United Nations criticises Finland over Sámi rights issues

Human Rights Committee finds Finland in violation of rules designed to safeguard Sámi identity and voting rights.

File picture of large Sámi flag / Credit: iStock

The United Nations has criticised Finland over issues regarding Sámi rights.

Two complaints were brought to the UN’s Human Rights Committee by the President of the Sámi Parliament Tiina Sanila-Aikio, and by Klemetti Käkkäläjärvi representing the Saami Arvuut Organisation; and centre on who is a ‘true’ Sámi, and who can be considered members of the tight-knit community.

The issue is sensitive because many Sámi people think that only other Sámi should have a say in their affairs; and they want their own parliament to have the power to specifically define who is Sámi and who is not.

Under the current legislation it’s the Finnish Supreme Administrative Court which has the ultimate say. Many Sámi politicians want the same arrangement as Norway has, where the Sámi Parliament in Kárášjohka, not the Norwegian state, is the final arbiter.

Today, the United Nations said that Finland has violated Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and that the Supreme Administrative Court has infringed on the rights of the Sámi community about who can participate in Sámi Parliament elections – elections which are supposed to allow Sámi people to have ‘internal sovereignty’ of their own language and culture.

Background on the case

Back in 2011, the Supreme Administrative Court granted Sámi recognition – and therefore voting rights – to 93 people. The Sámi Parliament had previously ruled them not eligible to be Sámi.

In her complaint to the UN, Sanila-Aikio says this decision has “weakened the voice of the Sámi people in the Parliament and the effectiveness of the Parliament in representing the Sámi people in important decisions taken by [Finland] implicating their lands, culture and interests”.

The Finnish government now has six months to respond to the UN Human Rights Committee, and say what action has been taken to resolve this dispute.