• People

    The Sámi peoples spreads across the countries Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia.
    It is estimated that there are 50,000-10,000 Sámi people.
  • Politics

    Politically, the Sámi people are represented by three Sámi parliaments, one in Sweden, one in Norway and one in Finland, whereas on the Russian side they are organised into NGOs.
  • Challenges

    The main challenges for the Sámi peoples concerns extractive industry operations.

Sápmi

Indigenous peoples in Sápmi

The Sami are the indigenous peoples of the northern part of the Scandinavian Peninsula and much of the Kola Peninsula, and live in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia. It is estimated that they represent between 50,000 and 100,000.

A report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, concluded that Sweden, Norway and Finland do not fulfil their stated objectives of guaranteeing the human rights of the Sami people.

Institutions of the Sami people

Politically, the Sámi people are represented by three Sámi parliaments, one in Sweden, one in Norway and one in Finland, while on the Russian side they are organized into NGOs. In 2000, the three Sami parliaments established a joint council of representatives called Sámi Parliamentary Council.

There are also other important Saami institutions, both regional and local, among others, Sami University College, which is a research and higher education institution for the needs of the Sami society, and where the language of work and teaching is mainly the language of Sami Sweden, Norway and Finland voted in favor of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in September 2007, while Russia abstained.

The Sami people

There is no reliable information on how many Sámi inhabitants there are. However, it is estimated that they add up to 50,000-100,000.

About 20,000 live in Sweden, which is about 0.22% of Sweden's total population of around 9 million. The north-western part of Swedish territory is the traditional territory of the Sami people. Sami reindeer herders, small farmers, hunters, fishermen and gatherers traditionally use these lands.

Around 50-65,000 Sami live in Norway, that is, between 1.06 and 1.38% of the total Norwegian population of 4.7 million. Around 8,000 Sami live in Finland, which is approx. 0.16% of the total Finnish population of around 5 million. Around 2,000 Sami live in Russia.

Challenges of the Sami

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, reviewed the human rights situation of the Sami in Norway, Sweden and Finland in 2016 on the basis of information received during her visit to the Sápmi region, including a conference organized by the Sámi Parliamentary Council in Bierke / Hemavan, Sweden, in August 2015. Its report is also based on independent investigations. The report emphasizes that the three states do not meet their stated objectives of guaranteeing the human rights of the Sami people.

In particular, the report highlights the negative impacts that extractive industry operations are having on Sami livelihoods and culture. For example, the Norwegian Mining Law and the Swedish Minerals Law raise serious questions about the ability of States to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of the Sami in the context of the extractive industry. In her report, Ms. Tauli-Corpuz raises questions about whether States clearly express the expectation that all commercial enterprises must respect human rights in all their operations.

In March 2016, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the seventh periodic report of Sweden on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). The Human Rights Committee welcomed the support of the State party for realizing the right of the Sami peoples to self-determination. The Committee remained concerned about four main issues: the slow progress in the negotiations for the adoption of the Sami Nordic Convention; the limited resources allocated to the Sami Parliament; the scope of the duty to consult with representatives of the Sami people in relation to extraction and development projects; and the difficulties faced by Sami claimants to demonstrate land ownership and the inability of Sami villages to obtain legal assistance under the law of legal aid.

The Nordic Sámi Convention

An important cross-border initiative of the Sami people has been the effort to develop a Nordic Sámi Convention with the aim of safeguarding and developing the autonomous bodies, livelihoods, culture, languages and way of life of the Sami population with the lowest possible interference of the imposition of national borders.

The negotiations on the Nordic Sámi Convention ended in January 2017. The Convention includes a total of 46 articles, all of which include Nordic joint approaches to safeguard and strengthen Sami rights. The convention includes provisions related to self-determination, non-discrimination, Sami governance (including Sami parliaments and their relationship to the state), rights to land, water and livelihoods, languages, education and culture.

The agreement has been criticized by legal experts and Sami organizations of the Sámi and is currently being considered by the three Sami parliaments and the governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden. The Sami parliaments of the three countries and the national parliaments will have to give their consent to the convention before it can enter into force.

Russia: Kola Saami Congress held amidst massive state pressure, authorities push back against Saami Parliament

On 22 November 2014, the III Congress of the Russian Saami people was held in the village of Lovozero, Murmansk region. As the Finno-Ugric Information Centre reports, the regional authorities intervened massively with attempts to sideline the Kola Saami Parliament, headed by Valentina Sovkina and create a new institutional framework for the Russian Saami community.

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Russia: President of Kola Saami Parliament harassed while travelling to UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples

In Russia, several prominent indigenous rights activists have been harassed while travelling to the UN World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, to be held 22-23 September in New York. Incidents include harrassments by traffic police, passports snatched by thugs or confiscated by the authorities. One of them is Valentina Sovkina, president of the Kola Saami Parliment, who was trying to travel to New York via Kirkenes, Norway. At the time of writing, Valentina has finally managed to reach Kirkenes, although she has missed her flight. Below is a translated interview with Valentia, as it was published on the Russian news website 7x7.

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Russian indigenous delegate arrested on arriving home from Alta meeting

Police Prosecutor Thomas Rye-Holmboe confirms to BarentsObserver that “a Russian citizen was arrested in Tromsø on Thursday” …and “the arrest is based on a demanded extradition from Russian police.” Dmitry Berezhkov is the former Vice President of RAIPON, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North. Over the last year, Dmitry Berezhkov has been a student at the University of Tromsø. Troms Police District does not want to give any further comments to BarentsObserver on the details behind the arrest.

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About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. The Indigenous World 2019.

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