Ombudsman hopes for Sami rights ratification after election

Eva Biaudet is Finland's Non Discrimination Ombudsman.

Eva Biaudet, Finland’s Non Discrimination Ombudsman says to BarentsObserver the rejection of the ratification of ILO Convention No. 169 was a step backwards for the political efforts to strengthen Sami rights.


ILO No. 169

The Convention s a legally binding international instrument, which deals specifically with the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples. Once ratified, a country has one year to align legislation, policies and programmes to the Convention before it becomes legally binding. The Convention does not define who are indigenous and tribal peoples. It takes a practical approach and only provides criteria for describing the peoples it aims to protect. Self-identification is considered as a fundamental criterion for the identification of indigenous and tribal peoples.

Click here for the basic principles of ILO Convention.

25 years after the UN’s International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 169 was approved, Finland’s Parliament was supposed to ratify it earlier this month. The case was, however, put on ice by the Parliament’s Speaker’s Council.

”Legally, the ILO 169 would primarily have brought the protection and, importantly, the promotion of Sami rights in a dynamic process, monitored by an international body.  History has shown us that legally binding international human rights commitments do have an impact in practice, as drivers of politics and practical solutions as well as directing resources for them,” says Eva Biaudet to BarentsObserver.

She says the decision is a step backwards for the political efforts to strengthen Sami rights as an indigenous people in general in Finland. 

” The ratification of the ILO 169 would strengthen the overall status of the Sami as an indigenous people in Finland. It would make their influence stronger in the legislative processes and administrative decisions that is a concern of them,” Biaudet argues.

Among the 185 ILO member states, only 20 have ratified the Convention since it entered into force in 1991. The convention aims to enhancing the rights of indigenous people. There are some 6,000 Samis in Finland.

Sámi Cultural Center Sajos in Inari also includes the Finnish Sámi parliament hall.

After years of discussion and negotiations with the Sami Parliament, the Finnish Government had reached consensus on the proposal to ratify the Convention. 

The Ombudsman is very satisfied with the Government’s actions.

“Ratification would again have shown that Finland has high ambitions to protect the Sami way of life, languages and culture,” Eva Biaudet says. She believes the ratification will come for the Parliament after Finland’s election taking place on April 19th.

The Sami Parliament believes an ILO-169 recognition will give them further influence in relevant matters.

Despite lack of ratification Eva Biaudet has long lists of positive developments for the Sami people in Finland.

“We have managed to direct resources to support for organized, Sami day care with emphasis on support for language and culture overall. We have channeled resources for Sami elderly care. Both of these have been administered by the Sami parliament and hence strengthened its autonomous status. Students can nowadays write their final exam in mother tongue also in Skolt Sami language, additionally to Northern Sami and Inari Sami. The government has, perhaps as its biggest achievement in this field, launched a program for the revival of the Sami languages,” Eva Biaudet says.