Episode 2 – Finnish Pacifists under House Arrest?

In this episode, we will take a look at the military system in the Nordic Countries. Did you know that in all Nordic Countries (except Island) conscription is still mandatory? But while most of them are only taking people who are actually willing, Finland is making all men take part in a mandatory military service once they turn 18. But what happens to people who are refusing to go due to their beliefs? This and many more questions will be answered in today’s episode! 

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Main PointS

  • Finland is one of the few European countries that still have mandatory conscription in place.  Conscription is mandatory for all males with Finnish citizenship from the year they turn 18 until the year they turn 60 [1]. 
  • Women are exempted but they can voluntarily participate in military service.  Approximately only 1500 women volunteer each year [2].
  • The obligation to contribute to national defense may be satisfied through either performing military service or alternative service. Military service can last 165, 255, or 347 days. The length of the alternative service is always 347 days [3].
  • Liable conscripts, who state that severe reasons of conscience prevent them from carrying out the service laid down in the Conscription Act will be exempted from the military service and assigned to perform alternative service instead. Persons who refuse military service but are willing to perform alternative service instead are conscientious objectors.
  • Conscientious objection to military service refers to the position taken by individuals who oppose participation in the war on the basis of their religious, moral, or ethical beliefs. Such objection can take many forms, such as refusing to serve in combat, registering for the draft, paying taxes tied to war allocations, or making any type of contribution to a war effort.
  • Liable conscripts who refuse to perform the military and alternative service are called total conscientious objectors and are by law sentenced to imprisonment up to 173 days [4].
  • In recent years approximately 35-55 people refuse both services and are sentenced in Finland. The most common reasons for objection are pacifist beliefs or the objection to the length of alternative service, as it is twice as long as the shortest military service [5].
  • Total conscientious objection is not recognized as a human right. International Human Rights Law does not deny the state’s right to impose mandatory conscription as long as alternative civilian service is also provided as an opportunity to conscripts [6]. 
  • The issue with Finland’s alternative service is that its duration is twice as long as the shortest military service.  Alternative service in Finland cannot be considered truly civilian in nature: the civilian service act includes the option to militarise alternative servicemen during wartime [7].
  • In the Working Group to Examine the Needs of Changes to Non-Military Service Act, which was active in 2017-18, there were members from The Ministry of Defence, military headquarters, and The Union of Conscripts. The situation is the same in the Advisory Committee on Non-Military Service Affairs. The human rights expertise and interests of non-military servicemen are left mostly on the shoulders of the member of The Union of Conscientious Objectors in both of the aforementioned groups [8].
  • Therefore conscripts who decide to conduct alternative services instead, are not given a fair choice between the services. Alternative service should not act as a punishment or deterrent as it currently does, and that’s why Finland is in violation of IHRLs protected right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.
  • Finland has received international criticism of this practice, as human rights organizations consider total COs prisoners of conscience. Finland has also received recommendations in Human Rights Committees Concluding remarks 2021 to end the discriminatory imprisonment of total COs, and to ensure that the alternative service is not acting as a deterrent or punishment.


[1] Conscription Act, 2007, https://www.finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2007/en20071438.pdf 

[2]  https://findikaattori.fi/fi/99 

[3] Non-Military Service Act, 2007, https://finlex.fi/en/laki/kaannokset/2007/en20071446.pdf

[4] Kosonen, Puustinen, and Tallberg, 2019: Saying no to military Service- obligation, killing and inequality as experiences problems in the conscription-based military in Finland, Journal of Military Studies, Volume 8 

[5] Kallunki, Valdemar, 2015, Siviilipalveluksen muuttuneet merkitykset maanpuolustusvelvollisuuden kokonaisuudessa, Työ- ja elinkeinoministeriö.

[6]  Council of Europe, 2020, Guide on Article 9 of the Convention on Human Rights, https://www.echr.coe.int/Documents/Guide_Art_9_ENG.pdf

[7]  Non-Military Service Act, 2007

[8]  ​​https://akl-web.fi/fi/siviilipalvelus/aseistakieltaytyjaliiton-vaatimukset-siviilipalveluksen-uudistamiseksi 

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