UN finds Finland violated political rights of indigenous Sámi people

Finnish, EU and Sámi flags
Finnish, EU and Sámi flags Copyright Sámi Parliament of Finland
Copyright Sámi Parliament of Finland
By David Mac Dougall
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The UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has been looking into the sensitive issue about who is eligible to be included on the Sámi electoral roll.


A United Nations committee has found that Finland violated an international convention on racial discrimination when it comes to the political rights of Sámi, the EU's only indigenous people. 

The case concerns interference in the 2015 Sámi Parliament elections when Finland's Supreme Administrative Court ruled that dozens of people who identified themselves as Sámi should be added to the electoral roll and therefore be eligible to vote in the elections that year. 

The issue of who can call themselves Sámi is extremely sensitive among Finland's 10,000-strong Sámi community, around half of whom still live in the traditional Sámi homeland areas, called Sápmi, in Finnish Lapland. 

Many Sámi people in Finland think they alone should be able to decide who is Sámi (and who is not), and that the Finnish state shouldn't have any say in the matter at all. 

"Finland must respect our rights of self-determination and our customs and traditions," says Anne Nuorgam, one of the Sámi people who brought the case to the UN's Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

"It's a really important decision because it shows that the Sámi Parliament is right to say we have self-determination, and we have the possibility to determine who are part of the Sámi people and thus who are eligible to vote in the elections," Nuorgam told Euronews. 

Nuorgam, who was a previous chairperson of the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said that some of the people whose names were added to the electoral roll by the Finnish court hadn't previously had any strong affiliation with Sámi identity and culture. 

"We identified them as Finns," she added. 

Not the first time Finland has violated Sámi rights

Tuesday's decision by the committee marks the third time in recent years a United Nations body has found against Finland for violating the rights of Sámi people. 

A reform of the Sámi Parliament Act, which governs the role of the 21-member institution, has been long-delayed by successive Finnish governments, with little progress over the last few years. If reforms were completed they could enshrine in Finnish law the right to self-determination for the Sámi community, and rectify the breaches of international conventions the UN has identified. 

"This is the perfect opportunity for the Finnish state to pause and to rethink and revise her attitudes towards Sámi self-determination," says Pirita Näkkäläjärvi, a Member of the Sámi Parliament. 

"It is hard to understand why in 2022 Finland would want to continue to be a country that has been found to violate not one, but two, international human rights conventions in matters related to the Sámi Parliament electoral roll," she tells Euronews. 

"We don’t ask for much: only the right to determine our own identity and membership in accordance with our customs and traditions, as is our right as an indigenous people according to international law," Näkkäläjärvi adds.

Finland now has 90 days to make any formal response to the committee's findings but has been urged to negotiate with the Sámi Parliament, located in the Arctic town of Inari, to reach a solution.

The head of the Finnish Foreign Ministry's Human Rights Court department told public broadcaster Yle that they were taking the complaint "very seriously."

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