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The Troublesome Question of Land Rights: Norway and the ILO Conventions on Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Anne Julie Semb
Universitetet i Oslo
Hanne Hagtvedt Vik
Universitetet i Oslo
Anne Julie Semb
Universitetet i Oslo
Open Panel

Abstract

Norwegian politicians have long entertained an image of Norway as a particularly peace-loving country, including taking a pioneering role in developing and promoting international human rights instruments since the 1960s. With the decision to construct a hydro-electric power dam in the river Alta-Kautokeino in the early 1980s, however, this image was temporarily disturbed. Strongly opposed by Sami representatives, the national political establishment found itself appearing as human rights’ violators rather than human rights champions. The Alta episode became a watershed in Norway’s national and international politics on indigenous peoples’ rights. From being among the non-ratifyers of the 1957 ILO convention on indigenous peoples’ rights, Norway from 1986 to 1989 contributed actively to revising the convention and was the first country to ratify it. The problem of land rights, however, had been and continued to be the most problematic issue for Norway’s participation in the international indigenous peoples’ rights regime. Based on interviews and internal confidential government documents, this paper explores how the question of land rights was perceived and acted upon by different participants in the political process that led to the adoption and ratification of ILO Convention 169 (1989). It also explore how, if at all, Government or Parliament members when ratifying the convention, understood its potential future impact upon ongoing national political struggles over the use and ownership of land in the traditional areas of the Sami population.