People took part in a demonstration calling for an end to far-right violence in Helsinki on 20 June 2024. The Finnish government’s draft action plan for combating racism and promoting equality has been welcomed as a small step in the right direction, albeit one that falls short in terms of concrete action and several minority groups. (Vesa Moilanen – Lehtikuva)

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THE GOVERNMENT of Prime Minister Petteri Orpo’s (NCP) draft action plan for combating racism and promoting equality received plenty of criticism during the public consultation round that ended on 10 June, reports Helsingin Sanomat.

Many of the institutions and organisations that commented on the draft plan described it as a step in the right direction, albeit one that all but neglects some minority groups.

Islamophobia, for example, is not recognised as a form of racism in the draft plan judging by the lack of measures set forth to combat it, estimated the Finnish Muslim Forum. This, the forum argued, is an indication that the government has not recognised the phenomenon as a societal problem or is reluctant to recognise its existence.

Antigypsyism is similarly not mentioned in the plan, observed the Finnish Roma Association.

The government dedicated an entire section on combating antisemitism, a problem that was identified as important in many of the comments. The Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), though, was one of several organisations that gauged that the section was asymmetric in light of the attention expended to other minority groups.

“In the three-year action plan, 1.2 million euros, meaning almost a fifth of the total budget, has been allocated for a single minority group,” wrote THL.

The government justified the emphasis by citing a recommendation issued by the European Commission.

The Ombudsman for Equality estimated that the draft plan fails to forward measures to combat structural discrimination, a covert form of discrimination that is manifested in, for example, hiring processes.

Most of the measures set forth in the plan deal with organising events and training seminars, producing assessments and reports, and supporting existing stakeholders such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Concerning the Sámi People. The City of Oulu reminded that the effectiveness of campaigns and trainings has been shown to be limited, and that there should be no shortage of research data on racism.

“If resources are scarce, should they be used not only to examine the current situation but also to weed out racism?” it asked.

The draft plan also lacks clear objectives and mechanisms for measuring progress, according to many of the comments submitted during the consultation window. The Finnish League for Human Rights stated that many of the measures detailed in the draft action plan are “fairly general” and employ verbs such as “assess” and “plan”.

The government itself outlined that the plan focuses on “active, concrete measures”.

“What concrete changes these measures are intended to cause and how they will be implemented is left unclear,” the League for Human Rights wrote. “The most serious problem in regards to a systematic effort to combat racism is that the draft action plan and its objectives contradict the government’s own policies. Even a good plan will not help if you are simultaneously pushing through several bills that undermine human rights.”

“Although the action plan proposes many commendable measures to combat racism and promote equality, the broad-based negative revisions to the position and rights of people seeking protection and moving into the country challenge the credibility of the action plan,” echoed the National Council of Women in Finland.

There were questions also about the amendments to the criminal code forwarded in the draft plan, such as the criminalisation of holocaust denial and the use of communist and Nazi symbols.

The League for Human Rights also highlighted that the plan contains no measures to tackle hate speech, reminding that the lack of such measures has also caught the attention of the UN Human Rights Committee.

The European Commission in 2022 launched an infringement procedure against Finland, taking issue especially with the narrow scope of application of the section in the criminal code on ethnic agitation. Minister of Justice Leena Meri (PS) dissolved a task force appointed to mull over racist crimes in April.

“In light of these actions, it is evident that the government lacks the political will to utilise the criminal code to combat racism,” viewed the League for Human Rights.

The government devised the action plan in response to widespread outrage about the racist actions, online comments and private messages of ex-Minister of Economic Affairs Vilhelm Junnila (PS), Minister of Finance Riikka Purra (PS) and Minister of Economic Affairs Wille Rydman (PS).

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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