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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Finland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Finland, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 30 November 2015]
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.


Finland is a constitutional republic with an elected head of state (president), parliament, and head of government (prime minister), and with an independent judiciary.

The security apparatus is effectively controlled by elected officials and supervised by the courts.

Finland has a mixed economy, primarily and extensively market-based.

During 1994 there were no reported violations of fundamental human rights.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or other extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reported cases of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The law provides for freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and the Government fully respects these provisions. By law, prisoners must be treated justly and with respect for their dignity, without distinction on the basis of race, sex, language, nationality, religious or political conviction, social position, wealth, or any other unfair grounds.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The law provides for freedom from arbitrary arrest, and the Government fully respects this provision. Police may hold a suspect without charge for up to 7 days. From the start the suspect has access to a lawyer of his or her choosing; the State provides lawyers for indigent suspects. Once arrested, the accused must be given a court hearing within 8 days in a city or 30 days in a rural area. Circumstances surrounding arrest are subject to judicial review at the time the accused is brought to trial. If found innocent, the accused may apply to the same court for civil damages, and the arrest is deemed invalid.

Bail as such does not exist in Finland. While persons accused of serious crimes must by law remain in custody pending trial, those charged with minor offenses may be released on personal recognizance at the court's discretion. Preventive detention is authorized only during a declared state of war for narrowly defined offenses such as treason, mutiny, and arms trafficking. Supervisory personnel from the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior, as well as the Parliamentary Ombudsman and the Chancellor of Justice, have authority to enter prisons and to order the release of prisoners held without charges. In 1993 there were 248 pretrial detainees held for an average of 2.1 months. The entire prison population amounted to 3,421.

By law, Finnish citizens cannot be exiled, and the Government respects this provision.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The law provides for the right to fair public trial, and the authorities fully respect this. The President appoints Supreme Court justices, who in turn appoint the lower court judges. Judges are appointed for terms limited only by mandatory retirement at age 70. The judiciary is effectively insulated from political interference.

Local courts may conduct a trial behind closed doors in juvenile, matrimonial, and guardianship cases, or when publicity would offend morality or endanger the security of the State. In national security cases, the judge may withhold from the public any or all information pertaining to charges, verdicts, and sentences. The law provides for sanctions against violators of such restrictions.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The law provides for the right to privacy and the sanctity of the home, and it specifically prohibits eavesdropping and mail tampering. The authorities fully respect these provisions. The law authorizes police to conduct wiretapping under certain conditions of suspected criminal activity. Senior police officials, rather than judges, have the authority to issue search warrants; there is no indication this power is abused. By law, the police are subject to judicial scrutiny.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and the press, including the broadcast media. The Government does not hamper this freedom. A law that allows the Government to censor films for foreign-policy reasons is not implemented.

The Government also does not interfere with academic freedom.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the authorities fully respect this. For public demonstrations, the organizers must give prior notification to the police, who routinely pose no objections.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Government does not hamper the teaching or practice of any faith. A special tax supports the two state churches, Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox, but nonmembers can obtain exemption.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Citizens are free to travel within and from the country, to emigrate, and to repatriate.

The Government cooperates with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, and there were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Finland is a multiparty parliamentary democracy in which all citizens over the age of 18 may vote and balloting is secret.

Parliamentary and municipal elections take place every 4 years. Under legislation passed in 1991, the nation's first direct popular election of a president was held in February 1994, and presidential elections are to be held every 6 years.

Women are fairly well represented in government. There are 77 in the 200-member Parliament, and 5 in the 16-member Cabinet.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several domestic and international organizations in Finland monitor human rights matters, and the Government does not hinder their investigations.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits any discrimination based on race, sex, religion, language, or social status, and the Government effectively enforces these provisions.


The government-established Council for Equality coordinates and sponsors legislation to meet the needs of women as workers, mothers, widows, or retirees.

The 1985 legislation on equal treatment for women in the workplace has not been fully implemented. Women earn about 80 percent of men's pay in comparable jobs, and they are concentrated in lower-paying occupations while they are underrepresented in top management positions. Women are not permitted to serve in the military.

The Government's Equality Ombudsman monitors compliance with regulations against sexual discrimination. In 1994, 168 complaints of illegal discrimination against women were submitted to the Ombudsman, of which 38 were found valid. Redress for violation of equality laws includes mandated hiring and promotions, as well as other direct compensation to victims. Violators are subject to dismissal and fines.

The law provides stringent penalties for violence against women, and the authorities enforce these provisions. The Union of Shelter Homes and various municipalities maintain in all a total of 55 government-subsidized shelters for battered persons.

Each year, an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 calls to the police relate to domestic violence; officials believe this is only about half the number of actual incidents. Studies show that most violence against women is perpetrated by family members. The latest statistics on rape are from 1991, when there were 60 convictions, of which 43 were punished by unconditional prison sentences, averaging 19 1/2 months. Experts believe that rape, too, is underreported. Legislation which took effect on June 1 treats spousal rape the same as nonspousal rape.


The national consensus supporting children's rights is enshrined in law, which provides extensive protection for them.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The law protects the customs and language of the Samis (Lapps), who constitute under one-tenth of 1 percent of the population. The Government subsidizes Sami language teaching and traditions (mainly relating to reindeer herding). Samis have the same political and civil rights as other citizens, and participate in decisions affecting their interests.

There have been isolated cases of violence against ethnic minorities, mainly assaults by inebriated youngsters. The violations have been treated as common crimes, without regard to the question of whether they involved discrimination based on the victim's nationality. Government educational programs seek to improve attitudes towards ethnic minorities.

People with Disabilities

Although since the 1970's the law has required that new public buildings be accessible to people with physical disabilities, many older buildings remain inaccessible to them. There is no such law for public transportation, but each state subsidizes measures to improve accessibility to vehicles. Local governments maintain a free transport service that guarantees 18 free trips per month for a disabled person. The deaf and the mute are provided interpretation services ranging from 120 to 240 hours annually. The Government provides subsidized public housing to the severely disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution provides for the rights of trade unions to organize, assemble peacefully, and strike, and the Government respects these provisions. About 87 percent of the work force is organized. All unions are independent of the Government and political parties. The law grants public-sector employees the right to strike, with some exceptions for provision of essential services. In the first quarter of 1994 there were 26 strikes, of which all but 1 were wildcat strikes.

Trade unions freely affiliate with international bodies.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The law provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. Collective bargaining agreements are usually based on incomes policy agreements between employees' and employers' central organizations and the Government. Increasingly, however, collective bargaining agreements are being negotiated at sectoral levels instead. The law protects workers against antiunion discrimination. Complaint resolution is governed by collective bargaining agreements as well as labor law, both of which are adequately enforced.

There are no export processing zones in Finland.

c. Prohibition of Forced Compulsory Labor

The Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor, and such practices do not occur in Finland.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Youths under 16 years of age cannot work more than 6 hours a day, or at night, and education is compulsory for children from age 7 to 16 years. The Labor Ministry enforces child labor regulations. There are virtually no complaints of exploitation of children in the work force.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There is no legislated minimum wage, but the law requires all employers--including nonunionized ones--to meet the minimum wages agreed to in collective bargaining agreements in the respective industrial sector. These minimum wages generally afford a decent standard of living for workers and their families.

The legal workweek consists of 5 days not exceeding 40 hours. Employees working in shifts or during the weekend are entitled to a 24-hour rest period during the week. The law is effectively enforced as a minimum, and many workers enjoy even stronger benefits through effectively enforced collective bargaining agreements. The Government sets occupational health and safety standards, and the Labor Ministry effectively enforces them. Workers can refuse dangerous work situations, without risk of penalty.

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