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Minister quashes indigenous Sámi hopes for more rights under ILO convention

Finland is to sign the International Labour Organisation's convention on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, but this may not bring more rights to the nation’s Sámi people.

Juvvá Lemet
Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi Image: Vesa Toppari / Yle

According to the Minister of Justice, Finnish legislation already corresponds to requirements of the International Labour Organisation's 1989 Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which Finland is finally to sign this autumn. Finland will become the 23rd nation to sign the treaty. Signees include Norway, but not the two other neighbouring countries with Sámi populations: Sweden and Russia.

For generations, indigenous Sámi people in Northern Finland have been demanding more rights, based on the International Labour Organisation's convention for indigenous and tribal peoples. After years of stalling, Finland is finally to sign the UN agency's convention this autumn.

Not much will change for Finland's roughly 9,000 Sámi when national legislation is changed to conform with the convention's demands, though, says the Minister of Justice Anna-Maja Henriksson. She points out that Finland already has laws for the Sámi Parliament, and existing as well as new laws on language rights for the minority.

Oikeusministeri Anna-Maja Henriksson
Anna-Maja Henriksson Image: Ville Välimäki / Yle

Some Sámi had expected the ILO convention to expand their land rights as well as giving them more say over state-owned land and water areas.

Sámi Parliament awaits ILO statement

This will not happen, says Henriksson. Land ownership will not change hands, and no one's rights will be violated, she asserts, adding that the convention will only affect the way in which the Sámi are included in decision-making that concerns their homelands, culture and language.

The Finnish Sámi Parliament sees things differently. According to parliamentarian Klemetti Näkkäläjärvi, Finland is still awaiting ILO's position on how to move forward on the question of land and water rights.

Meanwhile, the Finnish government holds that the ILO is satisfied by mining and forestry legislation that prohibit any negative impact on indigenous livelihoods.

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