Finland: it's time to recognize the rights of indigenous people!

Traditional Sami with reindeer © shutterstock / V. Belov
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The Saami of northern Europe are facing threats from all sides. Timber, pulp and mining companies are crowding into their ancestral land, clearing the boreal forests and destroying their livelihoods. Enough is enough: tell Finland to finally adopt the International Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO 169).

Call to action

To: the members of the incoming parliament of Finland

“Respect the rights of the indigenous Saami and ratify the international Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169) now.”

Read letter

We like to think of the Nordic countries as a group of wealthy, highly developed nations where the rule of law is unquestioned. Finland, however, has a major blind spot: the rights of its indigenous people.

Time and again, the Finnish government has refused to adopt the International Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples (ILO 169). Years of negotiations and empty promises – including those of outgoing Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen – have raised expectations at home and internationally. The newly-convened government must now make this issue a priority.

ILO 169 is a binding international convention that secures the rights of indigenous people with regard to land access, education and other important issues. It has been ratified by 20 countries, including Norway and Denmark. Both the UN and EU have criticized Finland over the years for not adopting the convention, yet the Finnish government continues to ignore the rights of its first nation, the Saami people.

Environmental and Saami organizations have noted that by delaying the adoption of ILO 169, the government is putting corporate interests first: Big Business sees the convention as an obstacle to the unfettered exploitation of Finland’s natural resources without concern for its environmental and social impact.

ILO 169 would give the Saami their say about aggressive, unsustainable mining and logging projects on their traditional land. Tell the Finnish government to stand up for the rights of the Saami and a healthy environment by finally adopting the convention.


ILO Convention 169

The Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO Convention 169) is the only binding international convention governing the rights of tribal and indigenous peoples. It was established in 1989 and has been adopted by 20 countries, mostly in Latin America.

Unlike previous legal standards that had been geared toward assimilation, ILO Convention 169 recognizes the aspirations of indigenous and tribal peoples to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development and to maintain and develop their identities, languages and religions.

The Convention guarantees that indigenous peoples will be consulted and fully involved in establishing policy impacting their interests at all levels. It covers a wide range of topics such as land rights and access to natural resources — particularly with regard to logging, industrial agriculture and mining projects on indigenous land — as well as health, education, vocational training, labor law and supranational contacts. 



To: the members of the incoming parliament of Finland

Ladies and Gentlemen,

By adopting the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention (ILO 169), countries take an important step toward recognizing the human rights of their indigenous people.

While Finland continues to delay the adoption of ILO 169, the Saami are facing urgent, imminent and concrete threats to their very existence, culture and ways of life as an indigenous people.

This is a severe blow both to both the Saami people and Finland's international image.

Please do not subject the Saami to another four years of uncertainty. ILO 169 is not only crucial to indigenous rights, it is also an important tool to preserve the delicate Arctic environment for everyone, regardless of origin, language or ancestry.

Existing legal frameworks for environmental protection such as the EU's Natura 2000 legislation have not put a stop to the excesses of mining and other hazardous industries. Empowering the Saami to protect the land they have stewarded and nurtured for centuries is therefore of the utmost importance.

ILO 169 is the right instrument and the time is now.