A road leading to a closed border-crossing point in Virolahti, Eastern Finland, on Monday, 18 March 2024. The Finnish government has closed all border-crossing points on the eastern border until 18 April, citing Russia’s effort to leverage migrants to exert pressure on Finland. (Lauri Heino – Lehtikuva)


THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo (NCP) has faced severe criticism from experts in constitutional and international law over its draft proposal to combat “instrumentalised immigration” from Russia.

Martti Koskenniemi, a professor emeritus of international law at the University of Helsinki, on Monday stated on YLE A-studio that the proposal fails to align with basic rights in Finland.

Koskenniemi estimated that the proposal is mostly well drafted, except for the segment where the government acknowledges that it violates basic and human rights. The government, he pointed out, fails to account for the fact that the bill would also violate the core principles of the major constitutional reform carried out in the 1990s. Designed to make the country a western rule-of-law state, the reform adopted human rights as part of basic rights, thus prohibiting even limited deviations from them.

“The government’s plan strikes at the core of the constitution, its fundamental provisions. My colleagues in the field of constitutional law are catching their breaths,” he said to the public broadcasting company.

Koskenniemi estimated that the bill could nonetheless receive the requisite parliamentary support, possibly denting the global credibility of Finland. The country, he reminded, has sought to profile itself as a strong advocate and defender of rule of law.

“There’d be snickering in the audience if we continued to talk the way we talked before after passing a law that violates human rights,” he predicted. “The rationale behind the [constitutional] reform was that basic rights and internationalisation were the core principles of our country’s identity and laws.”

The controversial draft bill was published for comments on Friday.

Atte Harjanne, the chairperson of the Green Parliamentary Group, said on A-studio on Monday that the Green League is unlikely to vote for the bill, taking the same stance as the Left Alliance. The Social Democrats and Swedish People’s Party have communicated that they will review the expert feedback before deciding on whether or not to support the bill.

The government has outlined its intention to pass the bill as urgent, a procedure that requires a five-sixths majority in parliament. Its decision to shut down border-crossing points on the eastern border will expire on 18 April 2024.

Legal experts have expressed deep reservations about the bill also to Helsingin Sanomat. Martin Scheinin, a British Academy professor at the University of Oxford, highlighted to the newspaper that the government itself acknowledged that the proposal to restrict the possibilities of arrivals to seek asylum stands in conflict with its binding human rights obligations.

“The government is openly admitting that the proposed act stands in conflict – not only in so-called tension – with the human rights obligations of Finland. Nothing like this has been done before and won’t be done now either, unless you first remove the text in the constitution about Finland committing to internationally protected human rights,” he viewed.

Janne Salminen, a professor of public law at the University of Turku, described the draft bill as exceptional.

“The government recognises that it contains major problems when it comes to international human rights obligations. At a glance, the draft is legislatively problematic and it remains to be seen whether it’ll develop into a government bill that’s scrutinised first by the chancellor of justice and then the constitutional law committee,” Salminen said to Helsingin Sanomat.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT