Covering events from January - December 2004

Nine conscientious objectors to military service were adopted as prisoners of conscience. International monitoring bodies expressed concern about aspects of Finland's human rights record.

Conscientious objection to military service

The length of alternative civilian service remained punitive and discriminatory: all conscientious objectors were required to perform 395 days of alternative civilian service, 215 days longer than the majority of military recruits. AI continued to urge the authorities to reduce the length of alternative civilian service in line with internationally recognized standards and recommendations. Despite repeated assurances by the relevant minister that she would do everything in her power to shorten the length of alternative service, AI was not aware of any recent government proposal to review the legislation.

  • Nine conscientious objectors were adopted as prisoners of conscience during 2004. They received prison sentences of between 169 and 197 days for refusing to perform alternative civilian service. They all cited the punitive length of service as a reason for their refusal.

International scrutiny of human rights record

In June the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) published a report on its September 2003 visit to Finland. The government had previously authorized publication, in October 2003, of the CPT's preliminary observations.

The CPT found that there was no coherent set of regulations on the use of force and means of restraint authorized during the deportation of foreign nationals, and recommended that detailed instructions on the procedures to be followed be issued without delay.

  • The CPT detailed the case of a Ukrainian family, a married couple and two children aged 11 and 12. In 2002 they were deported back to Ukraine at the third attempt after an operation lasting three days. Before being deported, they were held in a custody unit for aliens in Helsinki where sedative drugs were administered without proper examination by a doctor and without proper records being kept. The CPT described the approach taken in this case as unacceptable.

In November the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), after considering Finland's periodic report, noted with concern that Roma still faced discrimination in housing, education, employment and access to public places. It also reiterated its concern over the failure to settle the question of Sami rights to land ownership.

The HRC expressed concern about people held in pre-trial detention in police stations, noting a lack of clarity about their right of access to lawyers and doctors.

The HRC regretted that the right to conscientious objection was acknowledged only in peacetime, and that the civilian alternative to military service was punitively long. It reiterated its concern at the fact that the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah's Witnesses had not been extended to other groups of conscientious objectors.

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