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Norway; United Nations: Expert Criticizes Plan to Repeal Laws on Indigenous Peoples

(Nov. 3, 2011) On October 28, 2011, James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, advocated the rejection of a proposal made by one political party in Norway that laws and policies that now protect indigenous peoples be repealed. Anaya stated that such a repeal would be an “enormous setback for the recognition and protection of human rights in the country.” (Proposed Norwegian Law Puts Indigenous Peoples' Rights at Risk – UN Expert, UN NEWS CENTRE (Oct. 28, 2011); Norway Could Lose Lead in the Recognition and Protection of Indigenous Peoples' Rights – UN Expert, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website (Oct. 28, 2011).)

The change is advocated by the Fremkrittspartiet, the Progress Party (website in Norwegian (last visited Oct. 28, 2011)), but opposed by Norway's current government. The proposed revisions would affect the rights of land ownership, self-determination, and other protections of the Sami people, the largest indigenous group in the country. There are also Sami living in Finland, Russia, and Sweden. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

Among the actions proposed by the Progress Party are the abolition of the Sami Parliament and the administrative area for the Sami language; the repeal of the Finnmark Act, under which the Sami manage their own land independently; and the denunciation by Norway of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, which allows such peoples to choose whether or not to remain culturally and politically distinct. (Id.; Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples in Independent Countries (adopted on June 27, 1989, in force from Sept. 5, 1991), ILO website.)

The Special Rapporteur noted the position of the Norwegian government on the matter, stating, “I am pleased that the Government of Norway has taken a firm position against the proposal.” He went on to say that he urged

members of the standing committee on local government and public administration, members of the Norwegian national Parliament, and … the Norwegian people as a whole, to likewise strongly reject the proposal of the Progress Party, as well as any future proposals that may undermine the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Sami people in Norway. (UN NEWS CENTRE, supra.)

Anaya, who is James J. Lenoir Professor of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of Arizona, was appointed a U.N. Special Rapporteur on March 26, 2008. Initially he was to serve for three years, but the U.N. Human Rights Council renewed his appointment for three more years. In January 2011, he completed a report on the conditions of the Sami people in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. (OHCHR website, supra.)