Finland’s Sámi request UN help in securing their rights

The Sami flag.  (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
The Sami flag. (Jonathan Nackstrand / AFP)
The head of Finland’s Sámi Parliament told a United Nations gathering in New York that the Finnish government has robbed her people of their right to define themselves by failing to sign up to an international convention on indigenous people’s rights.

The head of Finland’s Sámi parliament has appealed to the UN for help in forcing the Finnish government to recognise the rights of the country’s indigenous minorities.

Speaking in New York on Monday, Tiina Sanila-Aikio told a UN forum that the Finnish state has “robbed the Sámi people of our right to define ourselves” by failing to sign up to an international convention which vouchsafes indigenous peoples’ rights.

Sanila-Aikio told the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues that the Finnish government had made “empty promises”, after deciding in March to postpone the ratification of the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention until the next government takes office.

Describing “extreme disappointment” that the 1989 convention has still not been signed, Sanila-Aikio said: “The situation does not look any more promising now after the elections, as the loudest opponents to the ILO agreement are the ones who have taken power.”

No time to vote

This spring Finland’s Justice Minister Anna-Maja Henriksson said she regretted that parliament did not have time to vote on ratifying the convention in the final weeks before the election.

However Henriksson had previously insisted that Finland already has laws which guarantee the rights of the Sámi. The Finnish government also claims that the ILO is satisfied by mining and forestry legislation that prohibit any negative impact on indigenous livelihoods.

In her speech to the UN forum, Sanila-Aikio said: “With this decision [to postpone ratification] the Finnish government is contravening article 33 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which gives indigenous peoples the right to determine their own identity… The state has robbed us of our right to define ourselves”

She called for help from the UN and other international organisations to put pressure on Finnish decision makers to ratify the ILO convention.

“Extremely worrying”

Listening to the speech, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, said: ”It is extremely worrying to hear about the situation of the Sámi in Finland, and I hope that the conversation over these issues will continue.”

Finnish UN representative Janne Talaas also said that he had listened closely to Sanila-Aikio’s criticisms.

“It’s extremely important that each voice should be heard here and that we can discuss these things openly. That’s what this permanent forum is for,” he said.

The ILO’s Indigenous and Tribal People’s Convention has been ratified by 22 countries, many of whom have indigenous minority populations, including Norway, Spain and many Latin American states.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Indigenous leaders warn international community, continued tensions with Russia will harm Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Finland:  Ombudsman hopes for Sami rights ratification after election, Barents Observer

Greenland: What the EU seal ban has meant for Inuit communities in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland conference draws on hopes, concerns for changing Arctic, Alaska Dispatch

Norway: Alarming situation for indigenous peoples in Russia, Barents Observer

Russia: Russia to give indigenous peoples priority in Barents chairmanship, Barents Observer

Sweden: UN report critical of Sweden’s treatment of the Sami, Radio Sweden

United States: Alaska administration wants better relationship with tribal governments, Alaska Dispatch News

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