Development of the Human Rights1

Dear Madam Chairperson, Dear representatives from my indigenous sisters and brothers. Dear representatives from the Governments present here. Distinguished colleeges.

My name is Ande Somby. I am an associate professor at Law Faculty at Tromso University in Norway. I am a Saami person, and my topics are Saami Rights and indigenous legal philosophy.

I want to contribute to the debate on development of the Human Rights as an indigenous academic legal professional. I have also agreed to address some remarks on behalf of the Saami Council.

The concept of Human Rights is only one example of the fact that indigenous peoples are faced to a threefolded agenda:

  • To encourge our Governments to provide legislation and to ratify International treaties that protect Indigenous Peoples.
  • To describe and to provide documentation about the practical development, f. ex violations of human rights.
  • To negotiate the concept of Human Rights

All these tasks require much work. The Nordic countries have a general policy in setting good examples on the International scene. Norway has ratified the ILO convention.2 Even if Finland is the only Nordic Country that in explicit terms has recognised the Saami People as an Indigenous People in their constitution, it is sad and embarrasing for all Saamis that neither Finland, Sweden nor Russia has to this date ratified the ILO convention.3

When faced to the second task - to describe and to provide documentation, we have to trace and secure evidences for the events in question. We have to apply the incidents to the relevant legal standards and we have to communicate our legal findings in appropriate ways. However we have quite long practise to do this part of the work, and even if it does cause a lot of work - we do not have much trouble to fulfil that task.

The third task - to negotiate about the concept of Human Rights is more complicated. We often meet the border of the traditional concept in questions like:

  • Do human Rights only refer to individual Rights or are also Collective Rights included in the concept?
  • Is health a part of Human Rights?
  • Is Self Determination a part of Human Rights?
  • Etc?

The positions we ourselves take to those questions are clear. Yes they are. But at the end of the day we have to face either National courts or International Courts. Those courts are populated with members from the mainstream societies, and they are often very traditionalistic in their legal practises. Our people on the other hand are often alone and weak when they meet those courts.

We therefore need to negotiate also on the deep structures of legal methodologies. That can be a path to get acceptance for indigenous traditional legal knowledge. Our task is both to translate our traditions in order to make them understandable to legal professionals from the mainstream societies. Our task is also to conceptualise our present lives and we have to visualise our future in comprehensible ways. All those tasks we have to do without loosing ourselves and our goals.

Let me point out a brief little sketch how these thoughts would apply to human Rights for Indigenous peoples and contribute to positive developments.

As I understand there are only 3 Human rights in question.

  • The Right to a past
  • The Right to a present
  • The Right to a future

The Right to a past contains for example The right to maintain our traditions, Loss of languages is one of the concrete problems to face under that aspect.

The Right to a present contains all the classical Human Rights as the right to live in peace, not be killed, tortured, the right to free expressions. But it also contains negotiations about the early mentioned points, f. ex the question of Individual or collective Rights.

The Right to a future contains f. example the issue of Land Rights, Issues of A safe environment Issues of Relevant educational Programs for our children and youth.

Dear Madam Chair

In order to fulfil both tasks we all need to do our best in order to get indigenous professionals who would be able to open these negotiations. We also need to encourage friendly professionals from the mainstream societies to work with these topics. We need both positive statements and help to fund such activities. We need help from our elders, our storytellers our Poets. We need help from you all present here. And we need help from those who are not present here.

In closing my statement I want to adress following recomondations:
  • Either the Working Group or the Special Rapporteur writes a request to all Universities that have attended the Working Groups meetings over the years to make contributions either in form of researchprojects or in form of funding
  • Either the Working Group or the Special Rapporteur writes a request to all known research funding bodies in order to get contributions to do both descriptive and analytical research on Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples
  • Either the Working Group or the Special Rapporteur follows up the invitation given by the representative from Switzerland and asks University of Geneva to establish a research fellow Scholarship Program in addition to the trainee Program that UN is already running.

I am grateful for your attention, and I wish you Madam and all you others present in the room all the best.

  1. Statement under Topic 5 Development of the Human Rights held at the UN Working Group for Indigenous Populations 26th of July 2001 by Dr. Ande Somby, Tromso University, Norway (back)
  2. ILO Convention C169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention from 1989. (back)
  3. These remarks I have added to my presentation after a request from the representative from the Saami Concil (back)

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