Amnesty International’s statement to the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the occasion of the review of Finland

Honourable Committee members,

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today and especially for the efforts made by the Committee and the Secretariat to enable a virtual review of Finland. My name is Kaisa Korhonen and I represent Amnesty International. In the interest of time, I will focus on four areas of concerns raised in our written submission.

Firstly,

the current Trans Act violates transgender people’s rights to personal integrity, privacy, and family life. In 2019, the Government committed to reforming the Trans Act and removing the requirement to be sterilized as a prerequisite for legal gender recognition. A working group‘s proposal for a legal reform is expected by the end of the year. Amnesty International welcomes the reform, which is long overdue. However, we are concerned that legal gender recognition will continue to be available to adults only, violating the right to privacy of transgender children, exposing them to discrimination, harassment, and violence.

We would welcome a recommendation for an urgent reform of the Trans Act to respect the right to privacy, non-discrimination and self-determination, including for children and youth. Prohibition of medically unnecessary surgeries of intersex children must be included in the reform.

Secondly,

during the COVID-19 pandemic, violence against women has increased. The number and accessibility of services remain inadequate, especially for marginalized women.

At the end of 2020, the Government Action Plan for Combating Violence against Women (2020–2023) came into force setting in motion various legal reforms. We are concerned that some of the policies are short term in nature and lack sustainable funding considering the magnitude of this problem.

We would welcome a recommendation that highlights the urgent need for adequately resourced long-term policies and action plans, that include the establishment of prevention and early intervention services, along with long-term support services accessible for all women.

In July 2020, a working group appointed by the Ministry of Justice proposed that rape should be defined as sexual intercourse with a person not participating voluntarily. We welcome the law reform to be consent based. However, the working group proposal, proposes that the use of position of authority to commit acts of sexual violence against a person under their duty of care, including children, would continue to be defined as sexual abuse, not rape, leading to a lesser sentence.

We would welcome a recommendation stating clearly that the abuse of a position of authority must be considered an aggravating factor.

Thirdly, 

Despite a commitment by the Government in 2011 to end immigration detention of children, Finland continues to detain unaccompanied children and families with children.

We would welcome a recommendation to end the immigration detention of children.

In addition, unaccompanied minors aged 15 to 17 awaiting removal can be directed to reside in a specific location with a requirement to report four times a day. We are concerned that these obligations severely restrict the rights of the child, including freedom of movement and access to education, possibly amounting to detention. Information and statistics are unfortunately not available.

Income threshold requirements, introduced in 2016, continue to significantly restrict the right to family reunification for those granted international protection. During the COVID-19 pandemic, family reunification has become even more difficult. Processes have been lengthier or stalled due to Embassy closures to the public and lack of possibilities to submit documentation and provide identification online. The Government has announced plans to abolish the income requirement from unaccompanied minors, but we are concerned that the requirement may be preserved for adults.

A recommendation to abolish the income requirement from persons with international protection status to enable family reunification would be welcomed.

In 2016, the Government also restricted the right to fair and effective asylum procedures. The restrictions included weakened access to legal aid and shortened deadlines for lodging appeals. In 2019, the Government restricted repeat applications by limiting their suspensive effect. In December 2020, the Government introduced a legal reform which would abolish many of the restrictions. The reform is still to be approved in parliament – and unfortunately, does not address all shortcomings.

We would welcome a recommendation calling for an urgent law reform to ensure a fair asylum process, allowing repeat asylum applications without the high threshold introduced in 2019.

Finally,

the length of the civilian alternative to military service in Finland remains punitive and discriminatory. In 2018, the Helsinki Court of Appeal ruled that legislation exempting Jehovah’s witnesses but no other conscientious objectors from military and civilian service is contrary to the prohibition of discrimination. Contrary to a recommendation by this Committee, the government did not extend the preferential treatment to other groups of conscientious objectors but instead removed the exemption for Jehovah’s witnesses with a law in 2019.

We would welcome a recommendation calling on the government to reduce the length of civilian service, in line with internationally recognized standards and recommendations and to immediately and unconditionally release all conscientious objectors and abolish any other forms of punishment of conscientious objectors.