Opening statement by the Vice-President of the Sámedigg i- the Sámi Parliament of Norway, Ms. Laila Susanne Vars

On the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review of Norway, United Nations, Geneva, 3.12.2009.

On the occasion of the Universal Periodic Review of Norway, United Nations, Geneva, 3.12.2009

Mr . President,

My name is Laila Susanne Vars and I’m speaking on behalf of the Sámi Parliament in Norway.

I wish to express my gratitude to the government of Norway for giving me the opportunity to address the Human Rights Council.  The dialogue between the Sámi Parliament and the Norwegian government has been positive in the preparatory work towards this hearing, and this may represent a future standard for co-operation.

We will draw your attention to the fact that the UNESCO has categorized all the Sámi dialects as being among the world’s threatened languages. The Sámi Parliament is concerned over the challenges in safeguarding the Sámi language, particularly some of the dialects which are spoken by only a few Sámi persons. The government has initiated an action plan for the safeguarding and development of the Sámi language. We commend this initiative and expect that the necessary resources will be made available for this purpose.

We need to still focus on language education on all levels and further development of Sámi teaching aids. Sámi language and local cultures are currently being threatened by the massive closing down of local schools in Sámi areas in Norway. This represents a threat to the local Sámi cultures.

Unfortunately, we still have problems with lack of knowledge of Sámi culture and language within the public health care and prison systems. This problem affects our Sámi speaking elders, since there are still very few Sámi speaking doctors and health workers.

We are pleased by the government’s promises to follow up on the report presented in 2008 dealing with Sámi and local rights to the fisheries in the fiords and coastal waters in the northernmost Sámi areas of Norway. There is an urgent need for acceptance of the Sámi rights to the marine resources, otherwise the coastal Sámi culture and way of life will disappear.

In 2005, the government and the Sámi Parliament agreed on procedures for consultations in matters that affect the Sámi people.  These procedures have given us a better possibility to influence the government’s policies on Sámi issues. However, our experiences with the implementation of the consultation agreement are mixed.  There is still a need for raising awareness and knowledge of Sámi issues in government ministries and agencies. We are still trying to find out how to resolve cases where traditional Sámi ways of living are in conflict with industrial developments, such as mining.

I also draw your attention to an ongoing process dealing with the Sámi rights in the areas south of Finnmark. We expect a speedy process by the government which ensures no further loss of lands and resources for the Sámi in these areas.

I have high expectations to the forthcoming Copenhagen conference. The voice of indigenous peoples must be heard. We endorse fully the view of the Human Rights Council that indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable in a climate change context. We also affirm that there is an interface between the human rights enshrined in core universal human rights instruments, including the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and national policy-making in the area of climate change.

Lastly, Mr. President, for more insight on the Sámi Parliament’s views on Norway’s human rights policies, we refer to the Sámi Parliament’s supplementary report to the UN Human Rights Committee of November 2009.

Thank you.