by Committee Experts

BAKHTIYAR TUZMUKHAMEDOV, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Constitution seemed to only address torture, but not other offences covered by the Convention. Why was this? Were there any court decisions concerning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment? Why were cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment not separate offences? Did the Convention have supremacy over domestic law and the Constitution? How would a conflict between a law and an international treaty be resolved by an administrative body or a court? Were there cases in which the Convention against Torture or the Committee’s decisions on individual communications had been cited?

Most, if not all the decisions rendered by the Committee on communications filed against Finland during the reporting period were about challenges to deportations and extraditions, as were the judgments of Finnish high courts. Did Finland request and receive diplomatic assurances for deportations, and had it received requests for such assurances from other States? Were there diplomatic and consular means, including site visits by diplomats, to verify that the rights and needs of deportees were protected? Several national and international entities, including the Finnish Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, had expressed grave concerns over the Aliens Act and Border Protection Act, including forthcoming amendments. They opined that legislation continued to place asylum seekers and migrants at a high risk of being subjected to refoulement. Could the delegation address these concerns? How broad were anti-immigration sentiments in Finnish society?

The Constitution provided special status to the Åland Islands, which enjoyed broad powers under the Basic Law and the Act on the Autonomy of Åland. Was the Convention implemented in the Islands directly or by way of local acts? Was there a Parliamentary Ombudsman within the Åland Parliament that oversaw the protection of fundamental rights? The Constitution distinguished Sami and Roma, conferring upon them special rights and protection. Finland had made efforts to correct historical wrongs against the indigenous Nordic people. The Supreme Court had issued decisions protecting rights of Sami individuals to traditional fishing. However, there were reports that discrimination, racism and hatred against Sámi people were still pervasive in Finish society. There had been a delay in the adoption of a revised Sami Parliament Act, which needed to be brought in compliance with international standards. How did the State party plan to address these issues? Was there a post in the Sami Parliament corresponding to the Parliamentary Ombudsman? There were also reports of discriminatory treatment of the Roma and an intensification of hostile sentiments towards persons perceived to be of foreign background. What lessons had been learned from the implementation of the National Roma Policy 2018-2022? What was the status of implementation of the National Roma Policy 2023-2030? How prevalent were hate crimes motivated by the victim’s ethnic, racial or national origin? Could the delegation cite relevant criminal cases and their outcomes?

It was commendable that Finland was a party to all United Nations human rights treaties but one, and to all optional protocols. Why was it not a party to the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families? The crime of torture was covered by the statute of limitations in Finland. Finland was a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which unequivocally stated that “the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court shall not be subject to any statute of limitations”. Was the statute of limitations maintained? Under the Criminal Code, torture was seemingly not an international offence. Was this assessment correct?

Could the State party provide up-to-date information on educational programs developed to ensure that all law enforcement officials, prison staff and border guards were fully acquainted with the provisions of the Convention? Were they trained on crisis prevention, crisis management and post-crisis relief and recovery? Were judges, prosecutors, forensic doctors and medical personnel dealing with detained persons, including illegal migrants, trained on detecting and documenting the physical and psychological effects of torture? Did training consider the principles of the Istanbul Protocol? What lessons had been learned from the supervisor oversight and performance appraisal process? What was being done to make military personnel aware of the Convention, as well as other international legal norms on torture? What international training was provided to military personnel? What progress had been made in implementing the recommendations of the 2019 Government report regarding the mechanism for preventing violent radicalisation?

NAOKO MAEDA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee welcomed that the State party had in 2023, committed to reviewing and implementing recommendations from international human rights bodies, establishing a human rights database and involving civil society in policy development.

Why had the State party not considered the establishment of a separate entity or institute from the Parliamentary Ombudsman as the national preventive mechanism? What measures had been taken to reform the Finnish National Human Rights Institute into three distinct structures? Were reports correct that the Ombudsman was faced with challenges in terms of human and financial resources, and that the number of inspections and follow-up activities remained small, despite complaints increasing? What measures had been taken to ensure a clear, transparent and participatory selection and appointment process for the Director of the Human Rights Centre?

It was commendable that the State party had made efforts to modernise prisons and other closed settings over the reporting period. However, there were observations that the number of prisoners, including remand prisoners, had increased significantly, all closed prisons were already full and the majority of prisoners were elderly. What were the causes of overcrowding? What policies encouraged greater use of alternatives to detention according to the Tokyo Rules? A health check was not required in police detention facilities for all persons who had been detained for more than 24 hours. Not all police detention facilities were regularly visited by nurses or other healthcare professionals, and it was difficult to apply for non-urgent health care services such as oral health care. What policies and measures were in place to ensure access to health care in places of detention? It was reported that no complaints box was placed in detention facilities and the follow-up process of complaints was slow. What measures had been taken to address this? How many complaints had been made in the reporting period?

The Committee had provided a recommendation to discontinue holding remand prisoners in police detention facilities. How many days were needed between apprehension and a court’s decision on remand in law and in practice? In how many cases had persons been kept in remand for an exceptionally long period of time? It was regrettable that the responsibility for remand prisoners had not been transferred from the police to the Ministry of Justice as planned. What was the status of implementing this plan? The Committee had also expressed concern regarding delays in issuing notifications that a person had been taken into custody, particularly in cases involving foreigners. What measures were in place to comply with the rules of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations regarding apprehended detainees? The Committee welcomed that the State party video recorded pretrial investigation processes in all police stations and Boarder Guard facilities. Were there cases in which suspects had rejected being recorded?

The Committee welcomed that the National Police Board had issued a guideline on taser training, use and follow-up of use in 2017. What monitoring system was in place for taser use, and what law or regulation provided for investigation and prosecution or disciplinary measures regarding taser use? Pepper spray had been used by police officers against people, including children, participating in a peace protest in October 2020. Seven police officers were prosecuted for assault or breach of duty in relation to this case, and officers who ordered its use were fined. What measures were in place to ensure that the use of force was compatible with the principles of necessity and proportionality, and to incorporate international standards on the use of force into training programmes? What progress had been made in the investigation into the death in police custody of a man in January 2019 after police used an electric discharge weapon against him? Could the State party provide statistics on deaths in custody, and information on cases where deaths were investigated, prosecuted and convicted? Were relatives of the deceased informed of the death and did they receive compensation?

The Committee welcomed that the State party had established separate wards for juvenile prisoners and remand prisoners to separate minors from adult prisoners. Were all juvenile prisoners detained in separate wards? How many minors were deprived of liberty? Reportedly, minors were placed in closed prisons. The Committee noted that the State party had introduced the new alternatives to remand imprisonment, since 2019, and that it had imposed a travel ban on juveniles under the age of 18 as an alternative to imprisonment. How was the State party ensuring that juvenile detention was a last resort and implementing the Beijing Rules and the United Nations Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty? What measures had been implemented to prevent adolescents from being exposed to harassment by staff in detention facilities and to address the special needs of children in conflict with the law?

The Committee welcomed that new legislation on sexual offences had entered into force on 1 January 2023, which amended the definition of rape to align with human rights standards. However, the Committee was concerned that sexual offences were still categorised as “sexual abuse”, even when they involved rape. This resulted in such crimes carrying a lesser sentence. What strategies were in place to make further progress on criminalisation of rape and sexual abuse? What progress had been made in improving the accessibility of shelters, including for persons with disabilities? Did the State party renew residence permits for foreign victims of domestic violence and violence against women? The Committee welcomed the establishment of the Committee for Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence and the nationwide helpline for reporting violence. Wellbeing services reportedly had serious financial difficulties, however. The Committee called for updated data on investigation, prosecution and conviction of cases of violence against women and domestic violence. What strategies were taken to establish effective and prompt procedures to investigate cases of sexual abuse and harassment and ensure that victims could file complaints and have access to free legal aid, counselling and rehabilitation?

Finland had reportedly failed to strengthen intersex children’s right to self-determination and prohibit cosmetic surgeries on young children’s genitals. What measures were in place to establish a comprehensive action plan and safeguards for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons? The Sterilisation Law permitted the sterilisation of women with mental disabilities who had limited legal capacity or who had been deprived of their legal capacity without their consent. The State party should reconsider this. Could the State party provide information on measures to combat sexual violence and abuse against women and girls with disabilities? What measures were in place to ensure allocation of sufficient and stable funding to the rehabilitation of torture survivors, including child and youth torture survivors?

Foreigners who applied for residence permits had the right to appeal negative decisions, but appeals seemingly had no suspensive effect unless otherwise decided by the courts. People could be denied entry to Finland if they were a “a danger to public order or security”. How was this determined? How many applications for residence permits and asylum had the State party received, and how many had it accepted and rejected? The Committee welcomed that the State party carried out annual quality assurance on asylum decisions and made efforts to provide training to staff. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had expressed concerns regarding the proposed amendment to the Alien Act in March this year. How did the State party ensure the protection of the principle of non-refoulement? What policies and measures did the State party have to provide suitable reception arrangements for asylum-seeking children?

Another Committee Expert asked the State party to provide more details about plans to transfer authority of remand prisoners to the Criminal Sanction Agency by 2025. Were there plans to update facilities at remand prisons? Finland had a good education system for children in conflict with the law. What educational and social programmes were offered for convicted and pre-trial juveniles?

Material conditions had been substantially improved at many institutions for elderly persons, particularly regarding the use of manual and chemical restraints. However, the Mental Health Act did not contain provisions on outdoor exercise for psychiatric patients or on the right to appeal against involuntary treatment, seclusion and restraint. The Committee was also concerned by the prolonged use of restraints and seclusion; there was no legal time limit for the application of restraints. Seclusion was reportedly very common in elderly homes. What measures were in place to reform legislation and practices in psychiatric and social welfare institutions?

One Committee Expert said that it was commendable that the State party had established a database on concluding observations issued to Finland by international bodies. What were the outcomes of the annual reviews of these observations? Overcrowding in remand prisons was a major problem. Had the State party taken steps to build new facilities and increase prison staff? Was there a possibility, as some had observed, that proposed amendments to immigration law would allow for non-refoulement and collective expulsion?

A Committee Expert asked about the difference between a “simplified” and “intensive” travel ban. How did the State party reward juveniles in custody who displayed exemplary conduct?

Another Committee Expert welcomed the State party’s pledge to enhance its cooperation with United Nations treaty bodies. Did Finland intend to undertake initiatives to sustain funding of the treaty bodies mechanism?

One Committee Expert asked about the effects of alternatives to detention implemented by the State party. The State party’s efforts to combat human trafficking were commendable. There was a need to introduce forced marriage as a separate criminal offence. What were the latest developments in this regard? Did the definition of trafficking in legislation encompass all forms of trafficking, including economic exploitation? Could the State party provide statistics on trends in trafficking? Civil society had raised concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers in the context of the closure of the eastern border. What was the State party’s response to these concerns?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said the Government had analysed prospects for ratifying the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families three times, but did not intend to ratify it. The State was a party to European conventions protecting the rights of migrant workers. Ratification of the United Nations Convention would require making an inappropriate number of reservations.

Finland would make its first annual review of concluding observations of treaty bodies later this year and would subsequently report on its outcomes. The database on concluding observations would help stakeholders find relevant recommendations. It was being developed in Finnish, English and Swedish.

The State party was taking measures to address overcrowding in prisons. A new prison with remand facilities was being built and would be completed in 2025, allowing for more space for prisoners. New resources had been allocated to probation services. Finland was aware of recommendations to move remand prisoners from police detention facilities immediately after remand trials and was making efforts to implement this recommendation. It was not clear when new legislation on the transfer would come into force, but it was unlikely to enter into force by 2025. Approximately half of convicted offenders served community sentences as one part of their sentences. Intensified travel bans prevented suspects from moving to certain areas or out of the country. Such bans were monitored using electronic bands and mobile technology. Since 2019, there had been over 500 intensified travel bans issued. One-third of the bans were imposed on minors as an alternative to their detention.

New wards for minor prisoners were opened in 2022 and 2023, but not all minors were being kept separate from adult prisoners. The situation would be reviewed when new prisons were opened. Children that turned 18 could remain in remand prisons if their release was imminent. Five minors were currently imprisoned and there were 51 minors in remand detention. Prisoners could request to be kept separately from others if they were afraid of being harmed. Releases on good behaviour were not provided in Finland, but minors served only half of the prison sentences required of adults and could be released on parole up to six months prior to the conclusion of their sentence. Children in the largest prisons received compulsory education.

There were legal provisions regarding the appointment of the Director of the Human Rights Centre. Any persons could apply. All candidates were interviewed by the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the opinion of the constitutional authority was considered prior to appointment.

The national police board had issued new directives regarding police action in cases of domestic violence, as well as a handbook on preventing domestic violence, and on the prioritisation of the pre-trial investigation of sexual and gender-based violence cases. Dealing with vulnerable persons was a cross-cutting theme in all training for police officers. An online course on domestic violence for police had been developed. The online services of the police, including for reporting crimes, had been significantly improved.

The Russian minority were disproportionately targeted in hate crimes. Extensive training had been given to police to identify and prevent hate crimes motivated by ethnicity.

The use of force by police was regularly investigated in internal audits. The most recent audit had found a significant increase in violence against the police, but also deficiencies in statistics on the use of force by the police. The police were considering measures to improve these statistics. The Police Act stipulated the rights of police in different circumstances. Police considered the risk of resistance and the danger to public when taking countermeasures, and principles of proportionality and lesser harm were embedded in legislation. A 2023 directive recommended that taser use against children, elderly and pregnant persons should be avoided.

Deaths of persons in police custody were very unfortunate, and these were monitored by internal mechanisms. The National Police Board was working to improve statistics on deaths in custody, as well as its analytical functions. A draft law on the treatment of persons in police custody had been prepared but had not yet been passed by the Government.

The State party had a national counter-terrorism strategy for 2022 to 2025 that aimed to address the root causes of terrorism and enforce the criminal liability of offenders. It was informed by international counter-terrorism strategies. The State party respected fundamental human rights and the rule of law in its counter-terrorism activities. Preparations for the third national action plan were ongoing. Representatives of civil society were involved in this work.

The Parliamentary Ombudsman served as the national preventive mechanism and oversaw the conditions of persons deprived of liberty. Parliament granted annual appropriations for the Ombudsman’s activities. The Ombudsman had autonomy in staffing. It was able to carry out its activities with current resources. The Government was not able to influence the Ombudsman’s internal structure. Åland did not have a separate authority, but the Ombudsman had a local office in Åland. The Sami Parliament also did not have its own Ombudsman. The Supreme Administrative Court had referred to the Convention in matters concerning asylum.

The Government was committed to maintaining Sami language and culture, through implementing truth and reconciliation measures and promoting social inclusion of the Sami. There were also measures promoting gender and racial equality. There were discriminatory structures in the labour market that needed to be addressed. The Prime Minister would soon lead an annual roundtable discussion on equality, and the Government planned to launch an anti-racism campaign.

Finland was seriously concerned by the treaty bodies’ difficult financial situation. Their activities needed to be stably funded. Finland firmly supported strengthening the treaty bodies and would continue to call on States to ensure sufficient funding for the system. It would continue to make voluntary contributions to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Constitution required Finland to cooperate internationally to secure peace and human rights. It prevented the State from accepting international agreements that harmed the democratic nature of society, but this had never prevented the State from joining international treaties. Authorities guaranteed the observance of basic human rights. In situations of emergency, restrictions to rights and liberties could not contradict the State’s human rights obligations. If there were domestic acts that contradicted the Constitution and international human rights treaties, primacy was given to the latter two. The Government was obligated to assess the compatibility of each policy proposal with regards to international human rights standards. Some international human rights obligations were integrated into the Constitution.

Finland approached torture in accordance with the Convention. Crimes against humanity and war crimes were not time-barred and acts of torture were often categorised as such. Torture was an international offence under Finnish law, and it invoked universal jurisdiction. The Constitution stated that everyone in Finland had the right to life, personal security and dignity, and introduced a prohibition of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, as did the Criminal Code.

Foreign remand prisoners were informed about the possibility of contacting the foreign mission of their home country, but there was no obligation for them to do so.

The Non-Discrimination Act prohibited discrimination based on language and culture. The “Sami Barometer” examined the realisation of Sami rights and the promotion of Sami language in Finland. The State had identified a need to further address linguistic discrimination against the Sami. The national language strategy and other measures aimed to create a positive perception of linguistic diversity in Finland.

The Finnish Defence Forces did not organise training on the Convention, but they did provide training on international humanitarian law and the use of force for all personnel. Public officials who needed in-depth knowledge of international human rights norms participated in overseas training courses. The use of force by public officials was monitored and there was an obligation to report excessive use of force. There had been an audit of training on the use of force, the findings of which would be used to improve the training.

There was a provision in the Aliens Act that allowed for residence permits to be granted to foreigners who were victims of acts of violence. Guidelines had been developed on applying this law in practice. Evidence of violence was needed for residence permits to be granted on these grounds. The Government considered the situation that asylum seekers would face if they were returned to their home countries. The Aliens Act allowed third country nationals to appeal decisions on residence permits and asylum. Police waited until appeal decisions had been issued by courts before carrying out deportations. Persons considered to be a threat to public security were not given the right to appeal these decisions. All applicants for international protection were entitled to public or private legal aid. The Government Programme contained several entries on asylum policy, including proposed amendments of the Aliens Act, which would bring the Act in line with relevant European Union standards. The amendments would not violate the principle of non-refoulement. These were still draft amendments that would be carefully examined by the Constitutional Law Committee. The State party did not have a mandate for monitoring third country nationals who were removed from Finland, but international organisations monitored the well-being of such persons.

There was an exceptional situation of instrumentalised entry of foreigners into Finland through its eastern border. To calm the situation, the State had closed its eastern border. A legislative body had been set up to counter instrumentalised entry and a draft act safeguarding the liability of authorities to act in serious situations had been prepared, but it was unclear whether this would be passed in Parliament. The closure of the border restored Finland’s security.

Persons could be detained only for justified reasons. Detentions spanning over seven days needed exceptional permission. The prosecutor general investigated deaths in police custody. The Police Board had also prepared a report into deaths in custody since 2019. There had been no court cases or punishments issued concerning deaths in custody occurring in 2022 and 2023. The State party was working to improve statistics on deaths in custody and was updating guidelines on the control of at-risk persons deprived of liberty. Claims for compensation from family members of persons who had died in police custody could be filed in courts.

Regarding investigations into the police response to 2020 demonstrations, seven officers were charged, one was prosecuted while the other six were acquitted. Interpreters were provided to foreign detainees, who were also provided with written material prepared in several languages. A toolkit on protecting human rights in protests had been prepared for police, who, along with border guards, received training on the use of force and human rights obligations. Training referred to international treaties, including the Convention. Newly graduated officers took an oath to act fairly and protect human rights. Training also addressed prevention of discrimination and ethnic profiling.

The National Police Board was updating its directive on health care this year. Persons deprived of liberty had the right to free health care suitable to their medical conditions. Detainees could receive treatment from their own doctors at their own expense.

Around 900 cases of ethnically motived discrimination had been recorded by the State last year. The most common nationalities of the victims were Russian and Ukrainian.

Most funding for the well-being services of counties came from the Government. The amount of funding provided to each county depended on factors such as the county’s ethnic makeup. Everyone had the right to adequate health services. Non-governmental organizations also received funding from the Government to provide support to victims of violence. The Government was implementing several measures to end different forms of violence, including measures to identify intimate partner violence, improve access to victims shelters and strengthen measures to prevent violence. The Government was working with non-governmental organizations to implement the Istanbul Convention. It had held workshops on preventing gender-based violence and conducted a study into the impact of domestic violence on persons with disabilities. One campaign aimed to raise awareness of shelters among persons with disabilities and other Government services provided for victims of violence. There was a national helpline for victims of violence. The accessibility of shelters had been significantly improved in recent years; all shelters now had at least one accessible family place. Standards had been developed on the shelters and the services they provided. Funding for shelters had been increased to over 25 million euros per year and would be further increased in coming years. Finland had five Barnahus units, which had staff with expertise in interviewing children with disabilities. The new Disability Services Act promoted inclusion, supported decision making and the right to self-determination for persons with disabilities.

The Government planned to reform child welfare legislation to reduce the use of restrictive measures. Reformed legislation would be submitted to Parliament in 2025. A programme was also being prepared to strengthen rehabilitation services for young people with drug or alcohol addiction.

Sterilisations could be requested by a third party if the person involved could not understand the meaning of sterilisation. Such sterilisations could only be carried out if there were concerns for the health of the child or the mother. Two doctors had to unanimously agree on grounds for sterilisation, and the procedure needed to be approved by the Ministry of Health. The opinions of family members needed to be heard when assessing sterilisation requests.

The State party had a new act on transgender people which aimed to strengthen the right to self-determination and prevent discrimination. Transgender people were no longer required to be infertile; adults could apply to be recognised as the gender that they felt they belonged to. The Government had also proposed legislation to recognise the right to self-determination for transgender children. There were no regulations directly referencing intersex surgeries in Finland, but there were various legal provisions on the rights of patients and minors. A working group had proposed measures for strengthening the right of self-determination in this context, but no decisions on these proposals had been made yet.

There was no regulation of outdoor activities in psychiatric hospitals, but outdoor activities were included in patients’ individual care plans. Legislation had been amended to ensure that administrative decisions were issued before medical restraints were used against patients. These decisions could be appealed.

Questions by Committee Experts

NAOKO MAEDA, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, welcomed the Government's ambition to tackle various challenges in criminal justice. The Committee encouraged the State party to continue its efforts to reopen the work of the steering group on the transfer of responsibility over remand prisoners. It was regrettable that all detained juveniles were not covered by the new wards for minors, although the number of juvenile cases was small. Why were all minor remand prisoners not kept apart from adults? Would the State party reconsider this policy?

The Committee welcomed that the National Police Board had issued a specific directive regarding police action in cases of domestic violence, intimate partner violence and violence against women in July 2020, as well as the functional handbook for addressing domestic violence and its prevention. It also welcomed the 2023 directive on prioritisation of pretrial investigations and decision making, which supported the investigation of crimes against women. The police reportedly initiated a mediation process in close to 90 per cent of domestic violence cases. The National Police Board’s guidelines established that the police should not direct cases of repetitive or continuous violence to mediation. However, it was reported that this practice seemed to continue. Did the new directives issued by the National Police Board cover these concerns?

While welcoming the efforts of the State party to strengthen fundamental safeguards for policing, the Committee emphasised the importance of data collection and statistics. The State party needed to strengthen its capacity to compile, disaggregate and analyse statistical data relevant to the monitoring of the implementation of the Convention, in a more targeted and coordinated manner.

Concern had been expressed about Finland's practice of detaining children for immigration reasons. Under the Aliens Act, children, including unaccompanied minors over 15, could be detained under certain conditions, such as insufficient alternatives to detention or to preserve family unity. The requirement for detained individuals to request a judicial review could obstruct the essential procedural right to a prompt judicial assessment, especially for children. The Committee was concerned about the detention of children, particularly unaccompanied, for immigration purposes. Could the State party provide information on policies and measures to ensure the safety of unaccompanied children?

According to the Code of Judicial Procedure, a court could not use evidence that had been obtained through torture. However, this prohibition did not specifically extend to other forms of ill-treatment or violations. A court could use evidence obtained unlawfully if it did not prejudice a fair trial. It remained for the court to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether evidence obtained through ill-treatment was admissible. Did the State party plan to amend the Code of Judicial Procedure and explicitly prohibit the admissibility of evidence obtained through ill-treatment less severe than torture?

BAKHTIYAR TUZMUKHAMEDOV, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Council of Europe had stated that the Finnish Government should bear some responsibility for the situation on the State’s eastern border. There were reports of anti-immigration statements, including from Government officials, from well before the events at the eastern border.

Could the delegation clarify the definition of aggravating circumstances in the Criminal Code with regard to crimes of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment?

Training on the Istanbul Protocol was being practiced in Finnish learning institutions. Could the delegation explain the concept of “petty war crimes” referenced in Finnish legislation? Did this imply disobedience of orders or hazing of new recruits? No war crimes should be perceived as “petty”. Were these offences that occurred outside of armed conflict?

During the reporting period and to this day, Finland had never nominated a candidate to the human rights treaty bodies. Why was this?

Another Committee Expert said that crimes against humanity and war crimes, following the definition of the Rome Statute, were widespread attacks against the civilian population or crimes committed in the context of war. Certain crimes of torture would not fall under this definition, and thus were subject to the statute of limitations in Finland. Would the State party consider amending legislation to address this?

One Committee Expert said that, according to reports, there had been several legislative proposals that would weaken the rights of asylum seekers and refugees. People of different ethnic backgrounds were not treated equally in asylum procedures. What were the latest legislative developments concerning these issues? How was the State party upholding its international obligations with regard to asylum seekers?

A Committee Expert said the Finnish Government had claimed that a third country was directing asylum seekers to its eastern border. The closure of the border prevented asylum seekers from entering Finland from Russia. There were reports that the Government was planning to carry out pushbacks without considering individuals’ protection needs. This would be a violation of the principle of non-refoulement. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Parliamentary Ombudsman had expressed concern about this measure, stating that it obstructed the right to seek asylum. Had the State party consulted with these bodies on this issue?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said Finland had not submitted a candidate for the treaty bodies for a long time, but it had supported several Nordic candidates. Campaigning for election was intensive and required significant resources. In future, the State would continue to make public calls for Finnish candidates.

Decisions on mediation in domestic violence cases were made on a case-by-case basis. Police were advised not to direct cases involving repetitive crime to mediation. Criminal investigations needed to be completed in all cases, regardless of mediation proceedings.

When drafting legislation, including on asylum, work was done to ensure that it did not conflict with the State party’s international obligations. Detention of unaccompanied minors younger than 15 years old was not permitted, while minors aged 15 to 17 could be detained before they were deported. Detention was very rare and was always used as a last resort. The Aliens Act provided alternatives to detention. In 2023, no minors were detained, including unaccompanied minors and minors travelling with their families.

The Government had decided to protect Finland’s national security by closing eastern border crossing points. Applications for international protection could be made from open border crossing points. Finland had not pushed any asylum seekers back to the Russian Federation.

Finland did not seek to maintain the current practice of exceptionally detaining some minors with adults. This was why it had constructed new facilities for detaining minors. These were not yet all operational, but the State party’s goal was to be able to separate all detained minors and adults.

There was no case law on torture, limiting the possibility to see how courts would interpret current legislation in such cases. For practical reasons, time barring was implemented for serious offences. The statute of limitations in aggravated manslaughter cases was 12 years, and it was possible that a similar statute of limitations could be implemented for cases of torture.

Legislation on “petty war crimes” treated minor violations of international legislation as full-scale war crimes and differentiated between war crimes based on their seriousness. Any act that caused suffering, including an act of torture, was not considered “petty”.

Special concern had been given to protection of the Russian minority from discrimination. The police had a unit monitoring hate crimes against this group. Finland conducted legal scrutiny of proposed legislation before submitting it to Parliament for approval. There were many ways to ensure that amendments to legislation followed Finland’s international obligations.

Concluding Statements

CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chair, thanked the delegation for participating in the high-quality dialogue. The Committee’s concluding observations would underscore items that were priority areas, that could be addressed within a year. The Committee intended to continue to engage in dialogue with Finland. It appreciated the financial and moral support provided by Finland to the Committee and the treaty bodies system, particularly in the context of the liquidity crisis faced by the United Nations.

KRISTA OINONEN, Director, Ministry for Foreign Affairs and head of the delegation, said the Committee had asked many pertinent questions throughout the dialogue, which had allowed the State party to address issues in a constructive manner. The Committee’s concluding observations would be translated into Finnish and added to the State party’s database of concluding observations from international human rights bodies. Various entities would review the observations with a view to achieving their implementation.


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