Delayed justice: Foreign students wait years for court date after racist attack

File picture of Fillemon Kauluma teaching in his classroom in Namibia / Credit: Fillemon Kauluma

Two foreign students, on the receiving end of a racist attack in Joensuu, will not get their day in court until more than two years after the incident which left one of them needing hospital treatment.

The case is symptomatic of a Finnish legal system over-burdened with bureaucracy; routinely sanctioned by the European Court of Human Rights over the glacial pace of many cases; and which leaves crime victims in limbo for months, even years.

Joensuu attack leaves students reeling 

It was September 2018 when Fillemon Shuumbwa Kauluma and Esegiel Katjita were attacked as they ate lunch in a Joensuu park.

Part of a group of 25 Namibian students doing a Master’s degree in Primary Education at the University of Eastern Finland, the two men decided to take advantage of the late autumn sunshine and have a short break from their final studies.

It was Finland’s reputation for educational excellence that attracted them to study here.

“We have read quite a lot of good stories about Finnish education, and of course the opportunity came to go to Finland and so we grabbed it” says Kauluma.

“Other people got to study elsewhere, but education-wise, Finland is supposed to be good” the 47-year old tells News Now Finland in a phone interview from northern Namibia.

Kauluma says they bought some lunch from a nearby S-Market, and went to the park to eat it – something they’d done regularly over the summer.

“On that particular day we found these guys there and they were sitting a bit further away from us. One of the guys, a short guy, he came towards us carrying a block of cement” he explains.

The attackers had picked up the cement from a nearby construction site where the road was being repaired, and dropped it on the ground next to the students, yelling racial slurs in Finnish, but also saying “you don’t belong here, go back to your own country” in English.

Alarmed by the aggressive posturing of the two Finnish men, and their female companion, Katjita decided to call the police.

That’s when one of the attackers tried to grab the phone, hitting Katjita in the eye. When Kauluma tried to intervene one man took his bag with a laptop and hurled it away.

Court documents seen by News Now Finland detail how one of the attackers took a folding knife from his backpack and  “raised an edged weapon […] and otherwise threatened them with a crime in such circumstances that Katjita and Kauluma had justified reason to fear that their own personal safety and that of someone else was in serious danger.”

Police arrived and detained two male suspects and one female suspect at the scene.

Aerial picture of University of Eastern Finland campus, Joensuu / Credit: UEF

Reaction to the attack 

In the immediate aftermath of the incident there was strong and swift condemnation from the local police chief, the university rector and the mayor.

Kauluma and Katjita had to give statements to the police and they were offered counselling as well.

Then the gears of the Finnish legal system started to turn. Slowly.

When the students graduated and went back home to Namibia it added another layer of bureaucracy and uncertainty.

Because they’ll have to give testimony, the Finnish Embassy in Windhoek has to coordinate with the local Ministry of Justice to arrange a video call.

“The problem with this matter is that it’s very difficult. We need to hear from these two men in Namibia, and at the moment we have ordered the process in this case on 1st October 2020” explains Antti Kolehmainen from the North Karelia Prosecutor’s Office.

“We’re going to hear from them, but I’m not sure how yet and that’s the problem. That’s why it has taken so long in this case. It’s quite easy in the European Union area but it gets difficult when we go to Africa or anywhere else. We need to hear them with some kind of video conference” says Kolehmainen.

A January date to give video evidence passed by without anything happening, after a series of miscommunications between Ministry of Justice officials in Finland, the Finnish Embassy in Windhoek, and the Namibian Ministry of Justice.

The end result was that nobody informed Katjita and Kauluma, or their lawyers, or the prosecutor in Joensuu, that the video conference was even supposed to happen.

Lawyers have told the men there’s also little point in them returning to Finland to give their evidence because there’s no guarantee the suspects will show up in court when they’re supposed to and the whole thing would be a wasted trip.

File photo of judge holding documents / Credit: iStock

Finland’s delayed justice system

Unfortunately the case of Katjita and Kauluma is not unusual in Finland. Nor is it a new problem.

Over the last 60 years the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has passed 62 judgements against Finland for the length it takes for legal proceedings.

That’s almost three times the number of judgements against the other Nordic countries combined for the same type of complaint.

Norway, for example, has only had two judgments against it in the last 60 years at the ECHR for delayed justice.

“There is a saying: justice delayed, is justice denied” says Henrik Elonheimo, an Adjunct Professor in Criminology and Restorative Justice at the University of Turku.

“It’s a well known problem that our our legal proceedings take too long. That way, actually it’s not real justice anymore” he adds.

Elonheimo says that delays are probably a matter of limited resources, but that in Finland’s cultural traditions, there’s a rather formal regard to the legal process and high standards of safeguards.

“We think that everyone should have access to a court of law, plus the right to appeal. This all takes a lot of resources and the system is somewhat paralyzed. That’s why alternative methods are needed, such as mediation” he explains.

In about 50% of assault cases in Finland the police offer mediation instead of a court process as a form of restorative justice. It takes only a few weeks on average to go through the process with mediators who have multi-cultural training.

Importantly, mediation can help bring closure to the victims of crime.

Katjita and Kauluma weren’t given this option, which might have meant they’d get more quickly reimbursed for out of pocket medical expenses and a broken laptop than waiting on the Finnish court system – but they’d also be able to draw a line under the assault and fully move on.

In Namibia Fillemon Kauluma has been working in a local primary school since his graduation from UEF.

But he’s simply resigned to how slow the Finnish criminal justice system is.

“I guess maybe that’s just how long it takes. Maybe the investigation takes this long. We liked Finland. Everything was fine and everybody was good, except those guys.”

File picture of Joensuu in autumn / Credit: iStock