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Kirsi Pimiä's speech at the Meeting of National Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinators and Rapporteurs co-organised by the Council of Europe and OSCE in Strasbourg, 22 May 2018 during Panel 2: Ensuring rights of victims of trafficking

Kirsi Pimiä's speech at the Meeting of National Anti-Trafficking Co-ordinators and Rapporteurs co-organised by the Council of Europe and OSCE in Strasbourg, 22 May 2018 during Panel 2: Ensuring rights of victims of trafficking

The Non-Discrimination Ombudsman together with the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control (HEUNI) carried out a report assessing the Finnish legislation that applies to assistance for victims of human trafficking. One of the main aims of the study was to answer questions concerning the connection between the assistance and criminal proceedings, such as what are the grounds for entering the system of assistance, when is the assistance initiated and terminated, and what are consequences for the victim if she or he is not identified as a victim of human trafficking in criminal proceedings.

The report is based on extensive document and interview material, it was published in March this year, in Finnish, but the results with the legislative recommendations were issued to the Finnish Parliament in April as part of the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman’s report. The report can be found in English from our web-page http://bit.ly/parliamentaryreport.

Under the law, victims of human trafficking have a special status as beneficiaries of services in Finland. The system of assistance for victims of human trafficking consists of an entity with two authority operators in charge of organising the services. Joutseno Reception Centre shall arrange assistance measures for victims who do not have a municipality of residence in Finland. Municipalities are responsible for organising assistance measures for victims who are Finnish citizens or who have a municipality of residence in Finland. Compared to many other European countries Finnish NGOs have a relatively small role in assisting victims.

The study shows that almost no sexual abuse victims are directed to the system of assistance who would have fallen victim to human trafficking in Finland. Based on documentation and interview data, the victims, who have been sexually abused in Finland, do not even seek entry into the system of assistance. The report also suggests that the situation of victims with unclear residence status or without right of residence is difficult. Furthermore, the number of victims referred to the assistance system by the NGOs is relatively small. Within the time frame of the study, one third of persons admitted to the system of assistance were granted entry on the basis of a preliminary investigation. Of all the persons proposed for the system of assistance in 2014–2016, 65% had an asylum-seeker background. According to our legislation it’s possible to grant residence permit to the victims of trafficking, but in practise it happens very seldom.

The study shows that there are individuals in Finland that are in need of assistance due to severe exploitation with characteristics of human trafficking, but who do not receive adequate assistance, or who are not referred to or admitted to the assistance provided by the authorities. Some of the NGOs interviewed for this study considered the Finnish assistance system as “assistance system for prosecuting perpetrators” rather for the victims. Based on the report, the assistance system is best suited for victims that report the offences to the police, in whose case the criminal proceedings make progress and whose case may result in a court verdict on human trafficking.

According to the report, the legislation on assisting the victims of human trafficking is applied so that an individual is not considered to be entitled to the assistance provided by the assistance system in situations where the pre-trial investigation authorities decide that, because of the lack of evidence, they will not investigate the offence as a crime involving human trafficking or where the crime category is changed from human trafficking to another offence during pre-trial investigation or the consideration of charges. The documentation collected for the report showed that almost 40% of the customer relationships in the assistance system between 2014 and 2016 were terminated because the crime category was changed from human trafficking to other offences during pre-trial investigation or consideration of charges.

The pre-trial investigation authorities and prosecutors interviewed for the report were surprised when they heard how significant their decisions on the initiation or progression of criminal proceedings can be on whether a victim of human trafficking has a right to receive assistance. The representatives of the criminal justice system stated that their task is to evaluate the criminal evidence in a human trafficking offence and assess the adequacy of the evidence. The majority of them also assumed that the progress of the criminal proceedings and the related decisions are not connected to the assistance measures and to the victim’s right to receive assistance.

The report's findings also suggest that an assistance system for victims of human trafficking managed by the authorities is not well suited for reaching victims that are unwilling to describe to the pre-trial investigation authorities how they have been exploited. Under the law, the information on referring the victim to the assistance system is always forwarded to the pre-trial investigation authorities, irrespective of the willingness or unwillingness of the victim to cooperate with them. Based on the material collected for the report, the close link between the assistance system and the criminal proceedings seems to discourage some victims of human trafficking from seeking official assistance.

To conclude, the manner in which the assistance for the victims is organised, which assistance eligibility criteria are applied and when does the eligibility for the assistance end are issues that seem to have an impact on the willingness and ability of the victims of human trafficking to seek help. Even though the purpose of the close link between the assistance and the criminal proceedings is to ensure criminal liability, the report suggests that it may discourage some victims from seeking assistance and, consequently, have an impact on the uncovering and prevention of human trafficking. It should be clear that the link to the criminal proceedings should not define victim’s right to assistance.

As the role of the national rapporteur is also to supervise compliance of the Finnish legislation with international human rights obligations, we have become to a conclusion that the assistance and the criminal proceedings have been tied together through legislation and application in a way that in our mind is somewhat problematic in the light of the CoE Convention. Thank you.

 

Ms Kirsi Pimiä, Non-Discrimination Ombudsman / National Rapporteur on Trafficking in Human Beings, Finland

23.05.2018