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Government pulls bill to ratify convention on indigenous peoples' rights

Progress on ratifying the convention has seen years of gridlock over the contentious issue of Sámi land rights.

Saamelaisnaisia poroerotuksessa.
Image: Kaisa Siren / AOP

The Juha Sipilä administration has withdrawn draft legislation from Parliament that would strengthen Sámi rights.

The cabinet said on Thursday in a letter to the Parliament that it would withdraw a 2014 bill intended to ratify an international agreement on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.

Finland has debated the ILO's convention 169, which protects the rights of indigenous people, for 30 years. Lawmakers have been looking at draft legislation to ratify the convention since 2014, but did not get around to debating it before the 2015 parliamentary elections.

Progress on the bill has stalled over the contentious issue of Sámi land rights.

On Thursday the government justified pulling the draft legislation by saying that it contains outdated provisions, for example, relating to the role of the forestry management agency Metsähallitus. Parliament’s Constitutional Law Committee has already provided a statement on the bill, so it will not be possible to incorporate possible changes before another general election due in April.

Once a new government takes office later this year, it will have to work with the Sámi Parliament to revise the previous legislative proposal.

So far, the Justice Ministry has negotiated the bill with the Sámi Parliament, which has also recommended deferring action on the proposal to a new administration on the grounds that a delay of a few more years will not mean any significant changes to Finland’s ratification of the convention.

The task of ratifying the ILO Convention 169 as well as a Nordic Sámi Convention and reforming the local Sámi Parliament will therefore fall to the incoming administration.

Edit: Updated at 4.57pm on 1 February to reflect that the draft bill shelved in the Finnish Parliament refers to ILO Convention No. 169, which relates to the rights of indigenous people.

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