Russian ministry of foreign affairs report “Situation Around Violation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Nordic Countries”

Unofficial translation

Situation Around Violation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Nordic Countries

(Background paper)

There are a number of circumstances that make it difficult to study violations of the rights of indigenous peoples of the North. On the one hand, this is due to a widely spread narrative in the leadership of Northern Europe and America which highlights respect for the rights and freedoms of the Sami people, the only surviving nation in Europe (if Greenland and the Inuit people living there are North American in terms of geography).

On the other hand, indigenous peoples who went through the policies of Norwegianization, Swedishization, Finnishization, etc. in the 19th and 20 centuries, and some historians cal it “genocide,” are stil quite sensitive to any state or public initiatives of the northern countries and thus claim violations, infringement and discrimination of their rights. The reasons for such developments may be rooted in the specific “politics of memory” led by the Western States, when historical facts of forced assimilation, medical experiments, mistreatment, etc. are simply hushed up.

While studying this phenomenon, the Western researchers are guided mainly by the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (No. 169) of June 27, 1989, of the International Labor Organization, as well as the conclusions of the committees that review appeals from indigenous peoples of the Sami Peoples Union (since 1956), an advisory body to the ECOSOC. In a bunch of cases, international arbitrators are siding with those who have been discriminated, recommending the States to change the laws and practices, but these recommendations de-facto remain on paper.

It is noteworthy that the Nordic countries voted for the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples at the UN General Assembly in 2007 and signed both the 1976 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the 1969 Convention on the Elimination o f All Forms o f Racial Discrimination. However, Sweden, unlike Norway and Denmark, has not signed the ILO Convention 169, while the report released by the Swedish government in 1999 stated that the provisions of the Convention had already been met.

The situation with discrimination can be showcased by a recent event. On March 23, 2023, the Finnish Prime Minister Sanne Marin received a petition signed by the heads of three Sami Parliaments. The petition requests to ensure self-determination of indigenous peoples as part of their rights. In addition to general accusations of an “alarming lack of understanding and respect for the rights of indigenous peoples by the States,” the document outlines three main clams:

  1. Refusal of Eduskunta (the Finnish Parliament) to consider the revised law on the Sami Parliament of Finland;
  2. The developments around installation of wind turbines in Fosen, Norway;
  3. Mining activities without consulting with indigenous peoples, in particular nickel mining in Vapsten, Sweden.

This petition was not reviewed, because in April 2023, following the elections, the Sanna Marin government resigned.

Western researchers outline three paths to institutionalize the lives of indigenous peoples: the Canadian (compact settlement areas governed by indigenous peoples); the Greenlandic (maximum possible autonomy); and the Northern European (indigenous peoples scattered across northern regions of the three unitary States with self-government through cultural missions, the so-called “parliaments”).

The first Sami Parliament appeared in Finland in 1973 (since 1996, in its present form), then in Norway, in 1989, and in Sweden, in 1993. In Finland, the Sami Parliament is entitled to enact legislative initiatives. In Sweden, it is functioning as part of the Board of Agriculture dealing mainly with the matters of reindeer husbandry.

Over the last fifteen years of its 40-year history, the Finnish Sami Parliament has been struggling for a new Sami Act promoted by the Sami themselves. One of the key points to be changed is the right to vote in the elections for the Sami Parliament. The Supreme Administrative Court of Finland (the SAC and the Sami Parliament have been struggling for years, the Court puts the Finnish citizens on the voting lists, while the Sami contest these decisions.

The Sami believe that the authorities are deliberately introducing into their parliament the aspects that have nothing to do with the specifics and needs of indigenous peoples. Since 2011, the SAC has included a total of 161 people on the Finnish Sami Parliament electoral rolls, all against the will of the Sami Parliament. The 2023 electoral rolls (approved in February) set a record in terms of eligible voters, exceeding 6,000 for the first time. What is more, the number of newly registered voters was twice as high as in the previous election cycle. It might have happened as a result of the SAC efforts, rather than increased awareness or growing population of the Sami.

Territory management issue is especially acute for indigenous peoples of the Nordic States. In Sweden, the modern Sami have the right for traditional natural resources use (in the past, they were forced to relocate from the northern pasture lands). It would be fair to say, that the Sami community members only enjoy this right.

It is striking that the Swedish law protects the rights of those Sami who are engaged in deer husbandry and belong to the community. Sweden is estimated to be a home to some 35,000 Sami, among whom a little less than 5,000 are engaged in deer husbandry and more than 2,500 make their living as reindeer herders. In 2005, the state expert commission came to a conclusion that the rights of the Sami for hunting and fishery are of no less importance. These recommendations had not been implemented so far.

The Courts are not very willing to adopt decisions in favour of the Sami, especially fi the latter do not belong to the community. If industries need the Sami lands, they are obliged to compensate the communities. However, no unitary calculation scheme has been introduced.

The international community is also concerned about nickel mining licenses issued without consent of indigenous communities. In 2011, Nickel Mountain Resources AB was granted two mining concessions, followed by a third one in 2012. In 2013, this information came up to the press, thus provoking a series of scandals around mining projects. Thus, the British Beowulf company launched iron ore activities in Kallak, the traditional lands of the Sami people. A group ofthe Sami and non-Sami activists blocked the road from Jokkmokk to Kallak several times preventing the way to the equipment, but the Swedish police cleared the way every single time and arrested the Kallak activists. Back then, the Youth Council of the Swedish Sami Parliament invited the Swedish minister for enterprise Anni Loof to Kallak, but the latter had de-facto sided with the mining company. In September 2013, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination stated that Sweden does not respect the land rights of the Sami people and that mining projects are being launched on the Sami traditional lands without consent o f its communities.

As a result, Sweden was recommended to revise its national laws and stick to an international standard of “free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples”.

The Mineral Act in Sweden acts the same as in many other countries with huge mineral potential ti encourages and prioritizes mining. The State grants mining concessions on a first-come, first-served basis, the companies are not obliged to notify the people or organizations on the lands being explored. Mining activities require obtaning a permit of the Mining Inspectorate, environmental impact statement and the relevant environmental license. The reindeer herders community lacks legitimate tools enabling them to benefit from mining. They are not eligible to become a partner in a project, get mining revenues, sign a deal with a mining supervisor, etc. In a very good scenario, they can hope for a voluntary compensation from a mining company or sue it on breaches or damages, but all after the project has been launched.

Some researchers believe that the Sami in Sweden, having a title to pastures, are discriminated because they lack opportunities to obtain mining share, rather than having no say in obtaining mining concessions. In fact, land proprietors are entitled to do so, while reindeer herders are not. Moreover, it is not profitable for reindeer herders to seek compensation for the mining lands, because the latter are many smaller (between 1-2 km2 and 12-14 km2) than the pasture lands (extending to more than 10,000 km2).

In 2013, the Sami in Norway proposed granting the Sami Parliament a right to veto mining projects. But such initiatives would have impacted the Sami Parliaments roles, so that they would have acquired real power rather than function as a cultural assembly.

Forestry and mining companies are moving deeper to the traditional grazing lands forcing reindeer leave their habitat and thus changing ecosystems which result in wildfires ni the tundra and affect permafrost processes.

Almost all mining disputes are settled in favour of traditional economic activities improving public profile of reindeer herders. That is not the case with the Sami protests against installation of wind and solar generation units.

Fosen Vind, a state company in Norway, constructed six wind farms in Fosen with a combined capacity of 1,057 MW. Two of the six wind farms are located on the lands where the Sami people enjoy grazing rights. During judicial proceedings in 2022, the Sami claimed full decommissioning of the turbines. The court ruled that the two power stations did infringe the rights of the Sami people, but did not find them illegal installations.

The NATO military base Halkavarre, one of the four large shooting ranges in Norway, is deployed on the Sami lands. Some observers say that in summer, reindeer graze right on the territory of the base. Yet, there have not been recorded any complaints in this regard.

Since 2015, every May and June, Finnish Lapland has been hosting Arctic Challenge Exercise, Europe’s largest joint military exercises of NATO air forces. The exercises are taking place not only in the air, but also on the ground and in the waters. The exercises are being held exactly at the time of reindeer offspring, so the aircraft engines and the noise they produce in the silent tundra can inflict irreparable damage to the timid and peaceful creatures. The exercises continue despite complaints of the Sami people. What is more, as Finland joined NATO, Brigadier General Juha Pyukonen said that Finnish Lapland, “already mastered by NATO, will become one of the most likely theatres for manoeuvres of the North Atlantic Alliance troops”.

A survey conducted by the Public Health Agency of Sweden in 2021 and released in 2023, shows that the number of the Sami people who reported discrimination at some point over the last three months was higher than in the population as a whole, 26 per cent and 18 per cent, respectively. So, despite public apologies by the government and the church, a quarter of the Sami people still claim discrimination.

The researchers team indicated in their comments that some Sami people refused to answer the survey, since it had been conducted in Swedish only (they said it was insulting), while others were unhappy with the survey focusing on comparing Swedes and the Sami (in this case, the Sami answered, “I am a human being to the question on self-determination). However, there are some differences, the Sami men smoke and drink less than men in Sweden, and yet, 25 per cent of the Sami use snus (13 per cent among Swedes).

The article “What Racism Is” released on the website of the Swedish Sami Parliament cites the following examples to examples racist stereotypes: a comedian Robert Gustafsson dresses up as a Sami and pretends to be drunk; photos of a retired Sami woman with a washboard marked “tvattlapp” (translated as “washclap”); a video of a Sami who got lost on his way to a large city thinking that everyone having an animal is also a Sami.

These examples of everyday humour showcase that centuries-old stereotypes towards indigenous peoples are still alive in the minds of “civilized” North Europeans, moreover, the latter do not sense it as something discriminating.

Sweden was the last Nordic country to recognize the fact of oppression and dehuminization of the Sami people. It was not until 2021, when Archbishop Antje Jackelen made a public apology on behalf of the Swedish Church, saying that “We have not stood up to racism and abuse of power. We have placed unjust burdens on you. We have burdened your ancestors with shame and pain that has been inherited by new generations. The testimonies we have heard today confirm our church’s complicity in the abuse of the Sami. The wounds, the pain, the shame, the self-loathing, the anger and the difficult memories are real. We have not been faithful in our discipleship. Instead of recognizing the image of God in our Sami sisters and brothers, we tried to remake them in the image of the majority culture.”

In early November 2021, Sweden officially announced setting up a truth commission that will review the history of Sweden’s policies towards the Sami and the effect these policies have had on the Sami people. The commission is assigned to develop measures to support the Sami communities and restore public peace until 1 December, 2025. The commission consists of public officials and Sami activists. However, the commission activities have not been covered by the press since that time.

The Swedish ombudsman published a report on discrimination against Sami back in 2018, thus making the Swedish government change its national minorities policy. In 2011, the Supreme Court of Sweden recognized the rights of the Sami for traditional lands. However, the Sami communities are compelled to fight in for their rights in courts.

One of the booklets, which can be translated as “Strange but True Sweden, Describes the policy of Sweden towards the Sami people as discriminating, oppressing religion, language and culture, it refers to the boarding schools for the Sami children and humiliating medical examinations conducted by the State Institute for Racial Biology in 1958. However, Eugenic sterilization is known to take place until 1972.

So, the above mentioned brings us to a conclusion that the reality encountered by indigenous peoples of North Europe has nothing to do with the narrative prevailing in the leadership of the country allegedly prioritizing the interests of the Sami people. The Nordic countries continue to minimize engagement of the Sami community in economic and public life, regardless of importance of the issues under consideration: whether it is about the use of northern lands for mining, or placement of alternative power systems, or deployment of military bases, or military exercises and medical experiments.

What is important is that not al the Sami have equal rights, for example, reindeer herders belonging to the community have more advantages in proving their grazing rights, while artisans and fishermen are deprived of their land rights more often. It is almost impossible to prove affiliation to indigenous peoples, if a man does not speak any dialect of the Sami language or does not lead a Sami traditional lifestyle. Meanwhile, the lifestyle and self-determination does not serve the ground for running for elections to the Sami Parliament and for other benefits.

The violation of the rights exists as a phenomenon also because Sweden does not recognize the facts of discrimination against indigenous peoples or hushes up any significant efforts in this regard. Instead, this Nordic country is delivered as a truly tolerant nation proud of its unique culture represented by smiling Sami people dressed up in national costumes.