Saturday, October 29, 2011

Norway: Proposed Norwegian law puts indigenous peoples’ rights at risk

Sami musicians of Norway perform at the opening ceremony of a cultural exhibition held at UN Headquarters in recognition of the fifth session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

UN - A United Nations expert urged Norway today to strongly reject the proposal by one of its parties to repeal key laws and policies designed to protect indigenous groups, saying its approval would represent an “enormous setback for the recognition and protection of human rights in the country.” “Norway could cease to be the world leader it has become in the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous peoples if the Norwegian national Parliament approves the proposal of one of the largest political parties in the country, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet),” said Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people James Anaya.

The proposal would take away many of the land ownership, self-determination and protection rights of the Sami people, Norway’s largest indigenous group, which also inhabits parts of Sweden, Finland and Russia.

“If approved, the proposal will reverse the many advances Norway has made towards recognizing and securing the rights of the Sami people in accordance to international standards, despite significant challenges,” Mr. Anaya said.

“I am further concerned that the ensuing debate on the proposal could perpetuate negative views of the Sami people and encourage discrimination against them.”

The proposal recommends that the Norwegian Parliament denounce the International Labour Organization (ILO) convention on indigenous and tribal peoples which gives indigenous groups the right to choose to integrate or maintain their cultural and political integrity.

In addition, it recommends the abolition of the Sami Parliament and the administrative area for the Sami language, as well as asking the national Parliament to repeal the Finnmark Act, which gave the Sami people the right to manage their land without interference.

“I am pleased that the Government of Norway has taken a firm position against the proposal,” Mr. Anaya stressed. “I appeal to the members of the standing committee on local government and public administration, members of the Norwegian national Parliament, and to the Norwegian people as a whole, to likewise strongly reject the proposal of the Progress Party, as well as any future proposals that may undermine the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Sami people in Norway.”

Last year, Mr. Anaya met with Government officials in Norway to discuss key issues affecting Sami people, including their right to land, water and education. In January, Mr. Anaya issued a report on their living situation focusing on their right to self-determination at a national level exercised through Sami parliaments and efforts to revitalize their language and provide Sami children with culturally appropriate education.