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Freedom in the World 2011 - Finland

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 16 May 2011
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2011 - Finland, 16 May 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4dd21a47c.html [accessed 23 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Capital: Helsinki
Population: 5,339,000

Political Rights Score: 1 *
Civil Liberties Score: 1 *
Status: Free

Overview

A seaport strike in March halted the country's economy and led to discussions on limiting the right the strike. Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen resigned in June and was replaced by Mari Kiviniemi, Finland's second female prime minister. Investigations into Vanhanen's involvement in distributing government funds to a nongovernmental organization that had contributed to his campaign were ongoing at year's end. Immigration became a dominant political topic in 2010 ahead of the April 2011 elections.


After centuries of Swedish and then Russian rule, Finland gained independence in 1917. The country has traditionally been neutral, but its army has enjoyed broad popular support since it fended off a Soviet invasion during World War II. Finland joined the European Union (EU) in 1995 and is the only Nordic country to have adopted the euro currency. In the 2000 presidential election, Tarja Halonen of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was elected as the country's first female president. She defeated six other candidates – including four women – from across the political spectrum.

Halonen won a second term as president in 2006, defeating the candidate fielded by the opposition center-right National Coalition Party. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the ruling Center Party held on to its plurality by one seat, while the National Coalition Party gained 10 seats; the left-leaning parties received record-low levels of support. Acknowledging the shift to the right, Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen formed a four-party coalition consisting of his Center Party, the National Coalition, the Greens, and the Swedish People's Party, leaving the SDP in opposition for the first time since 1995.

In February 2010, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) began investigating accusations of malfeasance against Vanhanen over his involvement in the distribution of government funds to a nongovernmental organization (NGO) that had supported his 2006 campaign. The prime minister announced his resignation in June, but cited medical and family issues for his departure. In October, the Parliamentary Constitutional Law Committee launched a follow-up investigation into a possible conflict of interest.

On June 22, the Finnish parliament appointed Center Party leader Mari Kiviniemi as Vanhanen's replacement. Kiviniemi, the country's second female prime minister, will hold the post until the April 2011 elections. For the second time in Finnish history, both posts of president and prime minister were held by women.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties

Finland is an electoral democracy. The prime minister is responsible for running the government. The president, whose role is mainly ceremonial, is directly elected for a six-year term. The president appoints the prime minister and deputy prime minister from the majority party or coalition after elections. The selection must be approved by Parliament. Representatives in the 200-seat unicameral Parliament, or Eduskunta, are elected to four-year terms. The Åland Islands – an autonomous region located off the southwestern coast whose inhabitants speak Swedish – have their own 29-seat parliament as well as a seat in the national legislature. The indigenous Saami of northern Finland also have their own parliament.

Corruption is not a significant problem in Finland. A new law came into effect in September 2010 requiring candidates and parties to report campaign donations of more than EUR 800 ($1,072) in local elections or EUR 1,500 ($2,010) in national elections. Investigations into bribery among several members of parliament continued throughout the year. Finland was ranked 4 out of 178 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Finnish law provides for freedom of speech, which is also respected in practice. Finland has a large variety of newspapers and magazines, grants every citizen the right to publish printed material, and protects the right to reply to public criticism. Newspapers are privately owned but publicly subsidized, and many are controlled by or support a particular political party. In February 2010, human rights and freedom of speech advocates protested Lauri Kivinen's appointment to the post of director-general at the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE). Kivinen had previously served as head of corporate affairs at Nokia, during which time the company sold a monitoring center to Iran that enables the Iranian government to locate and arrest political dissidents. In April, a Finnish court upheld libel convictions against two YLE journalists, fining them EUR 10,000 (approximately $14,000) for suggesting that a married couple had committed a crime while the suspects remained under preliminary investigation. In March 2010, the Finnish police launched an internet tip-off system in an effort to simplify flagging threats of violence and racist slander.

Finns enjoy freedom of religion. The Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Orthodox Church are both state churches and receive public money from income taxes, but citizens may exempt themselves from contributing to those funds. Under current legislation, religious communities other than the state churches may also receive state funds. According to the U.S. State Department, communities with 200 members or more can receive a statutory subsidy of over $5 per member. Religious education is part of the curriculum in all secondary public schools, but students may opt out in favor of more general instruction in ethics. In September 2010, Finland's Evangelical Lutheran Church ordained its first female bishop. Academic freedom is respected.

Freedoms of association and assembly are upheld in law and in practice. Workers have the right to organize, bargain collectively, and strike. In March 2010, a transit strike in Helsinki halted transportation for two days, and a harbor strike by dockworkers interrupted the country's imports and exports for over two weeks. The severity of the strikes led Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen to call for restrictions on the right to strike in certain sectors, though no changes to the country's labor code had been implemented by year's end. Approximately 80 percent of workers belong to trade unions.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, which consists of the Supreme Court, the supreme administrative court, and the lower courts. The president appoints Supreme Court judges, who in turn appoint the lower-court judges. Finland has been criticized by the European Court of Human Rights for slow trial procedures. The Ministry of the Interior controls police and Frontier Guard forces. Ethnic minorities and asylum seekers report occasional police discrimination.

The criminal code covers ethnic agitation and penalizes anyone who threatens a racial, national, ethnic, or religious group. Since 1991, the indigenous Saami, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, have been heard in the Eduskunta on relevant matters. The constitution guarantees the Saami cultural autonomy and the right to pursue their traditional livelihoods, which include fishing and reindeer herding. Their language and culture are also protected through public financial support. However, representatives of the community have complained that they cannot exercise their rights in practice and that they do not have the right to self-determination with respect to land use. While Roma also make up a very small percentage of the population, they are more significantly disadvantaged and marginalized.

Immigration issues became increasingly important in the lead up to the 2011 elections. According to a March 2010 poll by Helsingin Saonomat, anti-immigrant sentiment had risen to 60 percent compared to 37 percent in 2007. The newspaper also reported that several immigration researchers had halted their work after receiving racially motivated threats. In February, one minister suggested capping Finland's already low refugee quota, as threats against politicians who support immigration and racial integration have also risen. A Facebook hate group was found to be issuing death threats against Minister of Migration and European Affairs, Astrid Thors, while another website was dedicated to death threats against the president and prime minister for their support of Finland's immigration bills. In June, a group of immigrants established the Immigrant Parliament, an unofficial body which would debate issues of immigration in an attempt to counter the government and public opinion.

Women enjoy equal rights in Finland. In 1906, the country became the first in Europe to grant women the vote and the first in the world to allow women to become electoral candidates. In the current cabinet, 12 out of 20 ministers are women. In addition, women hold approximately 42 percent of the seats in Parliament. Despite a law stipulating equal pay for equal work, women earn only about 80 percent as much as men of the same qualifications. Domestic violence is an ongoing concern in Finland. In March, journalist Johanna Korhonen was compensated EUR 80,000 (approximately $115,000) for being fired from Northern Media after she failed to disclose that her domestic partner was female.

Finland remains a destination and a transit country for trafficked men, women, and children. Amendments to the Alien Act in 2006 allow trafficked victims to stay in the country and qualify for employment rights.


* Countries are ranked on a scale of 1-7, with 1 representing the highest level of freedom and 7 representing the lowest level of freedom.

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