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Indigenous lawyer from Norway strengthens IWGIA’s Board

March 13 2017

Laila Susanne Vars from Norway's National Institute for Human Rights has joined IWGIA's board.
Laila Susanne Vars from Norway’s National Human Rights Institution joins IWGIA’s Board as the first institutional member. The aim of including institutional members is to strengthen knowledge sharing and cooperation opportunities.

Since February 2017, Laila Susanne Vars has been appointed as an institutional member of IWGIA’s Board. She brings strong legal knowledge about indigenous peoples’ rights and a Scandinavian network that includes both the Sámi peoples and Norway’s human rights sector.  

Laila Susanne Vars was the Director of Gáldu, a resource centre for the rights of indigenous peoples in Norway, until it merged with Norway’s National Human Rights Institution. She is now Head of Department at Norway's National Human Rights Institution.

Many possibilities for cooperation
For IWGIA’s Board Chairman, Knud Vilby, the appointment of Laila Susanne Vars is significantly strengthening IWGIA’s board:

“We are very happy to announce that Laila Susanne Vars accepted to represent Norway’s leading human rights institution in IWGIA’s board. With Laila in the board, the opportunities for sharing knowledge across borders and driving the ongoing processes at IWGIA are being significantly strengthened.”

Laila Susanne Vars is happy to join IWGIA’s board, and she looks forward to contributing to the ongoing strategic and structural processes. She says:  

“As an indigenous lawyer, I know that it is of paramount importance to have strong international non-governmental organisations that support indigenous peoples’ struggle for protection of their human rights. IWGIA has for many decades contributed to the advancement of indigenous peoples’ rights globally. I see many possibilities for further strenghtening the organisation, particularly through cooperation with various human rights institutions and with Arctic indigenous peoples.“

Expertise on self-determination of indigenous peoples
"The Sámi People's Right to Self-determination" is the title of Laila Susanne Vars’ Ph.D. in International Law from the University of Tromsø.

As the title suggests she began her career with the core question of indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination with the Sámi peoples as a case.

This led her to be active in politics, first as Vice-President of the Sámi Parliament in Norway 2009-2013 and later as a member of the Sámi Parliamentarian Council 2009-2017.

Indigenous peoples strongly represented in IWGIA’s board
As Laila Susanne Vars joins IWGIA’s board, she increases the representation of indigenous peoples. Being an indigenous Sámi, she furthermore strengthens the Scandinavian perspective.

Laila Susanne Vars is accompanied in the board by Chris Tooley – the new vice chairman of the board, who is an indigenous Maori from New Zealand.

In common they have the interest in indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination.

BIO Laila Susanne Vars


  • Candidate in Law from the University of Tromsö
  • Ph.D. in International Law from the University of Tromsö, 2010
Professional career:
  • Head of Department, Norway’s National Human Rights Institution (NHRI), 2017-
  • Director of Gáldu, resource centre for indigenous peoples rights, Norway, 2013-2017
  • Legal Advisor for the Sámi Parliament, Sámediggi, Norway, 2001-2005
Political career:
  • Vice President for the Sámi Parliament, Sámediggi, Norway, 2009-2013
Other positions:
  • Member of jury, National Human Rights Award for Journalists, Norwegian Ministry of Culture, 2015- Vice chairman of the board, Faculty of Law, University of Tromsö, Norway, 2013-
  • Member of UNESCO National Commission, Norway, 2013-
  • Member of the Sámi Parliamentarian Council (SPR), Norway, 2009-.