Finland must address legacy of human rights violations against Sámi people, says UN expert

A UN human rights expert urged Finland to undertake more transitional justice measures to address the legacy of human rights violations endured by the Sámi people.

“I take note of the Legislative reforms adopted from the 1990s onwards aimed at redressing some of the harm inflicted on the Sámi people and securing their language and cultural rights in Finnish society, and the transitional justice process established to address the legacy of human rights violations committed against them,” said Fabian Salvioli, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence, in a statement following a visit to Finland.

Salvioli said the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Sámi Psychosocial Support Unit (Uvja) were hallmarks of this process and must receive full political, economic, and social support.

“The TRC is uniquely positioned to elucidate the truth about past and present violations and guide future efforts aimed at redressing the harm done and ensuring the full realisation of the rights of Sámi people,” the expert said.

Subjected to conversion

The Sámi people were the subject of assimilation policies adopted by the state and church in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the forced accommodation of Sámi children in boarding schools, where they were forbidden to speak the Sámi language and forced to integrate into the majority culture. Some reportedly suffered violence and mistreatment. The Sámi were also subjected to religious conversion, removed from their land, and stripped of their culture.

The UN expert underscored the important reparation carried out by Uvja and the repatriation and reburial initiatives carried out by the National Museum of Finland and the Sámi Museum Siida.

“But there is a lack of progress in other areas of reparation, such as compensation and satisfaction,” Salvioli said, urging authorities to design and implement, in consultation and with the free, prior and informed consent of the Sámi, a comprehensive reparation programme. “This programme must include apologies and measures of compensation and restitution addressed to them,” he said.

The expert visited the Sámi Museum Siida, noting the crucial memorialisation work it carries out. However, he also noted a scarcity of other measures aimed at memorialising the legacy of assimilation and related policies. “Memorialisation and education on this topic must be urgently scaled up by Finish public institutions,” Salvioli said.

Discrimination and hate speech

The expert also urged Finish authorities to address discrimination and hate speech against Sámi people. “Discrimination, racism and hatred against Sámi people are still pervasive in Finish society and must be urgently addressed in compliance with international standards on freedom of expression and the prevention and combating of ethnic hatred and discrimination. Freedom of expression does not condone hate speech or discriminatory speech,” he warned.

The expert said the right to self-determination of indigenous peoples, such as the Sámi people, is enshrined in international standards and must be equally reflected in Finish society. “Finland must revise the Sámi Parliament Act to make it into compliance with international standards and rulings by international human rights mechanisms,” Salvioli said. “Progress in this field will provide a measure of Finland’s true commitment to indigenous peoples’ rights.”

During his visit, Salvioli met government officials, civil society organisations and representatives of the Sámi people.

The Special Rapporteur will submit a full report on the visit to the Human Rights Council in 2024.

Mr. Fabian Salvioli (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018 as the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence.


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