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Statement of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman for the OHCHR

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

OHCHR’S call for input 26.10.2020 on human rights and fundamental freedoms of Africans and people of African descent (preparation of the report pursuant to HRC resolution 43/1) 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman of Finland is an autonomous and independent authority. The task of the Ombudsman is to promote equality and to prevent discrimination. The Ombudsman also supervises removal from the country and is the National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. The Ombudsman further works towards improving the rights and status of foreign nationals.  The duties and rights of the Ombudsman are laid down in the Non-Discrimination Act and the Act on the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman.

Racism in Finland is a widespread social phenomenon with all-encompassing effect on Afro-Finns

In 2020 the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman published a report: Racism and discrimination - everyday experiences for People of African descent in Finland. The report showed that discrimination and racism have an all-encompassing effect on the lives of people of African descent living in Finland. Discrimination affects the lives of people of African descent in all areas of society in a comprehensive manner (more information below).

Also FRA’s report Being Black in the EU (2018) showed that racism in Finland is extremely widespread.

The Black Lives Matter -movement also reverberated in Finnish society and the public discussion on discrimination against Afro-Finns has since then continued. However, the results remain yet to be seen.

Effective action against racism and discrimination is needed 

Given the worrying prevalence of racism and hate speech, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman considers that the Finnish government and authorities must take effective action to eradicate racism and discrimination. Hate crimes need to be investigated effectively. The authorities should ensure more effective legal remedies and support services to victims of discrimination. Anti-discrimination authorities should take various measures to reduce underreporting of discrimination (see more recommendations below).

Report on racism and discrimination experienced by Afro-Finns published by the Ombudsman 

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman published recently the report Racism and  discrimination - everyday experiences for People of African descent in Finland. The Ombudsman collected information on the discrimination experienced by people of African descent using an online form and one-on-one interviews. The online survey received 286 valid responses and 11 interviews were conducted.  

The majority of the respondents face discrimination on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis. The respondents’ first experiences of discrimination have taken place at a young age, that is, under school age in early childhood education or in the early years of basic education. 

Discrimination takes place in encounters in everyday situations in interaction between individuals and groups, as well as in the structures and workings of society.

Racist discrimination and harassment are primarily encountered in public urban spaces, in education and at work or when applying for a job. It also takes place in public services, such as social and health care services. The experiences of harassment range widely from seemingly harmless comments and acts, i.e. microaggressions, to violence. 

Slightly more than half of the respondents reported having experienced ethnic profiling by police or security guards. 

A clear majority of the respondents have experienced discrimination in education. Respondents say that racism emerges from actions by both other students and teaching staff. Almost a third of respondents have experienced discrimination already before reaching school age, in early childhood education. 

Sixty percent of the respondents who have worked or applied for a job have experienced discrimination. The respondents have experienced discrimination by employers, colleagues, and customers in both the private and public sectors. Respondents have experienced discrimination especially in recruitment and at the workplace. 

About half of the respondents do not report the discrimination they experience to any authorities. The most common reason for not reporting experiences of discrimination is the belief that reporting would not lead to any changes. Racism is seen as such a big problem that an isolated report on discrimination is not considered likely to change anything. 

The report contains various recommendations to authorities: 

  • Authorities and other parties which have a responsibility of promoting equality in education and employment should familiarise themselves with the problems highlighted in the report.
  • Public authorities, employers and training providers must effectively implement their legal obligation to promote equality.
  • Police and security guards need to be regularly trained and adequately instructed to prevent ethnic profiling and experiences of ethnic profiling.
  • Anti-discrimination authorities should take various measures to reduce underreporting of discrimination.
  • The obligation of equality planning should be extended the whole education system, from early childhood to further and higher education.
  • Racism and discrimination must be actively addressed in schools. Schools should have clear processes and a contact person for situations in which a student experiences discrimination.
  • Educational courses against racism and discrimination should be included as part of the degree and in-service training of teachers and youth workers. Anti-racism and anti-discrimination in-service training should be provided to study counselors.
  • The Ministry of Education and Culture and the National Board of Education must ensure that the actors under their authority effectively implement their obligation to promote equality. 
  • Employers' awareness and knowledge of non-discrimination and the promotion of equality should be increased. Management has a crucial role to play in preventing discrimination.
  • The powers of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman should be extended to the possibility of investigating individual situations of discrimination in employment. The powers of the Ombudsman should also be extended to cover the supervision of the obligation to promote equality, in cooperation with the occupational safety and health authorities.

Government measures to combat racism and discrimination

Currently, there are some policy documents/action plans being prepared, which may address the issue of racism and discrimination against persons of African descent. A Government Programme on fundamental and human rights is being prepared, and the programme is also to include a set of indicators on the state of fundamental and human rights. A Government Programme on measures to counter racism and enhance good ethnic relations is also prepared. A revision of the Penal Code, in order to better address the issue of hate speech, is also underway.


Senior Officer  Tiina Valonen