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Discrimination is deeply embedded in the structures of our society – The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman proposes amendments to legislation to improve equality and fundamental rights

Today the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman will submit a report on the realisation of equality in Finland between 2018 and2021 to the Parliament. The report provides an overview of the status of equality in Finland, as well as the realisation of fundamental and human rights regarding the rights of foreigners and human trafficking. The Ombudsman gives the Parliament recommendations on amendments to legislation to improve the realisation of equality and fundamental rights. Discrimination is still deeply embedded in the structures of Finnish society.

Many people still experience discrimination in Finland, and our society has structures that maintain inequality. Rights are not realised equally for everyone. 

The number of complaints received by the Ombudsman has grown significantly over the years. The most frequent causes of complaints to the Ombudsman are related to discrimination based on disability and origin. Discrimination and racism affect many people’s lives comprehensively, starting from their childhood. Even today, minorities experience ethnic profiling by the law enforcement authorities, people refuse to rent apartments to same-sex couples, persons with disabilities face structural obstacles against finding employment, and Swedish-speaking people do not receive services in their native language. 

- Equality and inclusion are linked to the values and attitudes prevalent in the society. Dismantling prejudices and structural discrimination is necessary in order to create a more equal society, states the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman Kristina Stenman.

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman is tasked with submitting a report to the Parliament every four years, and the report that is now submitted is the Ombudsman's second. The report to the Parliament discusses the different aspects of the Ombudsman's area of responsibility extensively: equality, discrimination, the realisation of the rights of foreigners, anti-trafficking work and the monitoring of enforcement of removals from the country. 

It is necessary to strengthen the legal protection of victims of discrimination in the partial reform of the Non-Discrimination Act 

The proposal for the reform of the Non-Discrimination Act will be addressed by the Parliament in the autumn of 2022. The goal of the proposal is to strengthen the legal protection of victims of discrimination. 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman considers it important that the reform strengthens the role of the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal in addressing discrimination. The Tribunal must have the opportunity to decide on a compensation to be paid to the victim of discrimination when the Tribunal finds that the prohibition of discrimination has been violated. This would be in line with international recommendations, and it is supported by many non-governmental and labour market organisations. 

It is particularly important to strengthen the legal protection in working life. Studies show that especially minorities face extensive discrimination in working life, and there are many structural obstacles against the employment of people with disabilities, for example.

- In Finland, there is a broad consensus that discrimination is not intervened in well enough. An effective way of improving the position of victims of discrimination is to grant the National Non-Discrimination and Equality Tribunal the right to order compensation, and to extend the authority of the Tribunal and the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman to also cover discrimination in working life, Stenman emphasises. 

- Finland is almost the only EU Member State, in which an autonomous and independent Ombudsman does not have the authority to address discrimination in working life, Stenman continues.

Promotion of equality as a part of all reforms of the society

The report to the Parliament emphasises the need to associate the promotion of equality increasingly systematically and on a more long-term basis to all change processes in the society. Equality assessment must be included in a central role when assessing the impact of changes – regardless of whether they are related to the health and social services reform, the use of artificial intelligence in automated decision-making, or the development of transport. The authorities must make statutory equality planning a part of management tools, and here the Government must lead by example.

The realisation of the fundamental and human rights of foreigners and victims of human trafficking must be improved 

In recent years during the Ombudsman's work to promote the rights of foreigners and as the monitor of enforcement of removals from the country, the Ombudsman has discovered an increasing number of cases, in which the fundamental rights of the child are not realised. The Ombudsman finds that the Aliens Act must be changed to ensure the realisation of the best interests of the child, among other things.  

- Typically, the case is that one of the parents is separated from the child by removing the parent from Finland. In order to ensure the realisation of the rights and best interest of the child and the full realisation of family life, the Aliens Act must be changed. It must also be ensured that the principle of non-refoulement is respected in all situations, Stenman emphasises.

Anti-trafficking work is increasingly being done on a wider scale by the authorities, organisations and also in companies. In the Ombudsman's work as the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, especially the need to strengthen the rights of victims of human trafficking and the criminal liability of the perpetrators is emphasised.  In the difficult and vulnerable position of victims of human trafficking protection must be ensured by the means of residence permits, safe housing, strong support services and functional criminal proceedings. There is research information, an action plan and recommendations available for developing anti-trafficking work. Through these concrete means this serious human rights problem can be intervened in.