A United Nations committee found that Finland violated an international convention on racial discrimination with regard to the political rights of the Sami, the only indigenous people in the EU.
The case concerns interference in the 2015 Sami parliamentary elections when the Supreme Administrative Court decided that dozens of people who identified as Sami should be added to the voters list and therefore be eligible to vote in the elections that year.
The question of who can be called Sami is extremely sensitive within the Sami community of Finland, 10,000 strong, about half of whom still live in the areas of traditional Sami origin, called Sápmi, in Finnish Lapland.
Many Sami in Finland believe that only they should be able to decide who is Sami (and who is not), and that the Finnish state should have no say in the matter.
“Finland must respect our rights to self-determination and our customs and traditions,” says Anne Nuorgamone of the Sami who took the case to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“This is a really important decision because it shows that the Sami Parliament is right to say that we have self-determination, and we have the possibility to determine who is part of the Sami people and therefore who has the right to vote in elections” , Nuorgam said. told Euronews.
Nuorgam, who was a former president of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said some of the people whose names were added to the voters list by the Finnish court previously had no strong affiliation with the identity and culture.
“We identified them as Finns,” she added.
This is not the first time that Finland has violated the rights of the Sami
Tuesday’s decision by the committee marks the third time in recent years that a United Nations body has condemned Finland for violating the rights of the Sami people.
A reform of the Sami Parliament Act, which governs the role of the 21-member institution, has been long delayed by successive Finnish governments, with little progress in recent years. If the reforms were completed, they could enshrine in Finnish law the right to self-determination of the Sami community and rectify violations of international conventions identified by the UN.
“This is the perfect opportunity for the Finnish state to pause and rethink and revise its attitudes towards Sami self-determination,” said Pirita NäkkäläjärviMember of the Sami Parliament.
“It is difficult to understand why in 2022 Finland would want to continue to be a country that has been found guilty of violating not one, but two international human rights conventions with regard to the electoral list of the Sami Parliament”, a- she told Euronews.
“We are not asking for much: only the right to determine our own identity and belonging according to our customs and traditions, as it is our right as indigenous people under international law,” adds Näkkäläjärvi.
Finland now has 90 days to formally respond to the committee’s findings, but has been asked to negotiate with the Sami Parliament, located in the Arctic town of Inari, to reach a solution.
The head of the Finnish Foreign Ministry‘s Human Rights Court department told state broadcaster Yle that they were taking the complaint “very seriously”.