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Norway could lose lead in the recognition and protection of indigenous peoples’ rights – UN expert

GENEVA (28 October 2011) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, James Anaya, warned Friday that a proposal to repeal key laws and policies related to Sami people in Norway could “constitute an enormous setback for the recognition and protection of human rights in the country.” The Sami are an indigenous people living in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.

“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),” Mr. Anaya said.

The proposal tabled by members of the Progress Party recommends that the National Parliament denounce the International Labour Organisation Convention on indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries, abolish the Sami Parliament, repeal the key Finnmark Act, and do away with the administrative area for the Sami language.

“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,” the human rights expert 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.”

“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, the UN Special Rapporteur met with indigenous and State representatives to discuss key issues affecting Sami people across the Sápmi region, including their right to self-determination; rights to land, water, and natural resources; and issues involving children and youth, specially education and language.

In January 2011, the rights expert issued his report* on the situation of Sami people living in the Sápmi region of Norway, Sweden, and Finland. In it, he pays particular attention to Sami self-determination at the national level, especially as exercised through the Sami parliaments; the rights of Sami to their lands, territories and resources; and efforts to revitalize Sami languages and provide Sami children and youth with culturally appropriate education.

In his report, Mr. Anaya emphasized that he is pleased that, overall, Norway, Sweden, and Finland each pay a high level of attention to indigenous issues, relative to other countries. However, he noted, more remains to be done to ensure that the Sami people can pursue their self-determination and develop their common goals as a people living across more than one State.

On 26 March 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council appointed James Anaya (United States) the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples for an initial period of three years. The Council renewed his mandate for an additional three years in 2011. Professor Anaya is a Regents Professor and the James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona.

(*) The situation of the Sami people in the Sápmi region of Norway, Sweden and Finland: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/IPeoples/SR/A-HRC-18-35-Add2_en.pdf

Learn more about the mandate and work of the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/SRIndigenousPeoples/Pages/SRIPeoplesIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights Country Page – Norway: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/ENACARegion/Pages/NOIndex.aspx

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: http://daccess-ods.un.org/access.nsf/Get?Open&DS=A/RES/61/295&Lang=E

For more information and press inquiries, please contact Maia Campbell (Tel: +41 22 917 9314 / email: mcampbell@ohchr.org) or write to: indigenous@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, OHCHR Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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