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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Finland

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Finland, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 24 May 2016]
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 and a multiparty, parliamentary democracy. Executive power is vested in the President. The Cabinet, consisting of the Prime Minister and 16 Ministers who are responsible to Parliament, works with the President in governing the country. Legislative power is held by the unicameral Parliament. Judicial power is exercised by an independent judiciary, including the Supreme Court and Supreme Administrative Court.

The security apparatus is controlled by elected officials and supervised by the courts. Finland has a mixed economy with state owned, privately owned, and publicly owned companies. Citizens are free to pursue their legitimate private interests, hold private property, and engage in economic activity without government interference.

During 1993 there were no reported violations in Finland of fundamental human rights. Members of national minorities and women enjoy the same economic and political rights as all other citizens, although occupational segregation by sex is common and leadership positions (in non-elected offices) in both the private and public sectors remain heavily male-dominated. Individuals are free to pursue their religious beliefs.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Killing for political motives by the Government or opposition political organizations does not occur.

b. Disappearance

No cases of disappearances, abduction, or clandestine detention were reported.

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

Freedom from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment is guaranteed by law and is respected in practice. By law, prisoners must be treated justly with respect for their human dignity and without distinction on the basis of race, sex, language, nationality, religious or political conviction, social position, wealth, or any other grounds.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment or exile is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Police may hold a suspect for up to 7 days without charge. The suspect has access to a lawyer during that time. Once arrested, the accused must be given a court hearing within 8 days in a city or within 30 days in rural areas. The state pays legal fees for indigent defendants.

Circumstances surrounding the arrest are subject to judicial review at the time the accused is brought to trial. If found innocent of the crime charged, 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. Individuals charged with minor offenses may be released on personal recognizance at the court's discretion. However, those accused of serious crimes must by law remain in custody pending trial, unless this would be unreasonable in view of the nature of the crime or the age of the suspect, or under other exceptional circumstances.

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. Exile has not been used as punishment in Finland and, by law, Finnish citizens cannot be exiled.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The right to fair public trial is guaranteed by law and respected in practice. Finnish citizens and aliens legally residing in Finland have the right to effective counsel. The law provides that charges must be clearly stated and that civilians may not be tried by military courts except in time of war.

The general court system includes municipal courts, courts of appeal, and the Supreme Court. The President appoints Supreme Court justices, who in turn appoint the lower court judges. Judges receive permanent appointments, but are subject to mandatory retirement. They may choose optional retirement at age 63 but must retire at age 70. The judiciary is not subject to political interference.

In addition to the general courts, a presidentially appointed Supreme Administrative Court adjudicates appeals from government decisions on administrative and tax matters. The Court of Impeachment is convened to handle cases of malfeasance by cabinet ministers or the Chancellor of Justice. Other special courts handle labor matters, water rights, and prisoners' rights. Local courts may decide to 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 against individuals, verdicts, and sentencing. Sanctions may be imposed if such information is made public. Provisional tribunals, or tribunals established for the express purpose of trying certain, specific cases or for the express purpose of sentencing a certain, specific individual, are prohibited by the Constitution.

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

The right to privacy and the sanctity of the home, including prohibition of eavesdropping and mail tampering, are guaranteed by law and respected in practice. The police are authorized 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 that this power is abused. The police are subject by law to judicial scrutiny.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech and the press is provided for in the

Constitution and respected in practice. No instances of abuse or legal decisions restricting freedom of the press were reported. A law remains on the books allowing the Government to censor films for foreign policy reasons, but has not been applied. Full academic freedom exists.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association is provided for by the Constitution. Public demonstrations require prior notification to the police. The Government encourages voluntary organizations and subsidizes private groups formed to achieve public purposes. These associations are permitted to maintain relations with other international groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

Finland has two state religions: Lutheran and Eastern Orthodox. A special tax supports the state churches. Nonmembers may be exempted from the church tax by changing their census registration from the church-maintained registry (where most people are registered) to the civil registry. Other denominations and religions enjoy complete freedom of worship. Proselytizing is permitted. About 88 percent of the population belongs to the Lutheran Church.

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

Finns are free to travel within the area of the Nordic countries – Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland – without passports and need not apply for exit visas for travel to other countries. No restrictions have been placed on emigration or repatriation. The granting of political asylum is a matter of frequent public debate, especially because of increasing numbers of asylum seekers and the costs of resettlement. In the first 7 months of 1993, 1,230 people applied for asylum, of whom 234 were granted refugee status. Local police issued another 1,600 permits to ex-Yugoslavs who had entered Finland before July 22, 1992. (All of these permits were 1-year renewable residence permits issued on humanitarian grounds. In practice, renewal of temporary permits originally granted on humanitarian grounds is virtually automatic.) After that date, Finland imposed a visa requirement on residents of the former Yugoslavia. The largest groups of asylum seekers in 1993 were from the former Soviet Union, the former Yugoslavia, and Kurds. The Government of Finland states that it grants asylum in accordance with the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. Finnish authorities accept relatively small numbers of refugees and asylum seekers, who receive generous assistance once admitted. Finland automatically gives Ingrians (ethnic Finns from Russia) resident status and resettlement assistance.

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 elect their representatives from among multiple lists of candidates representing a wide spectrum of political ideologies. The country has the longest tradition of women's suffrage in Europe (since 1906) and there are at present 77 women representatives (of a total of 200) in Parliament and 6 female ministers (of a total of 17) in the Cabinet.

Parliamentary and municipal election take place every 4 years, whereas presidential elections are held every 6 years. At present, there are nine political parties in Parliament, of which four form a non-socialist coalition Government, headed by a Center Party Prime Minister.

Legislation passed in 1991 provides for direct presidential elections beginning in 1994.

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

Several organizations in Finland monitor human rights performance; they include the Finnish Red Cross, the government-sponsored Equality Council, the Minorities Rights Group, and the Women's Rights Union. In conjunction with the Swedish-language University in Turku, a Human Rights Institute was founded in 1985 with the stated purpose of conducting human rights research, performing studies, and distributing information on human rights. In September 1993 a Center for the Treatment of Torture Victims was opened in Helsinki. Finland is a member of the UN Human Rights Commission.

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

Indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities Sami (Lapps), who constitute less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the population, benefit from legal provisions protecting minority rights and customs. Sami language and culture are supported financially by the Government. The Sami receive subsidies to enable them to continue their traditional lifestyle, which revolves around reindeer herding. Sami have full political and civil rights and are able to participate in decisions affecting their economic and cultural interests. Swedish is established as a second official language; about 6 percent of the population speaks Swedish as a native language.


Women enjoy a wide array of social benefits that provide them with considerable economic independence. The government- established Council for Equality coordinates and sponsors legislation to meet the needs of women as workers, mothers, widows, and retirees. In 1985 Parliament passed a comprehensive equal rights bill which mandates equal treatment for women in the workplace, including equal pay for "comparable" jobs. In practice, comparable worth has not been implemented because of the difficulty of establishing criteria, but the Government, employers, unions, and others continue to work on implemention plans. Women's average earnings are 80 percent those of men and women still tend to be segregated in lower paying occupations. While women have individually attained leadership positions in the private and public sectors, in general there are disproportionately fewer women in top management jobs. Industry and finance, the labor movement and some government ministries remain male-dominated. Women are not permitted to serve in the military. Despite the large number of female elected officials, women feel excluded from the innermost circles of political power. The Government's Equality Ombudsman monitors compliance with regulations against sexual discrimination. Of the 114 complaints submitted to the Ombudsman between January 1 and September 15, 1993, 102 had been processed, and violation of the law was established in 29 cases.

The law provides stringent penalties for violence against women; this provision is vigorously enforced by the police and the courts. The Union of Shelter Homes and municipalities maintain about 55 shelters for female, male and child victims of violence in homes all over the country. The annual number of calls to the police relating to domestic violence is no longer centrally compiled, but is estimated at some 10,000 to 12,000 per year. Shelter home officials estimate that the figure is less than half of the number of actual incidents.


Finland monitors the welfare of its children with extreme care. A tight network of maternity and child welfare clinics provide services to pregnant women and pre-school aged children free of charge.

People with Disabilities

Legislative measures protect the disabled from discrimination. Statutes requiring accessibility to public places were enacted in the 1970's, but older buildings often lack necessary facilities for the disabled and the new legislation is not retroactive. However, the Government will provide financing for the voluntary retrofitting of older buildings. Equipment for the disabled is not mandatory on public transportation, but the government subsidizes improvements undertaken. Local governments maintain a transport service, which guarantees 18 trips per month for a disabled person. The deaf and the mute are provided with an interpretation service ranging from 120 to 240 hours per year depending on the seriousness of the handicap. The severely disabled are guaranteed public housing.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Trade unions are constitutionally guaranteed the right to organize, assemble peacefully, and strike – rights which are respected in practice in both the public and private sectors. Trade unions enjoy a protected status and play an important role in political and economic life. About 85 to 87 percent of the work force is organized. In Finland, employers are also organized into collective bargaining associations. A 1- million-member blue-collar confederation, the Central Organization of Finnish Trade Unions (SAK), dominates the trade union movement. Two other central organizations cover white-collar, professional, and technical employees. All trade unions are democratically organized and managed and are independent of the government and of political parties.

The Finnish Constitution guarantees the right to strike and strike actions by Finnish workers were decriminalized in 1922. In 1970 public sector employees were granted the right to strike. Strikes are restricted in certain cases, and cannot be called if a central incomes policy settlement (traditionally negotiated between union federations and central employers' organizations) is in effect. Also, if more than 10 employees are involved in a strike, 2 weeks advance notification of the strike action is required. Trade unions are free to affiliate with and participate in international bodies.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The right to organize and bargain collectively exists in law and practice and is exercised extensively. Finland is a highly organized society in which over 80 percent of both workers and employers are members of trade unions and employers' collective bargaining associations. With very few exceptions, all collective agreements since 1968 have been based on incomes policy agreements between central employees' and employers' organizations and the state. The central agreement covers the general level of wage and salary increases, other terms of employment, and a "social policy package" which provides for vacation, holidays, sick pay, maternity and paternity leave, travel costs, taxes, rents, etc. Workers are protected against anti-union discrimination and organization is encouraged in all sectors of the economy. Employers are required to reinstate workers if they are fired for union activities; however, this has not been a issue in recent years.

Finland has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Paragraph 6 of the Finnish Constitution prohibits forced or compulsory labor and is honored in practice.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Compulsory education is legislated in Finland. Comprehensive school takes 9 years, with school starting at the age of 7 years. It is legal to hire a 15-year old who has completed the mandatory course work, or who has had at least 10 years of schooling. The working hours of a 15-year old may not exceed 9 hours a day or 48 hours a week, and must fall between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. It is possible to hire a 14-year old, or a person in her or his fourteenth year, if employed in light work during school holidays for a maximum of two-thirds of the holiday period. The working hours of an employee under 15 must not exceed 7 hours a day and 36 hours a week, and must fall between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.; there must be a 14-hour period without work every 24 hours and a 38-hour period without work every week.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

Finland has no legislated minimum wage, although all employers, including non-unionized employers, are required to meet the minimum wages agreed to in collective bargaining agreements in their industrial sector. These minimums suffice to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. In 1993 labor and management organizations reached agreement to allow payment of a sub-minimal wage to young workers or the long-term unemployed, on a temporary basis. This category of pay, which was little used in 1993, was authorized for 2 years as of June 15, 1993. The standard legal work week must not exceed 40 hours. Labor laws are enforced by the Government but the well-organized local union leadership also plays a key role in ensuring employer compliance. The Government effectively enforces well-established occupational safety and health standards, and the unions also seek to ensure that workers' safety is protected. In 1993 Finland made its regulations governing worker exposure to dangerous chemicals more stringent in conformity with European Community regulations. These regulations are in the process of implementation.

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