POLITICAL ASYLUM REFUSED TO FINNISH TOTAL OBJECTOR
The Commissariat-General for the Refugees has refused the application for political asylum of the Finnish total objector as being apparently unfounded. Main motivation is that the Finnish law concerning civil service is not discriminative nor punishing. Jussi Hermaja, Forum voor Vredesactie and For Mother Earth dispute this decision decision. This decision will be appealed at the Raad van State (the highest administrative court)
THE STORY TILL NOW
Jussi Hermaja refused both military and civil service. The first because of conscientious objections, the second because the Finnish civil service is unreasonably long and applied in a discriminative manner, which comes down to a punishment of certain categories of conscientious objectors. The civil service takes 13 months, more than double the length of the military service (6 months). Above that Jehova-witnesses are exempted from both military and civil service, which comes down to a discrimination between categories of conscientious objectors and to a punishment of who refuses military service for political reasons.
Jussi Hermaja was sentenced to 197 days imprisonment, which was upheld by the Finnish Supreme Court on 2 October 2001. The same day Jussi left Finland to ask political asylum in Belgium. This question was declared unfounded by the Foreigners Department, and this decision is now upheld by the Commissariat-General for the Refugees.
The decision of the Commissariat-General declares first that the Finnish laws concerning civil service are neither punishing nor discriminating and that the length of the civil service, despite the difference with the military service, is not unreasonably long. The Commissariat-General declares that a government can legitimately take measures, like for the defense of a country by conscription, which apply only to certain categories of people. As well it states that these laws apply to everyone opting for civil service, without aiming at a specific population group.
Secondly the Commissariat-General states that Jussi is not prosecuted in Finland because of his political conviction but because of committing criminal deeds, in casu refusing service, and that the Finnish law in force has been applied. The punishment is not considered disproportional.
Also is stated that the asylum application itself entailed no danger because Finland is a democratic state ruled by law. This means Jussi would not receive extra punishment or persecution because of his asylum application.
We dispute this motivation. The UNHCR Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status states: “A deserter or draft-evader may be considered a refugee if it can be shown that he would suffer disproportionately severe punishment for the military offence on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” By consequence someone can be recognized as a refugee if he is treated for his refusal to do military service in a disproportional manner because of his political opinions.
The Finnish government treats who refuses military service because of political reasons in a different manner than a Jehova Witness. If the Refugee Convention perhaps accepts that only a certain category of people (ex. men) are obliged to fulfil military service, it is questionable that a different treatment of conscientious objectors is still legitimate. Is it necessary for the defense of a country to treat a Jehova Witness different from who refuses military service because of political reasons? The long civil service imposed in this case should be considered as a disproportionate treatment because of someones political opinions. The alternative civil service has a punishing character and is discriminating.
The fact that this discrimination is codified in the law and by consequence the Finnish government is ‘only’ applying the law, does not change the fact that who refuses military service because of political reasons receives a much harsher treatment.
The Council of Europe points already a long time to problems with the treatment of conscientious objections and states that “Alternative service shall not be of a punitive character. Its duration shall, in comparison to that of military service, remain within reasonable limits” (Recommendation nr R(87)8 of the Committee of ministers). This was again confirmed on 23 May 2001 in the parlementary recommendation 1518, which also recommended to incorporate explicitly the right on conscientious objection in the European Treaty of Human Rights. Also Amnesty International considers the great difference in length between military and civil service as punishing and therefore adopts the Finnish total objectors as prisoners of conscience.
We do not understand why the Commissariat-General concludes so easy that the length of the civil service can not be considered as unreasonably long, without even investigating this further. This procedure is anyway only to investigate the receivability of the asylum application.
Especially since even the Finnish government admits to have a problem, as can be concluded out of the letter it sended to For Mother Earth. It seems that the Finnish government more likes to get rid of its total objectors, since it even did not ask Belgium for the extradition of someone who is convicted to a prison sentence and has exhausted all appeals
For these reasons the decision will be appealed at the Raad van State.