Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto toimitti 22.2.2020 raporttinsa YK:n ihmisoikeuskomitealle koskien Suomen seitsemättä määräaikaisraporttia kansalais- ja poliittisten oikeuksien toteutumisesta. Raportti on ladattavissa YK:n sivustolta.
Submission to the United Nations Human Rights Committee
131st Session, 1 to 26 March 2021
Report of the Union of Conscientious Objectors (Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto, AKL) regarding Finland’s seventh periodic report on International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
Address of the organization: Veturitori 3, 00520 Helsinki Finland
Contact persons: Aku Kervinen, Esa Noresvuo
Telephone: +358 40 836 2786
1.1 About the Union of Conscientious Objectors 3
1.2 Basic information on the conscription system in Finland 3
The constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented (art. 14, question 3) 4
The freedom of conscience and religious belief (arts. 2, 18 and 26, question 20) 4
APPENDIX 1: Numbers of total objectors 2013-2020 10
This report covers views of the Union of Conscientious Objectors (AKL) on areas of relevance to the UN International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). AKL submits this briefing to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee (the Committee) ahead of its examination of the seventh periodic report of Finland at its 131st session in March 2021.
In particular, the submission provides information on Committee’s questions nr 3 and nr 20 to the list of issues prior to reporting Republic of Finland.
Observations and recommendations by AKL for the Finnish authorities on question 3 are considered in Chapter 2: The constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented.
Observations and recommendations by AKL for the Finnish authorities on question 20 are considered in Chapter 3: The Freedom of conscience and religious belief.
The report was made on 28 January 2021 by the Union of Conscientious Objectors.
1.1 About the Union of Conscientious Objectors
Aseistakieltäytyjäliitto (the Union Of Conscientious Objectors, AKL) is a Finnish anti-militarist peace organization. It acts both as an advocacy organization for conscientious objectors and an anti-militarist grassroots youth organization.
1.2 Basic information on the conscription system in Finland
Finland has compulsory conscription for males. Conscripts have to serve 165, 255 or 347 days. As an alternative, they can apply for 347 day-long non-military service in the call-ups or during the military service. Applications to non-military service must be accepted automatically by the law.
The constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented (art. 14, question 3)
Conscientious objectors tried twice for the same accuse
The ne bis in idem law principle goes: No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country. (ICCPR art. 14 (7)). That is, when a party accused has been once tried by a tribunal in the last resort, and either convicted or acquitted, he shall not again be tried.
Still, along the Non-Military Service Act’s section 79 once acquitted conscientious objectors refusing to perform both military service and non-military service (“total objectors”, see Chapter 3, Punishments for total objectors) are ordered again to start the non-military service: “If a person liable for non-military service against whom a report on an offence has been entered for refusal to perform non-military service or a non-military service offence is not charged with the offences in question or given a prison sentence, the Centre for Non-Military Service must order the person back into service”1.
District courts have decided to examine the charges of second-time-objectors since January 2020. At least 19 total objectors who were given acquittal sentences before have received convicting sentences from their second refusals to perform non-military service. Their second refusals have happened after Finland repealed the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses on 1 April 2019.
At least 16 of second-time total objectors have applied for the Appeal Court. In January 2021 three of them were freed from charge in the Court of Appeal, due to the ne bis in idem principle. Dozens of objectors in the same situation are still subpoenaed or will be subpoenaed this year.
The case of total objector Valtteri Harakka is one example. Harakka refused to perform non-military service in summer 2018. The 13th July 2018 Harakka’s charge was dispelled in a district court, for the court concluded that sentencing Harakka would be discriminatory compared to Jehovah's Witnesses, who were exempted by the law2. After 1 April 2019, when the Finnish Parliament had abolished the exemption law for Jehova’s Witnesses, Harakka was ordered again to start the non-military service. Harakka refused, was charged and on 8th of July 2020 was judged to a monitoring sentence for 173 days3. Now Harakka waits for a litigation in the Court of Appeal.
The duration of non-military service
In the sixth periodic report of Finland (CCPR/C/FIN/6) The Human Rights Committee reiterated its concerns that the length of non-military service is almost twice the duration of the period of service for the rank and file, and recommended the State party to ensure that the length and nature of the alternatives to military service are not punitive in nature. The Human Rights Council noticed the same issue on their report on Finland in 2017: “ensure that civilian alternatives to military service are not punitive or discriminatory” (A/HRC/36/8).
The duration of non-military service is always 347 days. Meanwhile, those who serve in the army mostly spend shorter time in duty: 41 percent of conscripts serve 165 days in the army, 15 percent 255 days and 44 percent 347 days.4 In military service conscript’s own motivation has an effect for their imposition to certain durated service. The aim is to find enough conscripts willing to serve in the longer services. If there are not enough people willing to do longer service, it is possible to impose one to a certain service.5
Those who become conscientious objectors after performing their military service must apply for supplementary service. Supplementary service is obligatory and its duration is 40 days in maximum by law, but contemporarily 5 days in practice. Meanwhile, most reservists of the military are not serving in the refresher courses. When comparing the refresher courses and the supplementary service it seems like conscientious objectors from the reserve are treated in a discriminatory way.
Non-military service under civilian control
The Human Rights Council recommended Finland to “ensure that civilian alternatives (…) remain under civilian control” (A/HRC/36/8). There are some matters that implicate that non-military service is not fully under civilian control.
In the Working Group to Examine the Needs of Changes to Non-Military Service Act, which was active in 2017-18, there were members from The Ministry of Defence, military headquarters and The Union of Conscripts. The human rights expertise and interests of non-military servicemen was left mostly on the shoulders of the member from The Union of Conscientious Objectors. He raised up and defended alone the concerns and recommendations that The Human Rights Committee has iterated on its periodic reports of Finland.6
Military parties are deciding about the issues concerning conscientious objectors to military service. They are often supportive of ideas to change non-military service’s nature more into preparise service for the time of crisis. This kind of development would be against the conscience of many conscientious objectors.
In March 2020 there was a launch of a parliamentary committee “to look into ways to develop general conscription and to meet national defence obligations.” The committee’s aim is “to maintain a high level of defence will and to strengthen social equity among citizens”.7 There is also a civil servant membered section in the committee to examine non-military service development for the needs of comprehensive security and to examine the possibility for implementing universal national service. AKL is worried of minor human rights expertise also for this committee. Vice president of the Committee Joonas Könttä told the media in January 2021 about his idea to decrease the number of non-military service locations and to repair them with locations that concentrate to times of crisis. As examples of the possible locations after the development he proposed fire and rescue service, first aid, logistics, oil spill control, assistance for military and population management.8
Problems when applying to non-military service
The Non-Military Service Act obligates authorities to provide information about the possibility to apply for non-military service. Act’s section 104 says: “The Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the Centre for Non-Military Service, and the Defence Forces must provide those liable for conscription with sufficient information on the possibility to apply for, and the content of, non-military service.”
Also the United Nation Human Rights Council draw attention in the theme in its Resolution 24/17: “[The Council] affirms the importance of the availability of information about the right to conscientious objection to military service, and the means of acquiring conscientious objector status, to all persons affected by military service -- [and] -- welcomes initiatives to make such information widely available, and encourages States, as applicable, to provide information to conscripts and persons serving voluntarily in the military services about the right to conscientious objection to military service.”9
This obligation is not realized. Firstly, there is not much information about non-military service before the call-ups or during the call-ups.
Finnish males receive a call-up letter on the year they turn 18 years old. On the letter there is a call-up notice, a questionnaire to ascertain military service and state of health and a guide book for military service. There is not any information about non-military service in the call-up notice. In the questionnaire there are questions what kind of wishes the draftee has for army service. There is no possibility to announce about the wish to serve in the non-military service.10 In the 77-page guide book published by The Finnish Defence Forces the non-military service is presented in 7 sentences. There is information that it is possible to apply to non-military service but not information how.11
The call-ups are organised by the Finnish Defence Forces and the municipality. It differs how the non-military service is presented in the call-ups. Normally it is mentioned quickly, sometimes not at all. Often the atmosphere is propagandist in the call-up. There are screenings of films made by Defence Forces and often there are war veterans giving speeches. Sometimes the manner of speaking makes non-military service sound suspicious and negative. Conscientious objectors need to find information about non-military service by themselves from the internet.
The Union of Conscientious Objectors has been collecting experiences from the participants who have not got enough information in the call-ups.12 The Union is also sharing leaflets that inform conscripts about the alternatives for military service. This campaign has continued for centuries.
Secondly, the right to apply for non-military service during the army service often has problems.
The Non-Military Service Act’s Section 13 appoints: "Non-military service applications must be processed without delay. Call-up boards or Defence Forces regional offices must approve all applications that comply with the requirements laid down in section 12. Commanders of military units and the Centre for Non-Military Service must pass on all applications submitted to them to a Defence Forces regional office for approval. Call-up boards and Defence Forces regional offices must without delay notify the Centre for Non-Military Service that the non-military service application has been approved."
The Union Of Conscientious Objectors gets dozens contacts every year from military servicemen who are willing to change to non-military service but who face denial or procrastination by the army brass. It is common that demobilization happens many days after the draftee has told about their will to change to non-military service to the brass.
Punishments for total objectors
Conscientious objectors who refuse to perform both military service and non-military service are called “total objectors”. They are sentenced to imprisonment for a period corresponding to half of their remaining non-military service time. Maximum imprisonment period is 173 days. Since 2013, total objectors have had the chance to apply to perform monitoring sentences.
In the sixth periodic report of Finland (CCPR/C/FIN/6) The Human Rights Committee reiterated its concerns that the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses has not been extended to other groups of conscientious objectors (art. 18). The Committee recommended that the State party should extend the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses to other groups of conscientious objectors. The Human Rights Council noticed the same issue in its report on Finland in 2017: “Release prisoners detained as conscientious objectors to military service” (A/HRC/36/8).
On the 23rd of February 2018 Helsinki Court of Appeal decided to repeal a sentence given to a total objector by a district court. The court decided that sentencing total objector from refusal to perform non-military service would be discriminatory compared to Jehovah's Witnesses preferential treatment. In November 2018, The Highest Court decided to not give a right of appeal, and the decision of the Court of Appeal remained.
After the court decision at least 92 acquittal sentences were given to conscientious objectors in district courts. The situation lasted until the act which exempted Jehovah's Witnesses from conscription service was abolished on the 1st of April 2019. By abolishing the act Finland's government did conversely to the Human Rights Committee recommendation to extend the preferential treatment accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses to other groups of conscientious objectors.
The persons who got acquittal sentences are ordered again to start the non-military service and if they keep on objecting they will be prosecuted for Refusal to perform non-military service again (see Chapter 2). By the end of the year 2020 33 second-time-objectors were offended for Refusal to perform non-military service.
Onwards April 2019 all Finnish males except those who are living in the demilitarised Åland are again obligated to serve either in the army or in the discriminatory length alternative service with the deterrence of 173 days imprisonment. After repealing the preferential treatment there are more citizens under the threat to be arbitrarily imprisoned for using their human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
Unlike the Finnish State Party claims on its submission, all Jehovah's Witnesses are not glad to serve in the non-military service. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses in the conscription age have already been sentenced because of their total objection to any military or non-military conscription service, even if some of them do perform the non-military service now.
The case of a total objector and Jehova’s Witness Matias Selin is an example about this. Due to his conviction, Selin refused to perform the non-military service in autumn 201913. A district court judged Selin to the monitoring sentence from 7th September 2020 to 26th February 2021.
In its seventh periodic report the Finnish State Party did not respond about any progress made in extending the exemption from military and civilian service accorded to Jehovah’s Witnesses to other conscientious objectors. There are not any responses concerning the Article 18 of the Covenant and the repealing of the preferential treatment. The total amount of total objectors in Finland 2013-2020 is provided in APPENDIX 1.
The Union of Conscientious Objectors recommends the State party to:
⦁ Abolish the Non-Military Service Act’s section 79 in contradiction with ne bis in idem principle.
⦁ Reduce the length of alternative civilian service to the shortest (165 days) or average (255 days) duration of the military service along the international Human Rights standards.
⦁ Ensure that any group or committee considering alternative civilian service for conscientious objectors is not under military control and abides by Human Rights standards.
⦁ Provide sufficient information about the possibility to apply for non-military service both in the draft and during the military service.
⦁ Release all conscientious objectors in prisons or in monitoring sentence, and abolish any other forms of punishment of conscientious objectors.
Non-Military Service Act: https://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2007/en20071446.pdf
Interview of Valtteri Harakka, after the exemption from the service: https://www.mtvuutiset.fi/artikkeli/armeijasta-ja-siviilipalveluksesta-kieltaytynyt-valtteri-19-valtti-vankeustuomion-laissa-olleen-porsaanreian-ansiosta-ketaan-ei-saisi-pakottaa-tekemaan-tuollaista/7572972#gs.tr367n
A piece of news about new sentences for second-time total objectors, including Valtteri Harakka: https://www.itavayla.fi/uutiset/toista-kertaa-totaalikieltaytymisesta-tuomitut-valittavat-hovioikeuteen-6.2.48040.ebc4d7f0ab
Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment of Finland, 2018, page 46: https://docplayer.fi/105403486-Siviilipalveluslain-muutostarpeita-selvittava-tyoryhma.html
The Government’s bill for Parliament on Conscription Act, 2006, detailed rationale 38 § https://www.finlex.fi/fi/esitykset/he/2006/20060187
The Working Group’s memorandum: https://docplayer.fi/105403486-Siviilipalveluslain-muutostarpeita-selvittava-tyoryhma.html
Installation of the Committee: https://valtioneuvosto.fi/fi/-/1410877/parlamentaarinen-komitea-ryhtyy-selvittamaan-yleisen-asevelvollisuuden-kehittamista
Interview of the vice president of the committee, 26 January 2021 https://www.suomenmaa.fi/uutiset/asevelvollisuutta-uudistavan-komitean-varapuheenjohtaja-muuttaisi-siviilipalvelusta-rankasti-sopivia-tehtavia-olisivat-esimerkiksi-palo-ja-pelastustoimi-ensihoito-logistiikka-ja-oljyntorj/
Human Rights Council Resolution 24/17 Conscientious objection to military service, A/HRC/RES/24/17 of 8 October 2013, paras. 15 and 16 https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G13/179/17/PDF/G1317917.pdf?OpenElement
Guide book: https://intti.fi/documents/1948673/2258487/Varusmiesopas+2018.pdf/522a30fe-5941-4d67-8eb1-be8a45dee004/Varusmiesopas+2018.pdf
Interview of a conscientious objector Matias Selin: https://www.iltalehti.fi/kotimaa/a/f9e95e25-f041-4ba4-a678-5f9f2a6e75a5
APPENDIX 1: Numbers of total objectors 2013-2020
Number of refusal to perform non-military service and refusing military service authorities reported. (Sources: Statistics Finland and Non-Military Service Center)
Notification: It is possible to become a total objector in two ways. The more common way is to apply to non-military service and refuse to perform it. In this case a criminal offence is called Refusal to perform non-military service (Non-military service act section 74). The other way is to refuse directly from military service without applying to non-military service first. Criminal offence is then called Refusing military service (Conscription Act section 118).
Refusal to perform non-military service
Refusing military service
2020: Currently unknown