On 20 September, 2011, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Professor James Anaya, presents his Report on the Situation of the Saami People to the UN Human Rights Council. It is a historic document - both formally and in content.
Indigenous Peoples in Sápmi
Sápmi is the Sámi people’s own name for their traditional territory. The Sámi people are the Indigenous people of the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and large parts of the Kola Peninsula and they live in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. There is no reliable information on the population of the Sámi people; they are, however, estimated to number between 50,000-100,000.
A report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, concluded that Sweden, Norway and Finland do not fulfil their stated objectives of guaranteeing the human rights of the Sami people.
Institutions of the Sami people
Politically, the Sámi people are represented by three Sámi parliaments, one in Sweden, one in Norway and one in Finland, while on the Russian side they are organized into NGOs. In 2000, the three Sami parliaments established a joint council of representatives called Sámi Parliamentary Council.
There are also other important Saami institutions, both regional and local, among others, Sami University College, which is a research and higher education institution for the needs of the Sami society, and where the language of work and teaching is mainly the language of Sami Sweden, Norway and Finland voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, while Russia abstained.
The Sami people
There is no reliable information on how many Sámi inhabitants there are. However, it is estimated that they add up to 50,000-100,000.
Around 20,000 live in Sweden, which is approximately 0.22% of Sweden’s total population of around nine million. The north-western part of Swedish territory is the traditional territory of the Sami people. Sami reindeer herders, small farmers, hunters, fishermen and gatherers traditionally use these lands.
Around 50-65,000 live in Norway, between 1.06% and 1.38% of the total Norwegian population of approximately 4.7 million. Around 8,000 live in Finland, which is approximately 0.16% of the total Finnish population of around five million. Around 2,000 live in Russia, which is a very small proportion of the total population of Russia.
Challenges of the Sami
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, reviewed the human rights situation of the Sami in Norway, Sweden and Finland in 2016 on the basis of information received during her visit to the Sápmi region, including a conference organized by the Sámi Parliamentary Council in Bierke / Hemavan, Sweden, in August 2015. Its report is also based on independent investigations. The report emphasizes that the three states do not meet their stated objectives of guaranteeing the human rights of the Sami people.
In particular, the report highlights the negative impacts that extractive industry operations are having on Sami livelihoods and culture. For example, the Norwegian Mining Law and the Swedish Minerals Law raise serious questions about the ability of States to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of the Sami in the context of the extractive industry. In her report, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz raises questions about whether States clearly express the expectation that all commercial enterprises must respect human rights in all their operations.
In March 2016, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the seventh periodic report of Sweden on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). The Human Rights Committee welcomed the support of the State party for realizing the right of the Sami peoples to self-determination. The Committee remained concerned about four main issues: the slow progress in the negotiations for the adoption of the Sami Nordic Convention; the limited resources allocated to the Sami Parliament; the scope of the duty to consult with representatives of the Sami people in relation to extraction and development projects; and the difficulties faced by Sami claimants to demonstrate land ownership and the inability of Sami villages to obtain legal assistance under the law of legal aid.
The Nordic Sámi Convention
An important cross-border initiative of the Sami people has been the effort to develop a Nordic Sámi Convention with the aim of safeguarding and developing the autonomous bodies, livelihoods, culture, languages and way of life of the Sami population with the lowest possible interference of the imposition of national borders.
The negotiations on the Nordic Sámi Convention ended in January 2017. The Convention includes a total of 46 articles, all of which include Nordic joint approaches to safeguard and strengthen Sami rights. The convention includes provisions related to self-determination, non-discrimination, Sami governance (including Sami parliaments and their relationship to the state), rights to land, water and livelihoods, languages, education and culture.
The agreement has been criticized by legal experts and Sami organizations of the Sámi and is currently being considered by the three Sami parliaments and the governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Sami parliaments of the three countries and the national parliaments will have to give their consent to the convention before it can enter into force.
The Swedish Supreme Court has upheld the lower courts, in a landmark decision that recognizes the rights of Sweden’s indigenous population and their reindeer herding. The case has been before the courts here for 14 years. In 1997, 104 landowners in the northern province of Västerbotten sued three reindeer herding collectives owned by indigenous Sami, or Lapp, people in the area.