ICCPR Case Digest

CCPR/C/124/D/2950/2017

Communication

2950/2017

Submission: 2016.03.23

View Adopted: 2018.11.02

Klemetti Käkkäläjärvi v. Finland

Finland courts allow non-Sami to vote for and be elected to Sami Parliament

Substantive Issues
  • Non-discrimination
  • Protection of minorities
  • Self-determination
Relevant Articles
  • Article 1
  • Article 25
  • Article 26
  • Article 27
Full Text

Facts

Facts
The authors of the communication are Klemetti Käkkäläjärvi (main author) and 24 other persons two of which are Norwegian and the rest are Finnish nationals. They all present themselves as members of the indigenous Sami people. 

Elections to the Sami Parliament take place every four years and, under Section 21 of the Parliament Act, every Sami has the right to vote as from 18 years. The Election Committee of the Parliament shall draw up an electoral roll of the persons with the right to vote. A Sami with the right to vote who has not been entered into the roll shall be incorporated upon request. Section 3 of the Act contains the definition of who is to be regarded as a Sami for being allowed to vote in the elections for the Parliament: “A Sami means a person who considers himself a Sami provided: (1) That he himself or at least one of his parents or grandparents has learned Sami as his first language; (2) that he is a descendent of a person who has been entered in a land, taxation or population register as a mountain, forest or fishing Lapp; or (3) that at least one of his parents has or could have been registered as an elector for an election to the Sami Delegation or the Sami Parliament”

However, Section 3 has been a subject of controversy. From September 2011, the Court adopted four controversial decisions against the decisions of the Election Board of the Sami Parliament. The Court gave priority to an individual’s wish to be registered as a voter over objective criteria related to actual active membership in the group or the group’s recognition of the person as a member of the Sami indigenous people. This was the result of several campaigns organised by non-Sami inhabitants of the northern parts of Finland to register non-Sami persons as voters, with the objective to influence the composition and positions of the Parliament. 

In the previous months to the elections for the Sami Parliament, which took place between 7 September and 4 October 2015, hundreds of people sought registration as new voters. In many cases, the Parliament’s Election Committee and the Executive Board as the first instance of appeal decided that they did not meet the criteria of the Sami definition. In that regard, 182 persons appealed before the Court the decision of the Board not to include them in the roll. On 30 September 2015, the Court decided to accept the applications of 93 persons, who were then allowed to vote resorting to an “overall consideration” to justify the enrollment

Notwithstanding the intention of the Court to come with a “human rights friendly” definition of Sami in order to accept these applications, according to the authors, the Administrative Court’s rulings demonstrated a lack of understanding of Sami identity and culture. For instance, the Court has understood the membership in the Sami people as an individual perception, whereas its communal structure and common heritage embody Sami way of life. By doing so, the Court took full discretionary powers to itself and nullified the capacity of the Sami Parliament to exercise a key dimension of Sami autonomy and self-determination, in particular in determining who was considered Sami. 

Due to the controversial 2011 decisions by the Supreme Administrative Court, many members of the Sami people have not voted in the 2015 elections or have not applied to be in the electoral roll. This includes one of the authors, who resigned from the electoral roll on 1 October 2015. In contrast, one of the elected candidates was a person who entered the electoral roll through a decision by the Court against the decision of the Sami Parliament. From this, it can be derived that the decisions of the Court corrupted the representative value of the Parliament, affecting their right to effective participation in public affairs. The authors claimed violation by the State party of their rights under articles 1, 25, 26 and 27 of the Covenant.

Admissibility

Accordingly, the Committee considered that, for the purpose of admissibility, the claims of the 22 authors were adequately substantiated and that it was not prevented, under article 1 of the Optional Protocol, from examining the present communication with respect their claims regarding articles 25, 26 and 27 of the Covenant.

In view of the foregoing, the Committee considered that the twenty-two abovementioned authors’ claims under articles 25, 26 and 27 of the Covenant were admissible.

Merits

Having found violations of article 25 read alone and in conjunction with article 27, the Committee did not consider it necessary to examine the authors’ other claims under the Covenant.

In light of the above, the Committee, acting under article 5(4) of the Optional Protocol, is of the view that the facts before it disclosed a violation of article 25, read alone and in conjunction with article 27 of the Covenant.

Recommendations

In accordance with article 2(3)(a) of the Covenant, the State party is under an obligation to provide the authors with an effective remedy.

This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose Covenant rights have been violated.

Accordingly, the State party is obligated, inter alia, to:

  • review Section 3 of the Sami Parliament Act with a view to ensuring that the criteria for eligibility to vote in Sami Parliament elections are defined and applied in a manner that respects the right of the Sami people to exercise their internal self-determination in accordance with articles 25 and 27 of the Covenant,
  • The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.

Separate Opinions

Separate (concurring) opinion by Mr Olivier de Frouville.

Implementation

Deadline for Implementation: May 2019

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Rules of Procedure of the Human Rights Committee CCPR/C/3/Rev.10

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