Sunday, October 20, 2013

Was appointment of Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities discriminatory?

Discrimination against dark-skinned people and perceived foreign nationals in Finland was thrust into the limelight by a groundbreaking documentary by Yle's Eyewitness (Silminnäkijä) TV programme which sparked a police investigation filed by Eva Biaudet, Finland's Ombudsman for Minorities -- whose appointment in May 2010 was surrounded by controversy and allegations of discrimination against rival applicants.

Following the broadcast of Undercover Immigrant TV documentary which documented and revealed flagrant incidents of discrimination in Finland, and the request for police investigation into the incidents lodged by the Ombudsman for Minorities, Iltalehti started a discussion in its online discussion forum about discrimination in Finland. The tabloid asked readers in the forum if they have noticed ethnic discrimination in Finland.

The first response was in the affirmative. According to an anonymous visitor there was ethnic discrimination in the selection process of the Ombudsman for Minorities -- in which a "weaker candidate", Eva Biaudet, was selected over a more qualified candidate of Kurdish origin.

Another commenter suggested that before an investigation into the findings of Yle, there should be an investigation into whether Eva Biaudet is entitled to demand an investigation.

According to Helsingin Sanomat, Eva Biaudet was named Ombudsman through special dispensation -- despite the fact that she did not have a Masters degree which is normally required for the position. A rival applicant, Husein Muhammed, met the requirements for the job but was not appointed.

In my opinion, it is plausible to conclude - especially after watching the Undercover Immigrant documentary - that the appointment of Eva Biaudet was discriminatory -- or at least a blatant show of favoritism. She did not meet the job requirement and in my view there was no need for her to be granted "special dispensation" when there were other qualified candidates. Special consideration would have been appropriate only if there were no other qualified applicants, but there were reportedly 31 applicants, 29 of whom had the required academic qualification; 5 were invited for an interview.

Personally, I think Biaudet does a good job protecting ethnic minorities in Finland from discrimination. I also think as Finland's Special Rapporteur on Human Trafficking her office does a remarkable job in the fight against human trafficking in Finland. But I share the view that her appointment was questionable. Regardless, I applaud Eva Biaudet's prompt response to the revelation by Yle. Without delay, she requested an investigation into incidents of blatant discrimination well-documented by Eyewitness. The programme revealed that skin color makes a difference in Finland in the job market, in the search for housing and in nightclub queues. Employers outrightly favor Finnish job applicants over immigrants or perceived foreigners.

It remains to be seen whether or not the employers, bars and nightclubs caught red-handed in the act of ethnic discrimination would be brought to justice. Mindful of the fact that Finland ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination way back in July 1970, the country has a long-standing obligation under international and national law to protect all persons within its borders from the sort of incidents documented by Yle.

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