UN watchdog says Finland violated indigenous Sami rights

UN watchdog says Finland violated indigenous Sami rights

The Sami people, formerly known as Lapps, are spread out across the northern parts of Sweden,
The Sami people, formerly known as Lapps, are spread out across the northern parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway and the Russian Kola peninsula, in a region known as Lapland AFP/OLIVIER MORIN

Geneva: Finland has breached the political rights of its Sami population, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled Monday (Feb 4), charging that Helsinki had violated the indigenous people's right to "internal self-determination".

Tiina Sanila-Aikio, president of Finland's Sami parliament, and 25 other lawmakers complained to the committee in October 2015, saying Helsinki had unlawfully interfered in their people's right to decide who can participate in elections to their house of representatives.

They said Finland's Supreme Court had granted 93 people the right to vote in the Sami parliamentary elections, despite the fact that the house itself had found them ineligible.

It had also rejected others in an "arbitrary" fashion, they said.

"The Human Rights Committee found that Finland has improperly intervened in the complainers' rights to political participation regarding their specific rights as an indigenous people," a panel statement said.

The Sami, formerly known as Lapps, are spread out across the northern parts of Sweden, Finland and Norway and the Russian Kola peninsula, in a region known as Lapland.

According to the Finnish Sami parliament, there are 10,000 Sami in Finland.

In the statement, committee chair Yuval Shany stressed that "the right to internal self-determination requires that indigenous peoples be afforded with the capacity to define group membership."

"Although the state may exercise powers of oversight over procedures designed to facilitate the operation of indigenous peoples' democratic institutions, such powers should be applied carefully, on the basis of reasonable and objective criteria," he added.

The team of 18 independent experts is tasked with monitoring whether countries are adhering to their human rights commitments, but it does not have enforcement powers.

In Monday's ruling, it stressed the importance of ensuring that the Samis themselves determine who is eligible to take part in their elections.

The Sami parliament, it said, "ensures an internal self-determination process, which is necessary for the continued viability and welfare of the indigenous community as a whole."

The committee said it had asked Helsinki to inform it within six months about what measures it was taking to rectify the situation.

Source: AFP/na

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