Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Setting an Example: Nordic Countries and the Sami Peoples

In light of the event publicized early on by Alexandra Xanthaki - meeting hosted at Brunel Law School,UK the Expert Workshop on Indigenous Languages and Culture, it might be timely to consider that indigenous peoples also are part of Europe. The popular image of indigenous peoples might place them far away in New World countries and continents, but as the 6 June 2011 report by Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, James Anaya points out, indigenous rights are also a European issue.

On 6 June, Mr Anaya submitted a report in his role as the Special Rapporteur on “The situation of the Sami people in the Sapmi region of Norway, Sweden and Finland.” (available at this link here) gives some encouraging and positive news in a field that is often bleak in terms of how states are responding to international and regional imperatives on indigenous rights. Anaya’s summary comments that “The Special Rapporteur is pleased that, overall, Norway, Sweden, and Finland each pay a high level of attention to indigenous issues, relative to other countries. In many respects, initiatives related to the Sami people in the Nordic countries set important examples for securing the rights of indigenous peoples.”

This perhaps does not come as a surprise to those who are familiar with the reputation of these states on human rights issues in general. It is heartening to hear that some states are making commendable and positively meaningful steps in the implementation of rights for indigenous peoples.

Whilst Anaya’s report does outline recommendations for areas where continued gains should continue to be made, it is clear that the states involved are making important strides in the realisation of rights for the Sami peoples.

He remarks that “Today, Sami people in the Nordic countries do not have to deal with many of the socio-economic concerns that commonly face indigenous peoples throughout the world, such as serious health concerns, extreme poverty or hunger. Norway, Sweden and Finland are among the wealthiest and most developed countries in the world and consistently rank toward the top of human development indicators. Nordic countries are thus well-positioned to tackle outstanding concerns related to the Sami people and to set examples for the advancement of the rights of indigenous peoples.”

This is well and good. It should also serve as a wake up call and a challenge for other developed and wealthy states with indigenous peoples There, indigenous peoples often face circumstances of low life expectancy, high birth rate mortality, high occurrences of preventable diseases, and low income whilst surrounded by prosperity and health indicators that stand in stark contrast to those of the indigenous peoples.

Awareness of the Sami peoples as indigenous peoples in Europe, and the achievements that have been made towards rights realisation is important as an example of what is achievable in the realm of indigenous rights.

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