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The information contained on this page represents the situation as of 1 January 2013 and is a summary of the country report produced by the country expert from the network. The summary can be downloaded here as well. 

Rainer Hiltunen

Country context

Until the end of the 1980’s Finland was one of the most culturally homogeneous countries in Europe. The number of immigrants was minimal. In the 1990’s a major shift from emigration into immigration took place, and the number of foreign citizens grew from 26 300 in 1990 to 168 000 in 2010. Currently the number of foreigners represents some 3 per cent of the total population of 5 400 000.

Main principles and definitions

The principle of equal treatment is strongly anchored in the domestic law, and has been so for quite some time. However, the approach of the more recent legislation, in particular the Non-Discrimination Act, is different from that of the older parts of the legislation, and in this respect Finnish anti-discrimination law is characterised by a certain dualism.

Enforcing the law

If a discriminatory decision is made in the exercise of public powers, the victim of discrimination may make use of the rectification procedure or some other ordinary channel of appeal. They may also turn to the Parliamentary Ombudsman or the Chancellor of Justice in order to file a complaint. These bodies may not amend or annul a particular decision but may bring legal action against an official and/or issue their opinions of the correct interpretation of the law.

Main legislation

The main provisions pertaining to discrimination have been laid down in the Constitution, the Non-Discrimination Act and the Penal Code. As a general clause, a prohibition on discrimination is also included in many statutory acts. Section 6 of the Constitution provides for equality and prohibits discrimination. The main thrust of this constitutional guarantee of non-discrimination is to ensure formal equality, i.e. the principle that people in similar circumstances are to be treated similarly, but it also aims to reach full, substantive equality in practice. The constitutional prohibition of discrimination may be directly invoked in courts, and regular laws are to be interpreted in accordance to it. So far the constitutional anti-discrimination provision has been applied mainly in situations involving the use of public power, but it may in some instances have a bearing on relationships between private parties as well.

Material scope

The Finnish anti-discrimination law covers a wide area and is in general applicable in private and public sector. The primary thrust of the Constitutional prohibition of discrimination is to ensure equal treatment in the exercise of public powers.

Equality Bodies

The office of the Ombudsman for Minorities was established in 2001 in order to promote equal treatment irrespective of ethnic origin. The Ombudsman functions mainly as an expert body, providing advice and instructions to victims of ethnic discrimination outside employment. The Ombudsman may also provide legal aid in exceptionally significant cases. Most of the cases of ethnic discrimination which have been brought to the Ombudsman’s office have dealt with provision of goods or services, particularly housing.

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