Finland: Everyone should receive equal protection against discrimination

Strasbourg, 13/6/2012 - "The recent adoption of a National Action Plan on Human Rights signals the determination of the Government to improve the protection of human rights in Finland. The establishment of the Human Rights Centre and the Human Rights Delegation is another positive development although further consideration should be given to their resource needs", said Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after concluding his three-day visit to Finland.

"The Finnish Government should now demonstrate similar leadership in its planned reform of equal treatment legislation", the Commissioner pointed out. "Everyone should receive equal protection against discrimination through a comprehensive and coherent non-discrimination act and an easily accessible equality body which treats complaints and promotes equality in all fields of activity." Unnecessary fragmentation of equal treatment legislation should be avoided.

The gender pay gap and violence against women are enduring problems in Finland. The equal pay programme and the national programme to reduce violence should be rigorously implemented. Finland should also ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

The Commissioner welcomed the explicit prohibition of homophobic hate crime in the penal code and urged the Finnish Government to extend the provision to include transphobic hate crime as well. The protection system for equal treatment should clearly cover both sexual orientation and gender identity. Infertility and non-marriage as requirements for the official recognition of gender reassignment should be abolished while special attention should be given to the self-determination of inter-sex persons.

"Somalis, Russian-speakers and Roma are the most likely victims of ethnic discrimination and xenophobia in Finland – the marginalisation of young Somali persons is of particular concern", Mr Muižnieks noted. A National Policy on Roma is already being implemented but for the Somalis and Russian-speakers more specific measures are needed to improve their employment opportunities and further their social integration.

The situation of older persons will require more attention as the Finnish population grows older in the future. The Commissioner visited the Leevi housing service units for older persons in Helsinki and discussed the current reform of legislation on care services for older people with the Finnish Government. "The supervision of services provided in domestic settings and equally affordable access to long-term care in different municipalities are current challenges", the Commissioner pointed out.

Commissioner Muižnieks encouraged Finland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and highlighted the importance of involving people with disabilities in its implementation and monitoring. In addition, the Commissioner urged Finland to ratify the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. "Further delay in the ratification process does not appear necessary and hinders the participation of the national prevention mechanism in international cooperation on the issue", said the Commissioner.

Mr Muižnieks called on the Finnish Government to finally ratify the ILO Convention no. 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples. "Sami land rights and their right to reindeer herding in the traditional manner should be clearly recognised under Finnish legislation. It is time to conclude the long overdue ratification process of the ILO Convention", the Commissioner stressed.

The Commissioner's report on his visit to Finland is forthcoming.