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UN experts call for Sweden to scrap iron ore mine

February 10, 2022

Two independent UN human rights experts called on Sweden to scrap a planned iron ore mine. They said the mine would create a significant amount of toxic waste on land used by Sweden's indigenous Sami people.

An aerial view of reindeer herding in Jokkmokk, Sweden, site of a proposed iron ore mine
Sami herders in Jokkmokk, Sweden, site of a proposed iron ore mineImage: Tor Tuorda/TT /Naturfotograferna/picture alliance

Two UN human rights experts called on Sweden to scrap plans for an iron ore mine Thursday.

The independent experts, Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, a special rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, and David Boyd, the special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, asked Sweden's government to withhold a license for the proposed project.

They said the mine would create a significant amount of toxic waste and other contaminants and would cause "irreversible risks" to land used by Sweden's indigenous Sami people.

The British company Beowulf Mining and Swedish subsidiary Jokkmokk Iron Mines AB are seeking permission from the Swedish state to go forward with plans for the iron ore mine.

The Sami have expressed concerns over the proposed mine and said it would disrupt reindeer herding, as well as hunting and fishing, and destroy the land.

Sweden's Sami fight for their rights

Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg joined a protest organized by the Sami people against the proposed mine over the weekend.

"The future of humanity should be prioritized above the short-term profit of a company," Thunberg said in a statement.

Greta Thunberg visits a Sami village in Sweden
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg joined Indigenous activists over the weekend at a protest against the proposed mineImage: Carl-Johan Utsi/TT NEWS AGENCY/picture alliance

What concerns do the UN experts have?

The mine, proposed for the Gallok region, has gone forward without the "free, prior and informed consent" of the indigenous Sami people, the UN's independent experts charged.

The rights experts said the proposed open-pit mine could endanger the lives and livelihoods of Sami people, as well as interrupt the migration of reindeer that the Sami herd for sustenance.

Sweden: Trouble in reindeer land

The experts pointed to a law passed by the Swedish authorities on January 27, which has yet to go into effect but states that the government is required to consult with the Sami people over actions that concern them. 

In a statement, the experts noted: "There has been insufficient assessment and recognition of the environmental damage the mine will cause."

UN rapporteurs work on a voluntary basis with a mandate from the UN-backed Human Rights Council. They do not represent the UN in an official capacity.

Who are the Sami people?

The Sami are indigenous to the Sampi region of a part of Sweden historically known as Lapland.

On thin ice - Rising temperatures in Lapland

An estimated 20,000 to 40,000 Sami people live in Sweden, of an approximate total of 100,000 Sami residing in Sweden and in the vast Arctic wilderness of northern Finland, Norway and the Kola peninsula in Russia.

Their lifestyle is at risk because of industrial mining and forestry, which encroach on their grazing lands.

For much of the 20th century, the Sami people were targeted by state policies that treated their culture as inferior.

In recent years, the governments of Finland, Norway and Sweden — but not Russia — have moved to atone for a brutal past by returning artifacts stolen from the Sami people and stepping up efforts to examine past policies against them.

The Sami people maintain that their rights go unrecognized and their lands remain vulnerable to exploitation as governments court foreign mining companies.

ar/sms (AFP, AP)

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