Sami leader says recent Finnish court ruling was ‘devastating’ & violation of autonomy

In 2019 and 2022, United Nations treaty bodies said Finland broke international rules by how it managed the Sámi Parliament’s voter list, the President of the Sámi Parliament in Finland, Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, told a UN forum on Monday. Pictured here, a file photo of the United Nations headquarters in New York. (Daniel Slim/AFP via Getty Images)

The President of the Sámi Parliament in Finland labelled a recent Finnish court ruling as ‘devastating’ at a UN forum in New York, condemning it as a breach of Sámi autonomy, citing the court’s imposition of individuals onto the Sámi electoral roll against the Parliament’s wishes.

“The view of the Sámi Parliament in Finland in clear,” Pirita Näkkäläjärvi told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues on Monday. “These decisions constitute – again – a violation of the right to self-determination of the Sámi in Finland and a violation of human rights.”

The original 2023 election results were annulled by Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court in March.

In its decision,it ruled that 65 eligible individuals were mistakenly excluded from the Sámi voter list. The court said the omissions had a major impact on the election outcome, making it impossible to fix because of its effects on candidate selection.

Finland’s Supreme Administrative Court ordered 65 persons – outsiders from our People’s point of view – to be included in the electoral roll of the Sámi Parliament in Finland,” Näkkäläjärvi said in her speech.

“These are persons that our Sámi Parliament bodies do not recognise as Sámi, and who do not fulfill the criteria for the right to vote.”

The Sami Parliament in Finland. (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff / Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät | The Sámi Parliament)

‘The world is watching’

The Sami Parliament in Finland has long sought to amend the Sámi Parliamentary Act so it alone decides who should be included on the roll, something also advocated by UN bodies since 2019.

A new proposal has been negotiated with Helsinki, but it now requires finalization by the Finnish Parliament, a process that needs to be completed urgently, Näkkäläjärvi said. 

“Luckily the world is watching,” she said. “UN treaty bodies stated in 2019 and 2022 that on the matter of the electoral roll of the Sámi Parliament, Finland violates international human rights conventions, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

“In our view, the recent court decisions rather increase the pressure to amend the Sámi Parliament Act in accordance with the UN treaty body decisions than to drag one’s feet with it. Finland must prevent similar human rights violations regarding the Sámi Parliament electoral roll in the future.”

“We Sámi do not want to be assimilated in the majority Finnish population,” the President of the Sámi Parliament in Finland, Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, told the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. (Ville-Riiko Fofonoff / Sámediggi | Saamelaiskäräjät)

New elections this summer

Näkkäläjärvi encouraged Sami not to be discouraged as they endeavor to address the long-standing issue of the electoral rolls. 

“We might feel left down following the latest court decisions. However, we are not going to give up. We owe it to the Sámi people and all the Indigenous Peoples in the world to continue defending our right to self-determination as an Indigenous People.” 

The repeat elections will be held in June.

The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues runs until April 26. There are 2,000 delegates at this year’s event. 

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Former candidates call to improve elections for Indigenous voters in Quebec, CBC News

Norway: Finnish Court annuls 2023 Sámi elections, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Land use rights a key issue in this year’s Sami parliamentary elections in Sweden, Radio Sweden

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