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Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä's speech at Meeting of National Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinators and Rapporteurs co-organised by the Council of Europe and OSCE, Strasbourg 23 May 2018

Ombudsman Kirsi Pimiä's speech at Meeting of National Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinators and Rapporteurs co-organised by the Council of Europe and OSCE, Strasbourg 23 May 2018

Ways to enhance the role of National Rapporteurs or other national mechanisms for monitoring activities and policies: The role of NRs in reporting to Parliament and influencing legislative development and policy making

Until about 15 years ago, it was considered in Finland that human trafficking is an issue that does not affect us. Nevertheless, Finns, too, have acknowledged that Finland is a country of transit and a destination for human trafficking. Most cases involve sexual or work-related exploitation but victims of forced marriages and individuals exploited as part of criminal activities have also been referred to the Finnish assistance system. Domestic human trafficking, in which both the victims and the perpetrators are Finnish, also exists and the authorities are aware of cases where Finns have been taken to other countries for sexual exploitation.

In Finland, the idea of an autonomous and independent rapporteur on human trafficking was suggested in 2007. Little was being done to identify human trafficking and only few victims were identified and referred to the assistance system. All parties agreed, however, that there are victims of human trafficking in Finland that need help. The provisions of the Criminal Code were also found challenging and little use was made of the grounds for issuing residence permits laid down in the Aliens Act. The absence of the monitoring task was considered as one of the weaknesses in the action against human trafficking in Finland.

In 2009, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman was appointed as National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings. Under the law, the mandate of the Ombudsman stretches from monitoring the activities of the authorities all the way to international cooperation. In her capacity as Rapporteur, the Ombudsman monitors developments with the aim of identifying problems in the action against human trafficking. Under the law, the Ombudsman monitors phenomena related to human trafficking, prepares and issues reports and supervises within her competence compliance of the Finnish legislation with international human rights obligations and the effectiveness of the Finnish legislation. One of the major instruments is, of course, the CoE convention on THB. The Ombudsman may also provide legal assistance and, in exceptional cases, assist victims of human trafficking in court.

The ultimate responsibility for the action against human trafficking lies with the Government, but it is viewed that having an independent rapporteur which is also a human rights defender/actor to monitor the work, helps to provide a better picture of the phenomenon. The cross-administrative coordination of the action against human trafficking is the responsibility of the anti-trafficking coordinator.

The ombudsman has extensive statutory rights to obtain information, including classified information, for example, from police, prosecutors and service providers. An extensive right to obtain information helps to make the reporting more comprehensive and objective and it also provides a basis for development proposals for efficiency improvements and better cooperation between different actors. In addition to having the statutory right to obtain information from the authorities, we may also, on certain conditions, request information from NGOs as well as private and public service providers. In practice, the right to obtain information means that when we request details of a pre-trial investigation or the assistance provided to a victim, the actors in question must supply us with such information.

Under the law, the Ombudsman shall submit a report to Parliament every four years, once during a parliamentary term. In the report, we provide Parliament with research-based information on the challenges faced in the combating of human trafficking and, of course, concrete recommendations for improving the work. The most recent report was issued to the Parliament in April. The report is based on extensive document and interview material and its aim is to assess the Finnish legislation that applies to assistance for victims of human trafficking. Some of you might have heard my presentation yesterday in the panel 2 on the topic. In our report we recommended to amend the law on victim assistance. The report is currently discussed by various parliamentary committees.   

Previously, the reports of the Ombudsman have led to legislative amendments and more effective action against human trafficking. The reports have been important sources of information, for example, for the prosecutors in their practical work. The reports have assisted the practitioners to apply and interpret the core elements of human trafficking under the Criminal Code. It has been increasingly understood in Finland, with the help of the reports, that the psychological pressure exerted on the victim, the exploitation of the perpetrator’s position of authority and the subordinate status of the victim with respect to the perpetrator are essential in human trafficking. The fact that there is now more emphasis on the means of psychological means in the application of the law in Finland may have facilitated the identification of such phenomena as work-related human trafficking.

In 2016, the Ombudsman reported on the challenges concerning the practices applied by the Finnish Immigration Service to its decisions on asylum and residence permits for victims of human trafficking. The Ombudsman was particularly worried that there was no consideration in the decision-making practices of the circumstances and the resulting risk of re-victimisation in repatriation situations, or the best interests of the child at such individual level that it would make it possible to assess in practice whether the applicant and their children can be refused entry to Finland under international human rights obligations. We also reported that Finland does not take adequate measures to ensure that, when refused entry, the applicants and their children would be referred to the necessary assistance and support in the receiving country. Our conclusion was that in this respect, Finland seems to neglect its international human rights obligations when dealing with victims of human trafficking. We referred to the Council of Europe Convention on Trafficking, which obliges the Parties to take measures to prevent the re-victimisation of the victims of human trafficking, especially in repatriation situations.

Based on the report and a fact-finding trip to Italy, the Finnish Immigration Service updated its decision-making practices. The Finnish Immigration Service decided that in the future it would give more case-by-case consideration to the situation of victims of human trafficking when receiving applications for asylum and residence permits from them. At the moment, more applications by victims of human trafficking are also submitted for material consideration in situations that concern the application of the Dublin regulation determining the responsibilities of the Member States. This means that the victims refused entry to Finland are usually not sent back to Italy for the processing of asylum applications in situations where the applicant has been subjected to exploitation in Italy and sought asylum or registered as an asylum seeker in that country.

At practical level, our work covers a broad range of different matters. Even though, the Ombudsman's work mainly concerns the uncovering of structural inadequacies and finding of legislative solutions, we can also work to improve the status of individual victims of human trafficking and make efforts to safeguard their rights. The Ombudsman can give advice to pre-trial investigation authorities in matters concerning pre-trial investigations of human trafficking, provide prosecutors with advice in the preparation of the application for a summons, submit statements to courts on the grounds for the victim's residence permit and referral to the assistance system, or help victims of human trafficking to access therapy or housing services in municipalities.  As an example on our work with the prosecutors is a recent berry picking case in which the court sentenced the entrepreneur for labour trafficking to imprisonment. He had brought tens of Thai berry pickers to work and live in Finland in exploitative circumstances. The sentence is not yet final as the defendant has appealed against it to the Court of Appeal.

At structural level, the Ombudsman may, in addition to producing reports, support authorities in the drafting of guidelines on human trafficking, submit opinions on legislative proposals to ministries and Parliament, and take part as an expert in legislative and other development projects aimed at, for example, ensuring that the authorities are better placed to identify human trafficking. We can also provide police officers, prosecutors and judges with training or submit complaints concerning non-lawful treatment of victims of human trafficking to the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

To conclude, it seems reasonable to say that an autonomous and independent national rapporteur on human trafficking has played an important role in the efforts to implement the rights of the trafficking victims and to enforce criminal justice in Finland. By assessing counter trafficking efforts from a human rights perspective, cooperating closely with authorities and NGOs as well as by issuing research-based information and recommendations directly to Parliament we have succeeded in committing political decision-makers to legislative improvements. That has been particularly useful in the work to enhance the action against human trafficking and the implementation of victim’s rights.

And last, our latest parliamentary report will be published in English next week and you will find it soon in our web-pages, it covers all parts of our mandate and includes a separate section on THB. The survey done on Nigerian women 2016 can also be found there with other information.