UN details threats to Nordic Sámi

Mineral extraction and renewable energy could affect land rights, autonomy

Marit Fosse & Michael Sandelson
The Foreigner

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz expresses concern about their land rights situation in Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

“For the Sámi people, securing rights over their land and natural resources is fundamental to their self-determination and a prerequisite for them to be able to continue to exist as a distinct people,” UN human rights expert Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said at the end of a special conference that the Sámi Parliamentary Council organized.

She makes her statement given the increased drive to extract and develop minerals and set up renewable energy projects in the Sápmi region.

The event was hosted in northern Sweden’s Hemavan in Storuman Municipality, Västerbotten County, between August 25 and 27.

Tauli-Corpuz’s participation at the conference was considered an official visit to the traditional region of the Sámi people, who continue to live within their territories spanning the formal boundaries of several states.

During her visit, Tauli-Corpuz met with representatives of the Sámi people, including the Sámi Parliaments, and the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland.

She also spoke with NGOs, including the Sámi Council, as well as members of the local community from the Sápmi region.

“I am pleased that Norway, Sweden, and Finland all pay considerable attention to indigenous issues and note that in many respects, initiatives related to the Sámi people in the Nordic countries can set important examples for securing the rights of indigenous peoples,” stated Tauli-Corpuz.

However, she cautioned that meeting the significant challenges ahead in Sápmi “will require serious commitment, political will, and hard work.”

“In the context of mineral extraction and large scale renewable energy projects, such as windmills, particular attention should be paid to ensuring that the traditional livelihoods of the Sámi, including reindeer herding and salmon fishing, are effectively safeguarded,” the UN Special Rapporteur remarked, echoing the recommendations made by her predecessor, James Anaya, in 2010.

She encouraged these three Nordic Countries’ governments to ensure that their mineral laws and policies are in line with international standards related to the rights of indigenous peoples.

These include those requiring adequate consultations with the affected indigenous communities and their free, prior, and informed consent, mitigation measures, as well as compensation and benefit sharing.

Tauli-Corpuz was pleased to learn of two Nordic Countries’ initiatives. These are the Swedish government’s commitment to revisit its mineral act, and the Finnish government’s increased safeguards for Sámi rights and livelihoods in the Mining Act. She also hopes that Finland will continue to pay attention to the rights of the Sámi in its implementation.

At the same time, the Norwegian Sámi Parliament has expressed concerns over the current Mineral Act and the Norwegian Mineral Industry’s call for the Act to be revised and clarified with respect to Sámi rights.

Considering this, she advised the Norwegian Government to embark upon a process to carry this out, and do so in close consultation with the Sámi Parliament.

UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz also particularly emphasized the cross-border efforts taken by the Sámi Parliaments and the Governments of Norway, Sweden, and Finland to develop a Nordic Sámi Convention.

It is thought that this could be enshrined as a global best practice to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Outcome Document of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples.

“As the process to negotiate the Nordic Sámi Convention is now in its final stages, I will follow it with great interest and I sincerely hope that full agreement can be reached, particularly on the right to self-determination and the rights to lands, territories, and natural resources,” she commented. “I encourage all parties involved to follow through on their commitment to adopt this Convention by March 2016.”

Moreover, whilst at the conference, she examined both progress and remaining gaps regarding other key issues affecting Sámi people, which include the areas of education, language, and mental health, as well as combatting violence against Sámi women.

Special Rapporteur Tauli-Corpuz will submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council with her conclusions and recommendations in 2016.

This article was originally published on The Foreigner. To subscribe to The Foreigner, visit theforeigner.no.

It also appeared in the Sept. 11 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Marit Fosse

Marit Fosse trained as an economist from Norwegian school of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen (Norges Handelshøyskole NHH) and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. She is the author of several books. Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, was translated into Russian/Armenian/French. In addition, Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva but also elsewhere. In her free time, Fosse is an accomplished painter.