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Amnesty raps Finland on refugee, transgender rights

The human rights organisation Amnesty International has again criticised Finland for its treatment of asylum-seekers, migrants, transgender people and conscientious objectors, as well as what it sees as inaction on violence against women and girls.

Joutsenon säilöönottoyksikkö ennen asukkaita.
Cells at the Joutseno Reception Centre's Detention Unit Image: Yle

The NGO published its massive annual International Report in London on Wednesday. The 415-page report details abuses in 160 countries, with secretary general Salil Shetty calling 2014 a "catastrophic" year. While it focused on conflicts from Syria and Ukraine to Gaza and Nigeria, the Nordic countries were not spared critiques.

AI repeated accusations from previous years that Finland detains asylum-seekers and migrants, including unaccompanied children, in jail-like conditions. It does note that last autumn a new detention centre designed for families and other vulnerable individuals opened in the eastern town of Joutseno. Meanwhile the Ombudsman for Minorities has begun monitoring forced removals of refused asylum-seekers and migrants.

AI: Unfair handling of trans people and COs

A new addition this year to the list of complaints concerning Finland was discrimination against transgender individuals. AI says that the law on obtaining legal gender recognition is too onerous, requiring lengthy medical studies, sterilisation or a mental disorder diagnosis, and proof of single status.

Female residents of Finland, meanwhile, are all too often subject to sexual violence, according to the report. It cites a 2014 survey by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, which indicates that nearly half of women in the country had experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. However only one in 10 victims has contacted police, even in serious cases of violence.

Underlying this, AI alleges, is an antiquated definition of rape and lack of support for victims of gender-based and sexual violence.

"Rape is still defined by the degree of violence or threats of violence used by the perpetrator, rather than the violation of sexual autonomy and physical and mental integrity," the report says.

It also notes that two women’s shelters were closed in 2013, while only two crisis centres offer support to rape victims. As a result, Finland fails to meet the Council of Europe’s shelter requirements.

Finally, the report returns to a topic that has been mentioned by AI year after year: discriminatory treatment of conscientious objectors to compulsory military service. Men who refuse to take part in either military or alternative civilian service are imprisoned. The rights group slams the civilian service as “punitive and discriminatory in length,” pointing out that the minimum time requirement is more than twice as long as the minimum military service. Women are exempt from both.

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