3. Civic freedoms and rights in Finland

Legal frameworks governing civic space are well-established in Finland and are protected by a series of publicly funded and widely respected ombudsman institutions and other independent oversight bodies, in addition to the court system. Core protections, such as freedom of speech or expression, freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and the right to equality and protection from discrimination,1 are protected in Finland’s Constitution, as well as in national legislation. Upholding these freedoms is also part of Finland’s obligation as a European Union (EU) member state and as a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Finnish Constitution applies to anyone present in Finland, as well as all Finnish citizens and residents of Finland not present in Finland (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1]). The rights therein are not absolute, but any exceptions or exemptions must be set out in law. For example, the right to freedom of expression exempts illegal forms of hate speech, the right to assembly can be limited for the sake of health or security, freedom of association does not include the right to form militias, and the right of privacy can be limited for the purpose of investigating certain crimes.

Finland’s Supreme Court and the European Convention on Human Rights have ruled on several limitations to constitutionally protected freedoms. The legal requirement for all exemptions and exceptions is that they are proportional and prescribed by law; that the laws are precise and carefully defined; and that the limitations are acceptable and do not derogate from the essence of a fundamental freedom or right, constitute an adequate legal protection, and are consistent with Finland’s human rights obligations. Often, limitations to one constitutionally protected right are the result of another constitutionally protected right. For instance, the right to freedom of expression is limited by the right to privacy.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Finland declared a national state of emergency on 16 March 2020 that ended on 16 June. It did not notify any international human rights bodies about related derogations from its human rights obligations (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[2]). A second state of emergency came into force on 1 March 2021.

The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed in Article 12 of the Constitution. Everyone has a right to freedom of expression. This includes the right to provide, disseminate and receive information, opinions and other messages without someone’s prior censorship. As a state party to the European Convention on Human Rights, Finland is also bound to ensure protection of the right to freedom of expression as stated in Article 10.

The right to freedom of expression does not include speech that is designated in law as illegal. This includes libel and defamatory speech such as harassing communications, dissemination of information violating personal privacy, aggravated dissemination of information that violates the right to privacy, defamation, and aggravated defamation in Chapter 24 of the Criminal Code (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]). Freedom of expression is also limited by public order violations.

Finland criminalises both defamation and aggravated defamation. Aggravated defamation occurs when the defamation causes great suffering or “especially great harm” (Criminal Code, Chapter 24, Section 10) (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]). Defamation is punishable with monetary fines, and aggravated defamation with up to two years of imprisonment.

Freedom of expression does not extend to acts that constitute illegal hate speech. “Hate speech”, per se, is not defined in Finnish law, but it does constitute a criminal offence when it contains the essential elements of a crime (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). The most common such offence is “agitation against an ethnic group”, or the separate offence of “aggravated ethnic agitation”, both found in Chapter 11, Section 10 of the Criminal Code (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]). Ethnic agitation is defined as follows:

A person who makes available to the public or otherwise spreads among the public or keeps available for the public information, an expression of opinion or another message where a certain group is threatened, defamed or insulted on the basis of its race, skin colour, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or a comparable basis, shall be sentenced for ethnic agitation to a fine or to imprisonment for at most two years. (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3])

This provision was enacted in the 1970s with the intention of protecting ethnic minorities and later extended to also protect other minority groups based on their sexual orientation and disabled status.2 While the provision does not exclude members of a majority group (such as ethnic Finns, heterosexuals or fully abled persons), in practice, it has been used to protect minorities.3 A monetary fine is the minimum sentence issued for hate speech, which carries a maximum sentence of two years of imprisonment. Speech that qualifies as an “aggravated agitation against an ethnic group” carries a minimum sentence of four months and a maximum sentence of four years of imprisonment (Chapter 11, Section 10(a)) (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]).

Verbal assaults targeting members of a majority group may be considered defamation or another offence. The Finnish Criminal Code criminalizes defamation (Chapter 24, Section 9). A person who spreads false information or a false insinuation about another person so that the act is conducive to causing damage or suffering to that person, or subjecting that person to contempt, or disparages another person, may be sentenced to a fine. A person who spreads false information or a false insinuation about a deceased person, so that the act is conducive to causing suffering to a person to whom the deceased was particularly close, may also be sentenced for defamation. Notably, criticism that is directed at a person’s activities in politics, business, public office, public position, science, art or comparable public activity and that does not obviously exceed the limits of propriety does not constitute defamation. In 2013, the law was changed to bring it into line with the case law of European Court of Human Rights. A new subparagraph was introduced so that any expression that is “a matter of general importance” and does “not clearly exceed what can be deemed acceptable” is not considered defamation. The possibility of a sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment was also abolished.4

When hate is a motivating factor underpinning any crime – when the crime is committed with a motive based on “race, skin colour, birth status, national or ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation or disability or another corresponding grounds” – the punishment may be increased, according to Chapter 6, Section 5(1)(4) of the Criminal Code.5 Other related offences such as defamation, menace, public incitement to an offence, and dissemination of information violating personal privacy or stalking may also be applied, whether online or offline (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]; Library of Congress, 2020[5]). Furthermore, verbal assaults can be deemed illegal as “harassment” under Chapter 3, Sections 8 and 14 of the Non-Discrimination Act (related to “age, national origin, nationality, language, religion, faith, opinion, trade union activity, family situation, health, disability, sexual orientation, or any other circumstances pertaining to an individual person”) (Ministry of Justice, 2014[6]). They may also constitute “sexual harassment” or “gender-based harassment” under Section 7 of the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 1986, latest amendments 2016[7]).

Freedom of expression does not protect incitement to criminal acts. Thus, speech that incites others to commit criminal acts, including violence, when uttered in a mass gathering, in print, or online, may result in monetary fines or no more than two years of imprisonment, as per Chapter 17, Section 1 of the Criminal Code (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]).

Chapter 2, Section 13 of Finland’s Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and freedom of association for anyone present in the country. Specifically:

Everyone has a right to arrange gatherings and demonstrations as well as participate in such events.

Everyone has a right to freedom of association. The right to freedom of association includes a right to, without a prior permit, form associations, belong to or not belong to associations, and participate in the associations’ activities. The freedom of labour associations and the freedom to organize in order to monitor other interests are also ensured. (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1])

In addition, the right to freedom of movement is guaranteed in Article 9 of the Constitution.

The right to assembly is further regulated in the Assemblies Act (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments 2002[8]). A fundamental principle is that assemblies and public events must be:

… arranged peacefully, without compromising the safety of the participants or bystanders and without infringing their rights. When arranging an event, care shall be taken that the assembly does not cause significant damage to the environment.

All persons wishing to organise an assembly must be treated equally according to Chapter 1, Section 3.2 (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments 2002[8]):

When arranging a public meeting or public event, no one shall without an acceptable reason be treated differently from others on the basis of personal circumstances.6

The Finnish Associations Act governs freedom of association, which states that an association may be founded “for the common realisation of a non-profit purpose” (Chapter 1, Section 1) (Ministry of Justice, 1989, latest amendments 2016[9]).

There are exemptions to the right of freedom of assembly, including in the Public Ordinance Law, the Contagious Disease Act, the Emergency Preparedness Law and the Criminal Code. Freedom of association may also be limited by law. The requirements and limitations for when an association may be formed are set out in the Finnish Associations Act, which states that: an association must not be “contrary to law or proper behaviour” (Chapter 1, Section 1); members always have a right to leave the association (Chapter 3, Section 13); and an association may be dissolved if it “acts substantially against law or good practice” or if it “acts substantially against the purpose defined for it in its rules” (Chapter 8, Section 43) (Ministry of Justice, 1989, latest amendments 2016[9]).

Since an amendment to the Assembly Act in 2019, Finnish police must be notified of outdoor meetings, such as demonstrations in public places, 24 hours before they start. The police website now instructs people that:

Notification of a public meeting arranged outdoors must be made either verbally or in writing to the local police at least 24 hours before the meeting is planned to begin. Notifications made later than this may also be considered valid if the meeting will not cause undue disturbance to public order (Police of Finland, n.d.[10]).

Before the introduction of the amendment, just six hours’ notice was needed. See Chapter 5 for a discussion of an ongoing reform process of the act. In a significant recent development for civic space and equality, in September 2020 the Supreme Court ordered the dissolution of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM), an unregistered neo-Nazi association, following proceedings brought by the National Police Board against the group in 2017 on the basis that it contravened the Associations Act (Ministry of Justice, 1989, latest amendments 2016[9]). The threshold for dissolution is in practice extremely high to the constitutional guarantee of freedom of association7 and a court decision is required. In practice, the banning of associations or groups such as the NRM is extremely rare and does not stop them from operating. NRM members have already formed, or are active in, new groups (such as Towards Freedom and People’s Unity).8 The Ministry of the Interior considers that former members continue to pose a threat of violence.9 Finland is to date the only Nordic country to ban its NRM chapter, which is also active in Sweden (where it is a political party), Denmark, Iceland and Norway.

The Finnish Constitution protects against discrimination in Chapter 2, Section 6, which specifically states that:

Everyone is equal before the law. No one shall, without an acceptable reason, be treated differently from other persons on the ground of sex, age, origin, language, religion, conviction, opinion, health, disability or other reason that concerns his or her person.

Equality of the sexes is promoted in societal activity and working life, especially in the determination of pay and the other terms of employment … (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1])

Discrimination as a criminal act is addressed in Chapter 11, Section 11 of the Criminal Code, specifically:

Anyone who in business, professional practice, serves the public; performs a service or any other public assignment; or arranges a public event or a general meeting and without acceptable reason:

  1. 1) does not serve any particular person on normal terms,

  2. 2) denies any access to the event or meeting or removes anyone therefrom, or

  3. 3) puts someone in a manifestly unequal or significantly worse position than others because of his race, national or ethnic origin, skin color, language, sex, age, family relationship, sexual orientation, genetic heritage, disability or state of health or religion, social opinion, political or trade union activity or any other comparable circumstance, unless the act constitutes discrimination in working life or usury-like discrimination in working life, for discrimination is sentenced to a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of six months (Ministry of Justice, 1889, latest amendments in 2015[3]).

The rules on discrimination apply equally to foreign nationals. Finland is also bound by EU Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000, which implements the principle of equal treatment of people regardless of racial and ethnic origin. Discrimination is further regulated and addressed in several Finnish acts, including the Discrimination Act and the Act on Equality Between Women and Men (Ministry of Justice, 2014[6]; Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 1986, latest amendments 2016[7]). The Sámi, as well as Roma “and other groups”, have the right to maintain and develop their own language and culture and Sámi speakers have a right to use their language in dealing with the government, in accordance with Chapter 2, Section 17 of the Constitution (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1]).

Since 2017, Finland’s marriage definition is gender-neutral, and it has recognised same-sex partnerships since 2002 (Hofverberg, 2017[11]). Discrimination based on sexual orientation has been illegal since 1995 and based on gender identify and intersex status since 2013. Finland is among the 17 OECD countries that have the most legal protections10 in place for sexual and gender minorities (OECD, 2020[12]). Figure 3.1 illustrates how legal rights for LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, intersexual or queer) people in Finland have dramatically improved over the past decade, with the notable exception of transgender people. Transgender people are permitted to change their gender marker in the civil registry, but this legal recognition is conditional on a medical certificate stating that they are infertile. In practice, this results in people self-medicating to render themselves temporarily infertile.11

Publicly funded independent oversight mechanisms are a fundamental and long-established part of the state’s architecture to protect individual rights in Finland. The system comprises a range of Ombudsman’s offices including the Ombudsman for Equality, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, the Consumer Ombudsman, the Data Protection Ombudsman and the Ombudsman for Children, who provide accessible “low-threshold legal remedies” for the public (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2018[14]). This section presents an overview of the key role of these institutions in providing oversight and protection of civic space in Finland, in addition to a focus on the legal aid system and the rule of law more generally.

The two supreme institutions involved in safeguarding fundamental liberties and rights are the Chancellor of Justice and the Parliamentary Ombudsman, which have very similar wide-ranging functions in terms of overseeing the activities of public authorities and civil servants, in addition to monitoring the legality of the exercise of public office in a wider sense. The Constitution of Finland (Sections 108-113) is the basis for their extensive oversight functions, which are elaborated in several laws (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1]). Chapter 9, Section 108 of the Constitution, for example, stipulates that the Chancellor of Justice shall “oversee the lawfulness of the official acts of the government and the President of the Republic”. Both offices are charged with ensuring that “the courts of law, the other authorities and the civil servants, public employees and other persons, when the latter are performing a public task, obey the law and fulfil their obligations” (Chapter 9, Sections 108 and 109) (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1]). Furthermore, both offices monitor the implementation of fundamental rights and human rights in Finland. An ongoing reform process is seeking to better clarify and differentiate their respective roles by updating and developing their respective areas of specialisation and division of work (Chancellor of Justice, 2020[15]). Both institutions carry considerable weight and are widely respected in Finland.

The role of the Chancellor of Justice, established as far back as 1713, was the first of these oversight mechanisms to be established. Crucially for the protection of civic space, it undertakes systematic ex ante constitutional reviews of all legislation before it is submitted to parliament to ensure good legal practice, including to verify that proposed laws have been subject to public consultations and that the results of these are fairly presented.12 In addition, the office performs inspections of public institutions and carries out investigations on its own initiative, initiates legal proceedings, issues reprimands as well as instructions regarding proper legal procedures, makes recommendations on compensation and rectification and regarding changes to legislation, and draws attention to the correct application of the law. The two most powerful measures the office can take are prosecutions of civil servants and judges and – in rare circumstances – requests for a revocation of government decisions, if found to be illegal.13 The Chancellor requests regular revocations of judgments in the Supreme Court, most often based on outdated criminal charges. The Chancellor himself participates in all government plenary sessions and presidential sessions in which the government and the president take legally binding decisions and also attends informal cabinet meetings.

Both supreme oversight offices receive complaints from individuals, associations, societies and companies and provide their services free of charge. In so doing, they provide the primary means of obtaining a remedy against “passivity and unreasonable delays in public administration or in a court”, together with “undue delays and omissions” in guaranteeing access to public documents (Chancellor of Justice, 2020[15]). The Chancellor of Justice has also encouraged non-governmental organisations to be in touch and actively requested information and opinions from such groups. With a budget of approximately EUR 3.5 million per year and current staff of 31, the Chancellor of Justice reviewed 8 329 judgments on penal cases in the courts in 2019 and handled 55 cases in which a judge was suspected of illegal conduct.14 It also issued decisions on 1 930 cases, with a further 2 130 complaints received from citizens.15 The number of citizen complaints received by the office has been rising rapidly in recent years, with 2 368 received in 2020 (as of 10 November).16

The Parliamentary Ombudsman, whose primary task is to investigate complaints from the public, had a budget of EUR 5.95 million, a staff of 68 and resolved 6 057 individual complaints in 2019 (Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, 2020[16]). In 2018, this figure was 5 410, again indicating the growing demand for such services. The highest number of complaints related to social welfare (1 088), followed by the police (712) and health (631) (Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, 2020[16]). The office engages in a wide range of activities, including assessments of the need for pre-trial investigations, making reprimands, providing legal opinions, making recommendations, undertaking independent inspections, and making proposals on the development of legislation and redressing legislative errors. The Ombudsman’s office is also part of the National Human Rights Institutions of Finland; is the National Preventive Mechanism under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; and has responsibility for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, 2020[16]).

Other Ombudsman’s offices support the implementation of human rights in accordance with their particular area of expertise. The Data Protection Ombudsman is the national supervisory authority on compliance with data protection legislation (Ministry of Justice, 2018[17]), for example. In practice, this means that it oversees the application of more than 700 laws. It can impose administrative fines and, in some cases, a rectification of a data violation.17 Since 2018, as a result of the EU’s Gender Data Protection Regulation, its services are considerably more in demand and its budget has increased as a result. In 2017, it instituted 3 957 cases and resolved 3 438, whereas in 2018 it instituted 9 617 cases and resolved 6 716 (Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman, 2019[18]). Its budget was EUR 3 244 000 in 2019, up from EUR 1 700 000 in 2016, and it currently has a staff of 45 (Deloitte, 2019[19]).

Similarly, the Ombudsman for Equality’s main role is to supervise compliance with the Act on Equality between Women and Men (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 1986, latest amendments 2016[7]). The office issues non-binding legal opinions and statements. Enquiries and requests for information make up the majority of matters handled on suspected cases of discrimination in relation to gender, gender identity and gender expression. In 2019, the office entered a total of 414 cases into the written register and resolved 439 cases. It received a total of 853 enquiries.18 Between 2015 and 2019, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or parental leave was the single biggest focus of inquiries made to the office, illustrating the extent to which gender inequality is still a persistent issue in Finland.19 Figure 3.2 illustrates the other issues it deals with, which include discrimination related to goods and services, recruitment, the persistent gender pay gap,20 supervision of work and work conditions, termination of employment, and harassment in the workplace, among others.

The Ombudsman for Equality’s Office is relatively less well funded than others, with a budget of EUR 970 000 in 2019 and ten permanent employees, with implications for its functionality.21 While the office is mandated to promote equality, its ability to supervise the obligations of employers and educational institutions is particularly restricted due to a lack of resources.22 Since 2015, it also deals with matters related to gender identity, but has not been given a budget to do so (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019[21]).

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s mandate is to promote equality and tackle discrimination, in addition to monitoring the realisation of the rights of minorities, acting as the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, and monitoring the removal of foreign nationals from the country. The office provides non-binding legal support to individuals who have experienced or witnessed discrimination based on personal characteristics, in line with the Non-Discrimination Act (Ministry of Justice, 2014[6]). This involves providing legal counselling, investigating cases, negotiating reconciliation and influencing relevant legislation. It also works to “improve the rights and status of groups at risk of discrimination” (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2019[22]). The office invites people to report discrimination on its website (https://syrjinta.fi/asiakaspalvelu) as part of its customer service. In 2018, the office handled 1 192 complaints, the highest number ever (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2019[22]). Origin and disability23 were the two most common reasons for alleged discrimination. The office had 24 permanent or temporary staff in 2018 and a budget of EUR 1.73 million in 2019 (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2019[22]).

In addition to the independent oversight and services described above, a network of legal aid offices provides means-tested legal advice and support in both criminal and civil cases, via a national network of offices.24 Recipients are granted legal aid based on their income, expenditures and maintenance costs, with family size and tax payments being taken into consideration and with some required to pay a percentage of costs incurred (Ministry of Justice, 2014[23]).

There are 24 offices and 80 other “locations” (approximately 60 of which are permanently staffed) providing support from a team of some 220 lawyers and 230 support staff.25 Notably, survivors of severe violence or domestic violence are entitled to legal aid regardless of their personal financial situation. In 2019, legal aid offices dealt with approximately 46 700 cases, of which 87% were civil and administrative cases and 13% were criminal cases (Ministry of Justice, 2020[24]). The budget for legal aid offices (excluding debt counselling services) is approximately EUR 35 million, plus an additional EUR 70 million for private sector lawyers funded through the same system.26

While the oversight function in relation to protecting civic freedoms and rights is generally considered to be accessible, fair and well-functioning, several challenges were highlighted during the interviews conducted for this Civic Space Scan. The sheer number of cases received and the growing complexity of these cases is putting increasing demands on budgets, which vary considerably. Other challenges relate to a lack of data. While the Office of the Ombudsman for Equality publishes data in its annual report on the number of cases handled, for example, there is a lack of data gathered on the background of the clients availing of its services, which could facilitate targeting of services to those most in need.27 It is unclear whether the office’s services are accessible to marginalised groups; many of its clients appear to be well-educated and have strong positions in the labour market. The office is aware of the need to gather and publish more data on the clients availing of its services, including related to their (migration) background, and is planning a reform in this area.28

Overall, the checks and balances in the system appear to work well and are praiseworthy in terms of protecting individual rights. There are some exceptions to this, however. For instance, access to justice related to environmental matters is regarded as strong, while climate change is another matter. Access to justice is considered very unclear for both individuals and civil society organisations (CSOs) in this area due to omissions within the Finnish Climate Change Act.29 At the same time, improvements could also be made to understand the accessibility of services provided by the oversight mechanisms via targeted outreach to, and research among, marginalised communities, including on intersectional inequalities and discrimination (Government of Canada, 2020[25]). These overlapping forms of discrimination (e.g., based on gender, immigration status, ethnicity, social class, etc.) are particularly insidious as they affect people in multiple different ways. By seeking to understand the intersection between diverse types of inequalities, it is possible to comprehend the multiple systems, institutions, and prevailing attitudes and behaviours that lead to unequal outcomes for certain groups.

By definition, services such as legal aid target the most disadvantaged members of society. Outreach programmes could be strengthened through hiring more people from minority groups; thereby ensuring that the needs of minority, at-risk language groups are catered to30 and that the needs of sub-groups of vulnerable or marginalised people (e.g., female migrants, female members of the Sámi and Roma populations, disabled minorities) are addressed. The offices could use quantitative data – which are currently focused on annual reporting – more visibly and strategically, accompanied by public communications, to raise awareness and improve impact. For oversight mechanisms providing services to the public, more visible and regular publishing of fine-grained disaggregated data would help to shed light not merely on clients availing of legal services, but it would also help to identify emerging needs and gaps in services and aid understanding of accessibility and required follow up. Being able to answer the question as to whether those who most in need are can access services is both achievable and necessary. Furthermore, more visible data could also help to counter complacency by showing, for example, that equality issues in Finland remain a challenge in some areas and need financial resources to tackle them.

It is important for Finland to ensure adequate and consistent funding for the oversight institutions, which have widely varying budgets, to allow them to respond to the growing demand for their services and to fulfil their core mandates. Currently the Ombudsman for Equality’s crucial role in promoting equality is under-resourced and all of the ombudsman offices face similar challenges, including in regard to maintaining full independence from related ministries. More collaboration between different Ombudsman’s offices and institutions could also help to develop expertise, and related services, on intersectional inequality and discrimination (Government of Canada, 2020[25]). The active promotion of equal recruitment practices, such as anonymous job application procedures, could help to reduce related discrimination.

Finally, monitoring the outcomes of legal statements and opinions issued by the various offices would aid understanding of their efficacy and impact. Box 3.1 offers good country practices from Canada for a cross-sectoral approach to combating siloed approaches and discrimination in the public sector.

This section describes several key issues that were highlighted by interviewees as challenging Finland’s protection of civic space. Hate crimes and hate speech are related to the discriminatory treatment of targeted groups in Finnish society, thereby effectively excluding them from being able to participate in public life on an equal basis. Due to the fact that the use of hate speech is a direct obstacle to civic space by intimidating and silencing people, and is perceived as being increasingly prevalent in Finland, this Civic Space Scan examines its origins (in discriminatory attitudes, racism and intolerance) before examining its prevalence and countermeasures taken to address it in some detail. It then discusses other challenges related to tackling violence against women, the exclusion of other groups, freedom of association and freedom of assembly.

Racism targeting ethnic minorities is a significant challenge in Finland. In 2020, the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman undertook a study on “afrophobia” in Finland, noting that “afrophobic racist discrimination is a widespread social phenomenon that affects the lives and well-being of people of African descent at all levels and sectors of society” (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2020[30]). It revealed that racism manifested itself in a range of behaviours from “micro-aggressions” to violence, and that it started in early childhood education, noting that the majority of respondents faced discrimination on a “monthly, weekly or even daily basis” (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2020[30]). It also found that the phenomenon was widely under-reported, mostly because of a belief that reporting would not lead to any changes of behaviour.

Similar “negative attitudes” are present in relation to linguistic minorities in Finland, such as the Finnish-Swedish population, as well as the Sámi (Box 3.2) and Roma populations of Finland, according to the ombudsman (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2018[14]). Discrimination against Roma and ethnic minorities such as Somalis is also very common. This view is supported by a recent Europe-wide report on being black in the EU, which found that rates of “racist harassment” varied considerably across Europe where almost one-third of respondents had experienced racist harassment in the five years before the survey, with the highest rate of 63% reported in Finland (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[31]). In the same time period (five years before the survey), some 5% of respondents had also experienced what they perceived as racist violence across the EU, the highest rates of which were recorded in Finland (14%) (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2018[31]).

People interviewed for this Civic Space Scan reported that public discourse in Finland has become more harsh, crude and polarised in recent years, in particular since a spike in applications for asylum in Finland in 2015.31 The increase in numbers led to an outpouring of assistance to such applicants, but similar to many other countries in Europe, this resulted in an increasingly heated and polarised public debate about the perceived dangers of immigration. According to the Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, much of this public discourse is masked as criticism of immigration but is actually motivated by prejudice and manifests itself in a variety of ways. These include hate speech, discriminatory practices, violent attacks or other “seemingly neutral practices, which, in reality, exclude a part of the population” (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2018[14]). Immigration to Finland has remained comparatively low since 2016, compared with other Nordic countries.

A range of measures has been taken, and continues to be taken, by successive Finnish governments to counter such attitudes. These include inclusive consultations on related legislation, the ongoing development of a Government Action Plan on Racism and Discrimination,32 and related goals in national frameworks such as the National Democracy Programme (Ministry of Justice, 2020[41]).33 The current Police Strategy on Preventive Police Work, for which action plans are developed annually, commits to increasing interaction with minority groups and developing expertise on issues that particularly affect them, noting the absence of mutual understanding “because the representatives of minorities are seen as representatives of their groups and not as individuals” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[42]). It commits to working in co-operation with religious communities who “face security threats, such as hate speech, vandalism, violence and threats of violence”, and to positively discriminating in favour of members of minority groups (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[42]). But overall, and despite these positive steps, there is great room for improvement in terms of undertaking concrete actions to combat discrimination and racism, according to the government’s independent Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations (ETNO).

The tone and content of public discourse on immigration and inclusion issues from some politicians reflects the polarised nature of recent debates. In 2017, the Finnish League for Human Rights expressed concern publicly that “members of the parliamentary parties continue to make openly discriminatory comments, e.g. in social media or in public appearances, or downplay the existence of racism” (Finnish League for Human Rights, 2017[43]). Several politicians from the mainstream Finns Party have been convicted of ethnic agitation in recent years, including the current leader of the party as a case in point. Five municipal politicians and deputy municipal politicians from the party were reportedly convicted of ethnic agitation between 2012 and 2017 and four members of parliament were convicted between 2011 and 2019.34 It appears that none of them were sanctioned or expelled from the party because of their statements or convictions.

Finland has a number of anti-immigrant groups, some with connections to political parties, and divided by Daniel Sallamaa into four categories: 1) groups that are reminiscent of “conventional Finnish associations” and are well-connected to political parties, such as Suomen Sisu (The Perseverance of Finland); 2) street protest groups that organise protests against immigration, Islam and multiculturalism, such as the Finnish Defence League, Rajat Kiinni! (Close the Borders!) and Suomi Ensin (Finland First); 3) groups who patrol the streets to intervene in attacks by foreigners against Finns, such as the Soldiers of Odin; and 4) “militant” organisations, such as the banned neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) that aim for a national socialist-type revolution (Sallamaa, 2019[44]).

National data on “hate crimes” have been published by the Police University College and the Ministry of the Interior’s Police Department since 1998, with data gathered by the national information system (PATJA) and released every October/November for the previous year. For the purposes of reporting, hate crime is defined “as a crime against a person, group, somebody’s property, institution, or a representative of these, motivated by prejudice or hostility towards the victim’s real or perceived ethnic or national origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, transgender identity or appearance, or disability” (Rauta, 2019[45]). Such crimes are recorded by the police using a general crime report form, which should be marked with a specific code whenever a hate crime is suspected. Hate crimes may also be identified in the police recording system later on using key words in order to categorise them in line with the relevant motive.

Table 3.1 illustrates that in 2019, 899 such reports were made. These concerned a total of 1 237 suspected offences. Just over 70% of these alleged crimes were based on ethnic or national origin, a figure that has remained steady for several years. Almost 15% of cases were based on religion (down from 20% in 2018), 5.7% on sexual orientation, 4.9% on disability, and 2.3% on gender identity or expression (Rauta, 2020[46]). Between 2011 and 2019, a total of 8 608 reports of suspected hate crimes were made to the police in Finland, governing a total of 12 534 crimes (Figure 3.3) (Rauta, 2020[47]).

The police have made efforts to respond better to such crimes in recent years. The Police Strategy on Preventive Police Work commits to working “to prevent violent radicalisation, extremism, activities of extremist movements and hate crime” and to strengthening resources to prevent hate crime as a priority (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[42]). However, few such crimes are reported in the first place (Riku and Core, 2019[48]). Interviewees suggested that this is due to a number of factors, including low levels of trust in cases being taken up and investigated by the police.35 The police, on the other hand, are overstretched and under-resourced in all areas of policing, with some 7 300 police officers for the entire country – the lowest per capita in Europe (Eurostat, 2020[49]) – although this number is rising under the current government.36

There is a knock-on effect on prosecutions. Table 3.2 indicates that prosecutions of hate crimes remain low (22 in 2019). There is also a data gap in terms of what happens between cases being reported to the police, being coded, the court system and related prosecutions. A number of initiatives aim to improve this. The aim of an EU-funded Facts against Hate project that is led by the Ministry of Justice is to follow up on cases through the prosecution and court system, including by examining how individual bias may have influenced pre-trial investigations, for example.37 The National Police Board has issued guidelines on identifying and recording hate crimes and these will be updated in 2021 as soon as the Criminal Code amendments discussed below are in place. About 1 000 police officials have participated in training offered by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in 2017 and hate crimes are also part of the basic and continuous instruction and annual specialist's training offered by the Police University College. In 2021, the entire force will also be required to take mandatory online training on equality, good relations and hate crime.38

Sustained resources and training for police on handling hate crimes accompanied by public information campaigns to raise awareness could help to overcome some of the above challenges. The impact of such training could be measured by examining the year-on-year increase in codifications of reported crimes as hate crimes and assessing the quality of responses, as determined by victims, in addition to a likely increase in reports of such crimes. Public communications and speeches from senior police could also be used to spread related messages, with a view to enhancing police performance, enhancing reporting by the public, ensuring effective responses, and building trust with affected communities and groups. A low threshold, well-advertised, dedicated reporting system39 – one which invites reporting online and in person and makes a clear statement about zero tolerance for hate crimes in a wide variety of minority languages – could make it easier for victims to come forward (see Box 3.3).

The most frequently mentioned threat to civic space during the interviews conducted for this Scan – and in particular to freedom of speech, press freedom and protection from discrimination – was the prevalence of hate speech. As with hate crimes more generally, people are targeted for hate speech for multiple reasons, including gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and religion.40 Refugees, asylum seekers, Muslims, people of African descent, and members of the Jewish, Roma and LGBTI communities are all frequently targeted (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019[21]). Sámi politicians and reindeer herders are targeted by people with competing livelihoods in and close to northern homeland areas.41 Finnish female journalists and women, in particular, are targeted with sexualised content, threats of rape, and content that expresses hatred of women with the intention of “humiliating, belittling, threatening, or seeking to silence them” (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]).

Increasingly, a range of professional groups are also experiencing the phenomenon, including journalists, researchers, police, prosecutors, judges, municipal workers and human rights defenders (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]) (see Chapter 6 on the Citizens’ Panel on the Freedom of Expression, which focuses on protecting professionals from hate speech and online harassment, while protecting free expression of opinion). Research published in 2019 indicated that a third of municipal decision makers and almost half of the members of the Finnish parliament or their assistants had been subjected to hate speech related to their official duties (Prime Minister's Office, 2019[55]). The same study found that the increase in hate speech was “a reflection of escalated political confrontations in Finland” and that one of its aims was to influence political party decisions (Prime Minister's Office, 2019[55]). Forty-two per cent of the municipal targets said they had become less willing to engage in political debate as a result and many had left or were considering leaving politics. The Ministry of the Interior has also noted that “the purpose of hate speech disseminated in connection with elections is to influence citizens’ voting behaviour by spreading false and misleading information” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). A 2021 study of Twitter, Abuse of power: Coordinated online harassment of Finnish government ministers, found that female ministers (four of whom were leading their parties at the time of the study) are subjected to ongoing online campaigns of hate speech, with the most severe messages relating to COVID-19, immigration, Finnish-European Union relations and “socially liberal politics” (Van Sant, Fredheim and Bergmanis-Korāts, 2021[56]). Much of the content is overtly sexist and sexually explicit. Representatives from the Union of Journalists in Finland and the Council for Mass Media in Finland said that online harassment has the effect of self-censorship on journalists’ work (see Chapter 4).42 A significant government study undertaken in 2020 noted that the aim of “targeting” (or online shaming, often as part of a mass action) was to silence people or influence their behaviour. It found that this was a direct threat to the rule of law and democracy as it “reduced people’s willingness to participate in democratic processes and to take a public stand on social issues,” in addition to reducing the public’s ability to access information and be informed (Illman, 2020[57]).

The challenge of hate speech has been widely recognised, researched and discussed in recent years in Finland, yielding a substantial number of reports and government-led and funded initiatives to combat it that have been exhaustively documented by the Ministry of the Interior (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). Many national action plans include commitments to counter hate speech43 that have been followed up with projects, preventive work, training, campaigns, official guidelines and research. In late 2018, a cross-ministerial working group for more effective action against hate speech and cyberbullying (comprising representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Education and Culture) was established to make recommendations on a more efficient eradication of hate speech (see Box 3.4 on the recommendations), some of which are already being put into practice.

However, the general view is that a more holistic approach to tackling hate speech is needed. The Ministry of the Interior concedes that efforts so far have been project-based, with work ending when funding expires and a loss of related knowledge and skills, and notes “that the work to counter hate speech is not consistent or target-oriented or adequately coordinated” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). The Ministry of Justice concluded in a recent study that while a number of measures were being taken to prevent and identify hate crime and to tackle it, “overall coordination is lacking” (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, which produces detailed independent reviews of Finland’s handling of racism, intolerance and related matters, noted that there is no “comprehensive and systematic data collection on hate speech and hate-motivated violence” and that the “level of underreporting, especially among vulnerable groups, is an issue and the relatively small number of prosecutions fails to provide an effective deterrent against hate crimes” (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019[21]). Furthermore, “the level of knowledge and expertise among the 10 law enforcement bodies and the judiciary in identifying hate speech and hate crimes does not always suffice for proper identification of such crimes” (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019[21]). Various other pieces of research have also concluded that measures taken to date are inadequate or not far-reaching enough (Knuutila et al., 2019[58]).

Finland’s adoption of a cross-ministerial and multi-dimensional approach to tackling hate speech puts it ahead of many other countries (Government of Canada, 2020[25]). By continuing to broaden this approach through the adoption of a cross-government, holistic and co-ordinated strategy or action plan – in line with the recommendations of the cross-ministerial working group – Finland could be more effective in reducing the phenomenon, as a widely recognised threat to freedom of speech and civic space. Such a holistic strategy would ensure that Finnish women, journalists, public officials, minorities, and any other groups or individuals have the same opportunity to participate in public life as others, without the current fear of recrimination or violence and resulting self-censorship. Such a strategy could be accompanied by a medium- to long-term mandate for an independent oversight mechanism, related funding, and measurable targets or goals for key actors, including the police, the Office of the Prosecutor General, political parties and private sector companies on whose platforms the hate speech is published. Sustained communication and collaboration across government is key, in addition to dialogue between government and civil society on the subject (Government of Canada, 2020[25]).

A key part of such a strategy could be to prioritise the development of a comprehensive database on hate crime and hate speech that seeks to illustrate the true scale of the problem. In particular, gender-based harassment, hate speech and violence could be included in these statistics. Furthermore, data could be used more visibly and strategically to raise the profile of the phenomenon and the impact on those targeted. By improving its data-gathering capacity and the visibility of such data, Finland could help the police to combat such crimes, residents and citizens to protect themselves, and service providers to target their assistance or services. Currently, detailed data are available and published annually in October/November for the previous year. A shift in approach to publish data much more frequently would highlight the extent and urgency of the problem. Disaggregated data would help to highlight geographical areas where hate crimes are occurring (e.g. areas of cities where violent crimes take place),44 as well as locate where and when organised hate campaigns are ongoing.45 Enhanced data illustrating the pathways between reporting of hate crimes, police coding of hate crimes, the court system and prosecutions of such crimes could also help to make the system more transparent and responsive by shining a light on deficiencies and areas requiring an investment of human and financial resources. More visible data on fora being used to spread messages of hate could also be used by authorities in engaging the private sector to take responsibility for the removal of such content, where it reaches an agreed upon threshold.

Finland could also engage in preventive work (e.g., education and media literacy) with identified or potential perpetrators. Much existing emphasis is placed on short-term preventive work with children and youth, which is not yet satisfactory. As one interviewee remarked: “It’s not the children that are the problem, it’s their parents.” Perpetrators are not hard to identify. One study identified about 200 Twitter accounts that were responsible for about half of the hostile tweets, about 75% of which came from a group that was against migration (Prime Minister's Office, 2019[55]). A police team operating under the auspices of the Helsinki Police Department found that 98% of suspects were aged over 30 and 85% of them were male (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). Another study on hate speech targeting female ministers noted that most of the abuse came from “clusters of right-wing accounts” (Van Sant, Fredheim and Bergmanis-Korāts, 2021[56]) While some of the hate speech is clearly organised and targeted, some of it is not. The Ministry of the Interior concedes that not all those engaging in it understand that they are spreading hate speech, much less the consequences of their actions, and that alcohol plays a role in their actions (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[4]). The police generally find that people admit their activities quite easily, in the belief that they are exercising their right to freedom of speech and are unaware they have committed a crime.46 Targeted outreach and awareness campaigns could help to educate them.

In addition to the above measures, an expansion of prosecutions would be beneficial. Several legislative reforms are currently under consideration to widen the scope of the law, and in particular to allow for more prosecutions of such crimes.47

  • The Ministry of Justice has initiated a government proposal to change the Criminal Code to give the public prosecutor the right to bring a charge of “menace” against someone independently, based on the target’s employment or public commission of trust.

    • At present the public prosecutor may not bring charges for menace, unless the injured party reports the offence in order to bring charges, a lethal instrument has been used to commit menace, or a very important public interest requires that charges be brought. The “target’s employment” is a broad concept and is meant to be understood as, for example, referring to the menace directed against free-lance journalists in their work. The proposal was being considered by a Legal Affairs Committee as of February 2021.48

  • The Ministry of Justice has started to prepare for a change in the Criminal Code that will add gender to the motives that constitute grounds for increasing the punishment of (any) crime, as specified in Chapter 6, Section 5. The relevant government proposal was presented to parliament in February 2021.49

  • The government appointed a rapporteur in 2020 to evaluate provisions of the Penal Code and other relevant legislation to tackle the problem of targeting (or online shaming) who published his findings in December 2020 (Illman, 2020[57]). He made a number of important recommendations including:

    • Using the existing Finnish penal provisions to counter the problem, instead of introducing dedicated legislation.

    • Utilising legal provisions that have not been applied so far, including on violations of political freedoms (Chapter 14, Section 5 of the Criminal Code) and coercion (Chapter 25, Section 8).

    • Stepping up the fight against targeting and changing provisions on prosecution to facilitate timely action by the police and prosecutor against offenders. He noted that the threshold for fulfilment of the “very important public interest” requirement that is required in order to initiate a pre-trial investigation and other criminal proceedings was “unjustifiably high” and recommended that targeting could reasonably be considered to meet the threshold as it had “significant adverse effects on the public interest”.

  • The Ministry of Justice will also undertake an evaluation of whether the Criminal Code provisions in relation to organised racism are in line with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and whether related provisions are clear and comprehensive enough. If necessary, amendments to the Criminal Code will be made. There is no specific timeline for this reform, but it is expected to be completed by spring of 2023, in line with the current government programme.

Such reforms and initiatives are a very welcome step. However, a more encompassing, more coordinated, whole-of-government approach to tackling online hate speech, in particular, could be further considered to keep pace with changes in this area. The issue of targeting where individuals are subjected to a systematic or orchestrated campaign of online abuse is of particular importance. Both incitement and knowing participation (aiding) in such activities need to be addressed as a priority. This could be through a reform to the current legal framework, and as suggested by Judge Mika Illman, by targeted banning of the use of social media platforms, as part of increasing the responsibility of online service providers (see Chapter 4) (Illman, 2020[57]).

The announcement by the Ministry of Justice in October 2020 that a government proposal was being prepared for submission to the government in 2021 to update sexual offense laws seeking to criminalise cyber-flashing, or the sending of unwanted sexual imagery, is a welcome step for Finnish women in particular and should be prioritised. Targeting of public officials, journalists or anyone in relation to their work or position of trust, with a view to silencing them, could also be added to the motives that constitute grounds for increasing punishments, in addition to gender. This could be coupled with a more aggressive prosecution of perpetrators, which remains too limited to act as a deterrent. Table 3.3 illustrates that while prosecution for ethnic agitation is on the rise, as with hate crimes, the numbers remain extremely low. Finally, according to interviews, more public funding for CSOs to engage in monitoring and countering hate speech, in support of police work, would also be beneficial and welcomed by the police.50

In 2020, the Finnish government gave EUR 35 635 000 to Finnish political parties, pursuant to the Act on Political Parties (Ministry of Justice, 1969, latest amendements 2010[59]). Section 9 determines that party subsidies are awarded in accordance with the number of parliamentary seats won in the latest elections and that all parties are treated equally. In 2020, funds were divided among nine parties, of which the Finns Party received almost EUR 7 million of public money (EUR 6 948 825) (News Now Finland, 2020[60]). The European Commission Against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has also expressed concern that “there is no obligation in Finland’s civil and administrative law to suppress public financing of organisations which promote racism,” and recommended a change in this regard (European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, 2019[21]).

It would be essential to have an independent oversight mechanism, such as the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, or rapporteur to oversee such a reform and to ensure that freedom of expression is also protected. Furthermore, achieving coherence in this area would also require public authorities to ensure that public funding is not awarded to any groups, including civil society associations that discriminate against sections of the population or espouse or promote discriminatory views. Finland is far from being alone in seeking to tackle these challenges and could learn from measures undertaken in other countries (Box 3.5).

Finland is one of a handful of countries where the “Nordic paradox” is evident; that is, having among the highest rates of gender equality in the world, alongside relatively high rates of gender-based violence targeting women, particularly intimate partner violence (IPV) (Gracia and Merlo, 2016[70]). Such physical violence, and the threat of it, acts as a barrier to civic space as a direct form of oppression, intimidation and discrimination. In 2018, 9 900 cases of domestic violence and IPV were reported to the Finnish authorities – 3.6% higher than in 2017 – of which 75.3% concerned adults and of those, 76.5% concerned women as victims (Statistics Finland, 2019[71]). Among the suspected perpetrators, 77.6% were men. One in two cases directed at adults took place between married or cohabiting couples (Statistics Finland, 2019[71]). Approximately one-fifth of the victims, or 1 500 women, had been a target of domestic violence or IPV more than once in 2018, while 1 200 were victims of repeated violence (Statistics Finland, 2019[71]). Figure 3.4 provides an overview of the number of adult victims of domestic violence and IPV in cases reported to the authorities from 2009 to 2018, with a steady figure of more than 9 500 such cases per year since 2015. This is a fraction of actual cases. Statistics Finland emphasises that “the statistics include only cases reported to the authorities, by no means all cases of domestic violence and intimate partner violence are reported to the authorities” (Statistics Finland, 2019[71]).51

OECD data confirm this general trend and provide a comparative perspective across member countries, illustrating that the incidence of violence against women in Finland is comparatively high (Figure 3.5).

Such violence is a key concern for the Deputy Chancellor of Justice, who considers that domestic violence and IPV are “among the most significant human rights and fundamental rights problems in Finland” (Chancellor of Justice, 2020[15]). The office is working to improve awareness and the capacity to recognise such violence within the police services and justice system. It considers the legal framework to be adequate and states that challenges are related more to a lack of training and guidance on identifying cases and a lack of resources due to tight budgets.52 Amnesty International Finnish section concurs, referring to the “poor availability of training” for judges and prosecutors on such crimes (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]). A further challenge is the disparate responses from the 310 local government municipalities charged with responding to such violence, coupled with difficulty in accessing support services.

The current government programme recognises the challenge and commits to establishing an independent rapporteur on violence against women, developing an action plan for combating violence against them, improving support services for victims, and bringing the number of places available in shelters and the resources allocated to them in line with the level required by the Council of Europe53 (Government of Finland, 2019[73]). The programme refers to “gender” 30 times, “gender equality” 17 times, “violence against women” 6 times and “women” 19 times (Government of Finland, 2019[73]). Expectations are high that the current government is committed to tackling the problem,54 in part by virtue of the Council of Europe’s legally binding Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (2014).55 The Police Strategy on Preventive Police Work also commits to working to prevent domestic violence and IPV (Ministry of the Interior, 2019[42]) by engaging in a multi-professional Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) scheme and assessments of the risk of repeated violence. The risk assessment method aims to improve safety for victims and prevent repetition of violence by identifying high-risk cases, including where there is a risk of homicide. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is responsible for the planning and steering of the country’s prevention of domestic violence and IPV.

Finland has undertaken and documented many measures to promote gender equality and reduce violence targeting women over the years (Government of Finland, 2018[74]). The Council of Europe’s Group of Experts on Action against Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (GREVIO) recently praised Finland for its long history in promoting gender equality and the various actions plans and policy documents to this effect (GREVIO, 2019[75]). It highlighted the adoption of the Action Plan for the Istanbul Convention (2018-2021), the setting up of the Committee for Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (NAPE) to ensure progress across the relevant line ministries, and the establishment of the national helpline, Nollalinja (“zero line”), which provides victims with support free of charge and round the clock (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 2017[76]).56 It also noted that funding for shelters was being provided by the central government instead of municipalities, following a change to the Act on State Compensation to Providers of Domestic Shelter Services and that the new system allowed the admission of all women “regardless of nationality, residence or other status” (GREVIO, 2019[75]).

There is still room for progress, however. Even after significant increases in funding, by April 2020 Finland had just 211 family places in shelters, while the recommended number is 550 (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]). Clients were referred to other shelters, in some cases hundreds of kilometres away, 2 071 times in 2019 (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]). This challenge is exacerbated by the lack of sufficient information or data available about access to shelters.57 Women from minority or marginalised groups or communities, in particular, are at a disadvantage. Women with disabilities, lesbians, transgender women, undocumented and non-registered migrant women, and women with poor knowledge of Finnish “experience significant difficulties receiving support and accessing services” (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]).

Other types of services, such as early intervention and prevention services, peer support groups for victims of violence, programmes for perpetrators and outreach services as well as long-term services such as therapy are “completely lacking or systematically under-resourced and geographically unevenly distributed,” according to Amnesty International Finnish section (2020[54]). An evaluation of the 2010-15 Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women concluded that the plan was not fully implemented following a lack of dedicated funding (Törmä and Pentikäinen, 2016[77]). The latest Programme to Combat Violence against Women 2020-2023, which includes a host of positive measures, has been allocated EUR 400 000 per year. This is viewed as a positive step, although the amount is still inadequate for the task.58

Responses to sexual violence is another area requiring attention. According to Amnesty International Finnish section, out of the estimated 50 000 women in Finland who experience sexual violence every year, only about 1 500 crimes against adult women are reported to the police (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]). Of the 50 000 in 2017, convictions were obtained in 209 charges of rape (Amnesty International, 2019[78]; 2020[54]). The Support Service Network for Victims of Sexual Violence (SERI) began in Helsinki in 2017 to provide a range of free-of-charge services to victims aged over 16, including medical services, forensic research, trauma support and advice (Government of Finland, 2018[74]). Yet these services are granted to victims who have experienced sexual violence in the last month. The intention is to extend the activity to all university hospitals and satellite support centres in each province, although to date there are only 7 centres in operation, out of a total of 13 recommended by the Council of Europe.59

The legal framework for sexual violence is being reformed so that the criminal offence of rape will be based on a lack of “voluntary consent”, rather than the use of force. Significantly, this reform echoes demands made by a citizens’ initiative, entitled #Consent2018 (see Chapter 6 on citizens’ initiatives). The initiative was launched in December 2018 and quickly gathered the 50 000 signatures necessary to be handed over to parliament in June 2019. The reform, which the Ministry of Justice had already started to work on via a working group, has been welcomed by CSOs, many of whom backed the initiative. However, the reform process has recently been delayed, including because of ongoing debate about the proposed content of the bill arising from a combination of “genuine misunderstanding” of the contents and the “hijacking” of the issues in online debate.60 The Ministry of Justice now aims to present relevant amendments to parliament in the autumn of 2021.61

Given the scale of the challenges described above and the stated intention to tackle the issues by the current government, Finland could seek to shore up long-term support and mandates to tackle violence against women (and girls). An increase in funding would permit Finland to create and maintain a nationwide network of shelters and support centres, including for women who experienced sexual violence more than one month ago, and in line with the current government programme. To avoid politicised cuts in funding under future administrations, the current government could seek to introduce a medium- to long-term mandate for the function of the independent rapporteur and medium-term funding for related services in recognition of needs, as well as constitutional,62 legislative and international legal obligations.

Access to support services for minority groups such as women with disabilities, lesbians, transgender women, undocumented and non-registered migrants, Sámi women, and women with poor knowledge of Finnish could be improved via targeted research, outreach programmes and information to reduce barriers to access. To achieve this, data-gathering methods and related communications could be used strategically to identify needs and gaps in services, and to counter any complacency regarding the need to provide services. Assessments of how accessible services are to different population groups are needed at the municipal level to identify and overcome barriers, particularly in rural areas. Preventive services and responses at the municipal level, and within the police, could also be improved, also in rural areas. The necessary political will and prioritisation, in relation to other areas of public spending, will be essential to ensure better public funding for such measures.

Civic education is fundamental to challenging the intolerance, racism, discrimination and exclusion discussed in this chapter and is playing an ever-greater role in Finnish education. There is a constitutional obligation (Chapter 1, Section 22) for public authorities to “guarantee the observance of basic rights and liberties and human rights” (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments in 2018[1]). Progress in this regard has been made in the past few years following several government reports finding related shortcomings in the education system. Nevertheless, the provision of human rights education is still largely dependent on non-governmental organisations and the personal commitment and attitudes of individual teachers and schools (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]). In a welcome step, human rights have become a core value in the revised national curriculum for basic education as of January 2015, as well as the new national core curriculum for upper-secondary schools, which will enter into force in August 2021. A sustained focus on civic education, critical thinking, taking responsibility for learning and actions, and global citizenship education is at the heart of the system, with teachers made responsible for the materials and pedagogical methods they use.63 This commitment to civic education extends into the vocational education system for youth, with the Ministry of Justice leading in this area, and into comprehensive adult education opportunities. One of the key priorities and objectives of the Democracy Programme is also to develop school teaching and other school practices. These measures are encouraging but would yield best results if delivered in a systematic manner, accompanied by standardised and compulsory teacher training, aimed at identifying and avoiding undetected teacher bias.

Generally, the protection of freedom of assembly is upheld in practice (Ministry of Justice, 1999, latest amendments 2002[8]). However, the modification made to the right of assembly in 2019, whereby organisers must inform the police 24 hours before an assembly, has caused concern among civil society. There was widespread objection to the amendment from within civil society and a perception of a lack of transparency. Interviewees expressed a general concern about the nature of the change, the rushed nature of the consultation process and the fact that the Ministry of Justice rules on such changes were not followed. The deadline for the public consultation was short (limited to three weeks),64 for example, and requests for inputs were sent to a limited number of entities, such as government ombudsman offices, the Helsinki Police, the Ministry of the Interior, the National Police Board and the Advisory Board on Civil Society (KANE).65

In practice, spontaneous meetings are still possible, although COVID-19-related restrictions have meant that the true impact of the reform has yet to be tested. At the same time, there is concern that the change may have a detrimental effect on public meetings and demonstrations. Furthermore, activists from some regions in Finland have reported that when notifying the police of a demonstration, the police sometimes require the organisers to name a number of persons as security officials (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]), despite this not being a mandatory practice. Concerns related to protection for journalists covering demonstrations are addressed in Chapter 4. The new information and frequently asked questions on the police website (https://poliisi.fi/en/public-meetings-and-demonstrations) in this regard is a welcome development. It is crucial that rules regarding the right of peaceful assembly are clear and fully protected in Finland, including as part of mandatory police training. This right is a cornerstone of Finnish democracy.


[78] Amnesty International (2019), Time For Change: Justice for Rape Survivors in the Nordic Countries, EUR 01/0089/2019, Amnesty International, London, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur01/0089/2019/en.

[2] Amnesty International Finnish section (2020), Memorandum received, OECD Observatory of Civic Space Consultation with CSOs on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space in Finland, unpublished.

[54] Amnesty International Finnish section (2020), “Memorandum received, OECD Observatory of Civic Space Consultation with CSOs on the Protection and Promotion of Civic Space in Finland”, unpublished.

[15] Chancellor of Justice (2020), Memorandum European Commission, Rule of Law Report, Part on Finland, unpublished.

[37] Council of Europe (2020), Resolution CM/ResCMN(2020)1 on the implementation of the Framework Convention, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, https://um.fi/documents/35732/0/CM+Resolution+2020_eng.pdf/9d7c1715-b9c2-0934-e9ff-19b0ad176386?t=1585132682824.

[36] Council of Europe (2019), Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (ACFC), Council of Europe, Strasbourg, https://rm.coe.int/5th-op-finland-en/16809839e4.

[19] Deloitte (2019), Report on EU Data Protection Authorities Part 4: Resources, Deloitte The Netherlands, https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/nl/Documents/risk/deloitte-nl-risk-reports-resources.pdf.

[21] European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (2019), ECRI Report on Finland (Fifth Monitoring Cycle), CRI(2019)38, ECRI Secretariat, Council of Europe, Strasbourg, France, https://rm.coe.int/fifth-report-on-finland/1680972fa7.

[31] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2018), Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey: Being Black in the EU, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, https://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra_uploads/fra-2018-being-black-in-the-eu_en.pdf.

[49] Eurostat (2020), “Police, court and prison personnel statistics”, Eurostat, Luxembourg, https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Police,_court_and_prison_personnel_statistics#:~:text=The%20lowest%20number%20of%20police,which%20jobs%20count%20as%20police.

[63] Federal Criminal Police Office (2019), “Fifth day of action against hate postings”, webpage, Federal Criminal Police Office, Germany, https://www.bka.de/DE/Presse/Listenseite_Pressemitteilungen/2019/Presse2019/191106_AktionstagHasspostings.html.

[65] Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth (n.d.), “Live Democracy!”, webpage, Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth, Germany, https://www.demokratie-leben.de.

[64] Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection (2020), “Network Enforcement Act”, webpage, Federal Ministry of Justice and Consumer Protection, Germany, https://www.bmjv.de/DE/Themen/FokusThemen/NetzDG/NetzDG_node.html.

[67] Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (2020), “Federal Minister of the Interior Seehofera Appoints members for the Independent Expert Group on Muslim Hostility”, press release, Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, Germany, https://www.bmi.bund.de/SharedDocs/pressemitteilungen/DE/2020/09/expertenkreis-muslimfeindlichkeit.html.

[69] Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (n.d.), “Gun Law”, webpage, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, https://www.bmi.bund.de/DE/themen/sicherheit/waffen/waffen-node.html.

[66] Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (n.d.), Independent Commission on Antigypsyism, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, Germany, https://www.bmi.bund.de/DE/themen/heimat-integration/gesellschaftlicher-zusammenhalt/unabhaengige-kommission-antiziganismus/unabhaengige-kommission-antiziganismus-node.html.

[61] Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (n.d.), “Politically motivated crime”, webpage, Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community, Germany, https://www.bmi.bund.de/DE/themen/sicherheit/kriminalitaetsbekaempfung-und-gefahrenabwehr/politisch-motivierte-kriminalitaet/politisch-motivierte-kriminalitaet-node.html).

[62] Federal Office for Constitutional Protection (n.d.), “Joint Counter-Extremism and Terrorism Center (GETZ)”, webpage, Federal Office for Constitutional Protection, Germany, https://www.verfassungsschutz.de/de/das-bfv/getz.

[43] Finnish League for Human Rights (2017), Submission to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination: Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination in Finland, Finnish League for Human Rights, Helsinki, https://ihmisoikeusliitto.fi/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/FLHRsubmissionCERD2017.pdf.

[38] Freedom House (2019), Freedom in the World 2019: Finland, Freedom House, Washington, DC, https://freedomhouse.org/country/finland/freedom-world/2019 (accessed on 21 October 2020).

[35] Freedom House (n.d.), Freedom in the world 2019: Finland, Freedom House, Washington DC, https://freedomhouse.org/country/finland/freedom-world/2019.

[29] Government of Canada (2020), “Addressing COVID-19 needs in diverse communities”, webpage, Government of Canada, https://www.canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/campaigns/federal-anti-racism-secretariat/covid-19-diverse-communities.html.

[25] Government of Canada (2020), Memo: Civic Space Scan in Finland, Peer-review from Canada, October 30th, 2020, unpublished.

[26] Government of Canada (2020), “What is GBA+: Gender-Based Analysis Plus”, webpage, Status of Women Canada, https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/gba-acs/index-en.html.

[27] Government of Canada (2018), “Introduction to GBA+: Gender-Based Analysis Plus”, webpage, Status of Women Canada, https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/gba-acs/course-cours/eng/mod00/mod00_01_01.html.

[28] Government of Canada (2016, updated in 2020), “Action Plan on Gender-based Analysis (2016-2020)”, webpage, Status of Women Canada, https://cfc-swc.gc.ca/gba-acs/plan-action-2016-en.html.

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[74] Government of Finland (2018), Baseline Report by the Government of Finland on Measures Giving Effect to the Provisions of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence, Government of Finland, Helsinki, https://rm.coe.int/baseline-report-finland-2018/16807c55f2.

[68] Government of Germany (2020), Selected measures taken to counter hate speech and far-right movements, email received 10 December 2020.

[70] Gracia, E. and J. Merlo (2016), “Intimate partner violence against women and the Nordic paradox”, Social Science & Medecine, Vol. 157, pp. 27-30, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2016.03.040.

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[11] Hofverberg, E. (2017), Finland: Gender Neutral Marriage Act enters Into force, Library of Congress, Washington, DC, https://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/finland-gender-neutral-marriage-act-enters-into-force.

[34] IJRC (2019), Human Rights Committee: Finland’s Oversight of Indigenous Politics Constitutes Violation, International Justice Resource Center, San Francisco, CA, https://ijrcenter.org/2019/02/14/human-rights-committee-finlands-oversight-of-indigenous-politics-constitutes-violation/#:~:text=In%20two%20recently%20released%20decisions,candidates%2C%20in%20the%20Indigenous%20group's.

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[58] Knuutila, A. et al. (2019), Viha vallassa : Vihapuheen vaikutukset yhteiskunnalliseen päätöksentekoon (Anger in Power: The Effects of Hate Speech Social Decision Making), Government Investigation Series 2019:57, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, https://tietokayttoon.fi/julkaisut/raportti?pubid=URN:ISBN:978-952-287-786-4.

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[87] Library of Congress (2020), Finland: Civic Space Legal Framework, Unpublished.

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[80] Mattila, M. (2020), The State of Inequality in Finland in 2020: Highlights, Kalevi Sorsa Foundation, https://sorsafoundation.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/State-of-Inequality-in-Finland-in-2020-Highlights-s.pdf.

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[6] Ministry of Justice (2014), The Non-Discrimination Act, 1325/2014, unofficial translation, Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, http://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/natlex4.detail?p_lang=en&p_isn=101088.

[59] Ministry of Justice (1969, latest amendements 2010), Act on Political Parties, 10/1969 (amendments up to 683/2010 included), unofficial translation, Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, https://www.legislationline.org/download/id/7850/file/Finland_Act_political_parties_1969_am2010_en.pdf.

[8] Ministry of Justice (1999, latest amendments 2002), Assemblies Act, 530/1999 (amendments up to 824/2002 included), unofficial translation, Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990530_20020824.pdf.

[9] Ministry of Justice (1989, latest amendments 2016), Finnish Associations Act, (503/1989), unofficial translation, Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, https://www.prh.fi/en/yhdistysrekisteri/act.html.

[1] Ministry of Justice (1999, latest amendments in 2018), The Constitution of Finland, Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/1999/en19990731.pdf.

[3] Ministry of Justice (1889, latest amendments in 2015), The Criminal Code of Finland, 39/1889 (amendments up to 766/2015 included), Ministry of Justice, Helsinki, https://finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1889/en18890039_20150766.pdf.

[76] Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (2017), Action Plan for the Istanbul Convention for 2018-2021, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health Publications 2017:18, Helsinki, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/160403/18_2017_Istanbulin%20sopimuksen%20tps%202018-21%20englanti.pdf.

[7] Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (1986, latest amendments 2016), Act on Equality Between Men and Women, 609/1986 (amendments up to 915/2016 included), unofficial translation, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Helsinki, https://www.finlex.fi/fi/laki/kaannokset/1986/en19860609.pdf.

[81] Ministry of Social Affairs and Health (n.d.), Towards equal pay, website, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, https://stm.fi/en/gender-equality/equal-pay#:~:text=The%20gender%20pay%20gap%20in,than%20in%20the%20private%20sector.

[42] Ministry of the Interior (2019), Finland’s Strategy on Preventive Police Work 2019-2023, Publications of the Ministry of the Interior 2019:11, Helsinki, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/161343/SM_11_19_Strategy%20on%20preventive%20police%20work.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[4] Ministry of the Interior (2019), Words Are Actions: More Efficient Measures against Hate Speech and Cyberbullying, Publications of the Ministry of the Interior 2019:30, Helsinki, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/161753/SM_30_19_Words%20Are%20Actions.pdf?sequence=1.

[60] News Now Finland (2020), “Government increases the money it gives to political parties”, News Now Finland, https://newsnowfinland.fi/politics/government-increases-the-money-it-gives-to-political-parties.

[12] OECD (2020), Over the Rainbow: The Road to LGBTI Inclusion: How Does Finland Compare, OECD, Paris, https://www.oecd.org/finland/OECD-LGBTI-2020-Over-The-Rainbow-FINLAND.pdf.

[13] OECD (2020), Over the Rainbow? The Road to LGBTI Inclusion, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/8d2fd1a8-en.

[72] OECD (2019), “Violence against women (indicator)”, OECD, Paris, https://data.oecd.org/inequality/violence-against-women.htm.

[18] Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman (2019), Annual Report 2018, Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman, Helsinki, https://tietosuoja.fi/documents/6927448/10717840/Toimintakertomus+2018/92fffcd7-1e06-2c5e-003e-7fa53aaa72f2/Toimintakertomus+2018.pdf.

[30] Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman (2020), Report on the Discrimination Experienced by People of African Descent, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Helsinki, https://syrjinta.fi/documents/25249352/34270575/Summary+of+the+Non-Discrimination+Ombudsman%E2%80%99s+report+on+the+discrimination+experienced+by+people+of+African+descent.pdf/0250c5bd-6772-4239-b3cb-d6d1cc6d7b6d/Summary+of+the+Non-Discrimination+Ombudsma.

[22] Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman (2019), The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s Annual Report 2018, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Helsinki, https://syrjinta.fi/documents/25249352/34270575/The+Non-Discrimination+Ombudman%27s+annual+report+2018.pdf/aafc263f-6429-440a-a73d-317098eb2e8d/The+Non-Discrimination+Ombudman%27s+annual+report+2018.pdf?version=1.1&t=1600442576238.

[14] Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman (2018), The Report of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman to the Paliament 2018, K 6/2018 vp, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, Helsinki, https://rm.coe.int/fin-the-report-of-the-non-discrimination-ombudsman-to-the-parliament/16808b7cd2.

[20] Office of the Ombudsman for Equality (2020), Annual Report 2019 by the Ombudsman for Equality, unpublished extract of report in English provided by the Ombudsman’s Office.

[40] OHCHR (2019), “UN Human Rights Experts Find Finland Violated Sámi Political Rights to Sámi Parliament Representation”, webpage, United Nations Office of the High Commissioner, Geneva, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24137&LangID=E.

[39] OHCHR (2017), Universal Periodic Review: Finland, United Nations Human Rights Council, https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/FIindex.aspx.

[16] Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland (2020), Summary of the Annual Report 2019, Parliamentary Ombudsman of Finland, Helsinki, https://www.oikeusasiamies.fi/documents/20184/39006/summary2019/b16cd626-e627-46fa-b5c2-5c0e4861d544.

[85] Police of Finland (n.d.), “Net tip”, website, Police of Finland, https://poliisi.fi/en/net-tip.

[10] Police of Finland (n.d.), “Public meetings and demonstrations”, webpge, Police of Finland, Helsinki, https://poliisi.fi/en/public-meetings-and-demonstrations.

[33] Prime Minister’s Office (2020), “Report: There are opportunities for the Saami people to adapt to climate change”, press release, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, https://vnk.fi/en/-/raportti-saamelaisten-sopeutumiselle-ilmastonmuutokseen-on-mahdollisuuksia.

[55] Prime Minister's Office (2019), “Study: Hate speech deters decision-makers from participating in public debate”, press release 501/2019, Prime Minister’s Office, Helsinki, https://vnk.fi/en/-/tutkimus-vihapuhe-vahentaa-paattajien-osallistumista-julkiseen-keskusteluun.

[47] Rauta, J. (2020), “Hate crime reported to the police in Finland in 2019”, in Police Polytechnic Reviews 16/2020, in Finnish, https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/345708/Polamk_katsaus_16_Viharikos_B5_web.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[46] Rauta, J. (2020), Hate crime reported to the police in Finland in 2019, https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/345708/Polamk_katsaus_16_Viharikos_B5_web.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[45] Rauta, J. (2019), “Hate crime reported to the police in Finland in 2018”, in Police Polytechnic Reviews 15/2019, in Finnish, https://www.theseus.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/261556/Polamk_katsaus_15_Viharikos_B5_WEB.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[48] Riku and Core (2019), Victims’ Experiences of Hate Crimes in Finland 2014-2018, Victim Support Finland and CORE Forum, Helsinki, https://www.riku.fi/binary/file/-/id/79/fid/2142.

[32] Roto, J. (n.d.), Sámi and Sápmi: Addressing the Issues of Indigenous People and Natural Resources in the Northernmost Parts of Europe, Nordic Centre for Spatial Development, Stockholm, https://www.nordregio.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Sami_ENG.pdf.

[44] Sallamaa, D. (2019), “The extraparliamentary far-right and opponents of immigration in present-day Finland”, University of Oslo, C-REX – Center for Research on Extremism, https://www.sv.uio.no/c-rex/english/news-and-events/right-now/2019/present-day-finland.html.

[79] Statista (2020), Number of asylum applications in Finland from 2009 to 2019, website, Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/523556/asylum-applications-in-finland/.

[84] Statistics Finland (2020), Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Income Distribution Statistics [e-publication], Income Differentials Between Population Subgroups 2019, Statistics Finland, Helsinki, https://www.stat.fi/til/tjt/2019/03/tjt_2019_03_2020-12-18_tie_001_en.html.

[71] Statistics Finland (2019), Official Statistics of Finland (OSF): Statistics on Offences and Coercive Measures [e-publication], Domestic Violence and Intimate Partner Violence 2018, Statistics Finland, Helsinki, http://www.stat.fi/til/rpk/2018/15/rpk_2018_15_2019-06-06_tie_001_en.html.

[77] Törmä, S. and M. Pentikäinen (2016), The Goal is a Finland Free of Violence against Women and Domestic Violence: On a Program for the Reduction of Violence against Women and the Implementation of the Istanbul Treaty, Reports and Memoranda of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Helsinki, https://julkaisut.valtioneuvosto.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/75030/Rap_ja_muist_2016_15_1.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

[53] UK Government (2020), Online Harms White Paper: Full government response to the consultation, UK Government, London, https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/online-harms-white-paper/outcome/online-harms-white-paper-full-government-response.

[52] UK Government (2019), Online Harms White Paper, UK Government, London, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/793360/Online_Harms_White_Paper.pdf.

[51] UK Government (n.d.), True Vision, website, The National Police Chiefs’ Council, https://www.report-it.org.uk/.

[83] United Nations (2019), Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion: Note by the Secretary General, United Nations A/74/486, New York, https://undocs.org/A/74/486.

[56] Van Sant, K., R. Fredheim and G. Bergmanis-Korāts (2021), Abuse of Power: Coordinated online harassment of Finnish government ministers, NATO Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, Riga, https://www.stratcomcoe.org/abuse-power-coordinated-online-harassment-finnish-government-ministers.


← 1. The review of the legal frameworks section draws from and summarise the information provided in a background report prepared by the Library of Congress for the Civic Space Scan of Finland. See (Library of Congress, 2020[87]).

← 2. Email, Library of Congress, received 3 November 2020.

← 3. For an act to qualify as defamation or insult, the victim needs to be specified, whereas an agitation crime targets a whole group without a specific victim. Email, Library of Congress, received 2 November 2020.

← 4. Email, Ministry of Justice, received 4 March 2021.

← 5. In practice this means that while the crime of ethnic agitation does not apply to majority groups in Finland, if a member of a majority group is targeted because they assisted a minority group (e.g. someone working with refugees), this may still constitute as a hate crime. Interview, National Police Board, 7 December 2020.

← 6. As a result of COVID-19, in April 2020 the Finnish Parliament enacted temporary legislation introducing exceptions to the requirements for the annual meetings of associations, in addition to companies, and cooperatives. 

← 7. Email, Ministry of Justice, received 15 October 2020.

← 8. Email, researcher, received 12 November 2020.

← 9. Interview, Ministry of the Interior, 5 October 2020.

← 10. “Most legal protections” refers to countries with “an above-average performance regarding both their level of legal LGBTI-inclusivity as of 2019 and their progress in legal LGBTI-inclusivity between 1999 and 2019” (OECD, 2020[12]).

← 11. Interview, Ombudsman for Equality, 30 September 2020.

← 12. Email, Chancellor of Justice, received 6 October 2020.

← 13. Interview, Chancellor of Justice, 30 September 2020.

← 14. The largest number of complaints received by the office concerned: the police (352 cases), followed by the government (262 cases), the courts (186 cases on civil and application matters and 75 related to criminal matters), healthcare services (156 cases), social services (135 cases), local government (133 cases), and regional state administration or internal affairs administration (104 cases). Email, Chancellor of Justice, received 6 October 2020.

← 15. Email, Chancellor of Justice, received 6 October 2020.

← 16. Email, Chancellor of Justice, received 6 October 2020.

← 17. Interview, Office of the Data Protection Ombudsman, 21 September 2020.

← 18. Email, Office of the Ombudsman for Equality, received 16 November 2020.

← 19. While women’s level of educational attainment in Finland has long been stronger than men’s, the percentage of men in the “higher professional class” is nearly double that of women (21% and 11% respectively) (Mattila, 2020[80]).

← 20. The gender pay gap between men and women is, on average 16,1% in all labour sectors in Finland (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, n.d.[81])

← 21. This figure is expected to rise to EUR 1.03 million in 2022 and to EUR 1.05 million in 2023. Email, Ombudsman for Equality, received 15 October 2020.

← 22. In theory, every workplace with more than 30 employees in Finland should have an equality plan and the office is mandated to supervise the quality of these plans. But with 8 000 workplaces in question and another 4 000 schools and educational institutions, its resources are inadequate to the task. Interview, Office of the Ombudsman for Equality, 30 September 2020.

← 23. Approximately 80% of people with disabilities in Finland are not employed (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2018[14]). According to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, 1.9 million working-age Finns have a long-term illness or disability (Office of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, 2018[14]).

← 24. The easily accessible legal aid application form is available on line (Legal Aid, n.d.[86]).

← 25. Interview, Legal Aid Office, 29 September 2020.

← 26. Interview, Legal Aid Office, 29 September 2020.

← 27. Interview, Office of the Ombudsman for Equality, 30 September 2020.

← 28. Interview, Office of the Ombudsman for Equality, 30 September 2020.

← 29. Email, Ministry of the Environment, received 23 February 2021.

← 30. As an example of good practice, the Office of the Ombudsman for Equality publishes some material in Somali and Arabic on its website.

← 31. The number of asylum applications in Finland peaked in 2015 at 32 500 (up from 3 651 in 2014), as large numbers of migrants arrived in Europe. From 2016, the number of asylum seekers decreased again to roughly 5 600 applications. In 2019, the figure amounted to 4 550 (Statista, 2020[79]).

← 32. The Ministry of Justice is drawing up the action plan, based on the work of a broad-based working group. It will include a set of measures to combat racism in different sectors of society and is expected to also include actions to combat hate speech. Email, Ministry of Justice, received 14 October 2020.

← 33. Interview, the Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations, Ministry of Justice, 21 September 2020. The Advisory Board for Ethnic Relations is an expert body that provides opinions, but is not a decision-making body.

← 34. Email, researcher, received 12 November 2020.

← 35. Interviews, Union of Journalists in Finland, 5 October 2020 and Council for Mass Media in Finland, 6 October 2020.

← 36. Interview, National Police Board, 7 December 2020.

← 37. Email, National Police Board, received 10 December 2020.

← 38. Interview, National Police Board, 23 February 2021.

← 39. The current police online reporting system does not accept reports of criminal behaviour. A separate electronic crime report is needed for this purpose (Police of Finland, n.d.[85]).

← 40. Specific contentious topics including migration, feminism, the EU, racism and sexual violence are viewed as triggering hate speech (Amnesty International Finnish section, 2020[54]).

← 41. Interview, Sámi Parliament, 29 September 2020.

← 42. Interviews, Union of Journalists in Finland, 5 October 2020 and Council for Mass Media in Finland, 6 October 2020.

← 43. These include the National Action Plan on Fundamental and Human Rights (2017), the National Action Plan for the Prevention of Violent Radicalisation and Extremism (2016), the Government Report on Internal Security (2016), the Internal Security Strategy (2017), the Government of Finland Human Rights Report (2014), the Report of the Government on the Application of Language Legislation (2017), the National Crime Prevention Programme for 2016-2020, the Government Resolution on a Media Policy Programme (2018), the Final Report of the Working Group for More Effective Action against Hate Speech and Cyberbullying, and the Meaningful in Finland Action Plan.

← 44. Greater Helsinki is home to about half of the entire population with a foreign background in Finland (Statistics Finland, 2020[84]).

← 45. Municipal-level data on hate crimes are published by the police for the previous year, but are buried within lengthy statistical reports (Rauta, 2019[45]; 2020[47]).

← 46. Interview, National Police Board, 7 December 2020.

← 47. Email, Ministry of Justice, received 30 September 2020.

← 48. Email, Ministry of Finance, received 4 March 2021.

← 49. Email, Ministry of Finance, received 5 February 2021.

← 50. Interview, National Police Board, 7 December 2020.

← 51. In the worst of these cases, women are killed by current or former partners: between 2002 and 2019, a total of 331 women were killed by a current or former intimate partner in Finland. The equivalent figure for men is 97. Email, Finnish Homicide Monitor, received 17 November 2020.

← 52. Interview, Chancellor of Justice, 30 September 2020.

← 53. The programme also commits to tackling domestic violence targeting men.

← 54. Interview, Office of the Ombudsman for Equality, 30 September 2020.

← 55. Interview, Finnish League for Human Rights, 6 October 2020.

← 56. Nollalinja provides professional help free of charge and anonymously. Phone calls to this number do not show up on telephone bills.

← 57. Interview, Finnish League for Human Rights, 6 October 2020.

← 58. Interview, Amnesty International Finnish section, 28 October 2020.

← 59. The centres are in Helsinki, Turku, Pori, Tampere, Kuopio, Oulu and Rovaniemi. The Council of Europe recommends 1 centre per 200 000 women.

← 60. Interview, Amnesty International Finnish section, 28 October 2020.

← 61. Amnesty International Finnish section published a dissenting opinion on the report of the Working Group on Sex Offences legislation, reforming Chapter 20 of the Criminal Code of Finland, in which it took part (Ministry of Justice, 2020[82]).

← 62. Section 7 of the Constitution guarantees that “[e]veryone has the right to life, personal liberty, integrity and security”.

← 63. Interview, Ministry of Education and Culture, 29 December 2020.

← 64. Email, FINGO, received 9 October 2020.

← 65. Email, FINGO, received 9 October 2020.

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