Sweden criticized by UN over Sami rights

Sweden has been criticized by the UN for failings when it comes to the rights of the indigenous Sami people.

Sweden criticized by UN over Sami rights
Members of a Sami village during a high profile court case this January. Photo: Tomas Oneborg / SvD / TT

It's the third time in a row that the question has been raised by the organization in its Universal Periodic Review, a process involving a peer review of the human rights records of all member states.

The recommendations for Sweden included increased effort to strengthen support for the Sami language, increased protection for Sami rights to the land and natural resources they have traditionally used, and greater influence for the Sami people in decision-making processes that directly affect them.

“The root of the matter is that Sweden has legislation that doesn't live up to international laws relating to indigenous peoples,” said John Stauffer from Civil Rights Defenders, one of many organizations that sent in reports ahead of the UN survey and gave recommendations of what needed to change in Sweden to improve human rights.

“It's not just that legislation violates international law, but it can also lead to serious consequences for the Sami people,” said Stauffer.

The Swedish government has said it will introduce a consultation scheme with the aim of strengthening Sami influence on land-related issues, which Stauffer said was “a step in the right direction, but it doesn't match up to the international standard”.

Several countries, including Norway and Denmark, recommend that Sweden ratify the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention. The 1989 Convention emphasizes land rights for indigenous peoples and has been ratified by almost all countries with indigenous peoples, but not by Sweden.

“Sweden now says that it is working towards ratification. But when I meet government representatives and various ministries and ask what is being done, there is not much that is presented,” commented Stauffer.

Stauffer also said that Sweden's domestic record on the rights of indigenous people differed from its international position.

“In general, Sweden is a champion of human rights abroad, not least when it comes to indigenous peoples. But foreign policy is completely different from national policy on the same issues. And it is very, very strange,” he commented. 

Minister of Culture and Democracy Amanda Lind declined to comment on the recommendations, pending a government discussion.

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