Two Saami communities have said they will do everything in their power to stop a mining company from exploiting their internationally-protected lands in Northern Sweden.
The Saami communities of Girjas and Laevas recently found out that Kiruna Iron AB, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Australian company Scandinavian Resources Ltd., wants to develop two separate iron mines in the Kalix River Valley at Ruovdenjunnji and Rakkurijokkialong. Both sites are located within the Saami’s nationally-recognized reindeer herding grounds and the European Union’s Natura 2000 ecological network of protected areas.
The two communities have since declared that will not accept mining or exploration on their traditional lands.
“These mines would have catastrophic impacts for both our Saami communities and would completely undermine the possibility for us to continue reindeer herding on our lands. This would also open up our undeveloped mountain areas to international developers, whose only goal is to make money for their international shareholders” said Ingemar Blind, chairman of the Girjas Saami community, in a joint statement issued last month.
“We will do everything we can to stop this short-term plundering of our mountains,” said Tor-Erik Huuva, chairman of the Laevas community. “We also know that other stakeholders in our region are of the same opinion: that an important natural environment will be permanently destroyed.”
Since making their position clear, two well-known Saami organizations–the Saami Council and the National Association of Swedish Sami (Svenska Samernas Riksförbund, SSR)–have rallied in support of the communities.
“Kiruna Iron’s planned exploitation would violate fundamental human rights of the local Saami reindeer herders”, said Mattias Åhrén, Chief Lawyer at the Saami Council. “The communities hold property rights to land under Swedish and international law. In addition, reindeer herding is protected under the right to culture. If necessary, we will bring this matter to relative authorities”, he continues.
The two NGOs have also expressed concern about those who back Kiruna Iron, since they too would be contributing to human rights violations.
As a part of their response, the Saami Council is now in the process of contacting the company’s business partners and investors to “advise them of the high environmental and social risks associated with mining in the Kalix River Valley” .
“[We] have run similar successful campaigns in the past, targeting companies that do not respect Saami rights, by undertaking shareholder and investor dialogues, media campaigns and filing complaints with the domestic governments of foreign companies and international bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee,” the NGOs explain in their own joint statement.
If reason, justice and faith have anything to say about it, they will succeed again.
Tor-Erik Huuva, Laevas community chairman +46 (0)70-251 76 43
Ingemar Blind, Girjas community chairman +46 (0)70-663 31 28
Mattias Åhrén, senior lawyer at the Saami Council email: mattias.ahren(at)saamicouncil.net mobile phone no. +47 47 37 91 61
Support the Saami!
If you would like to show your support for the Saami, send an email to Damian Hicks, Chairman of Scandanavian Resources, dhicks(at)scandinavianresources.com
Dear investors and partners of Kiruna Iron AB (Scandinavian Resources Ltd),
The Saami Council  writes to you as potential or existing partners/investors in Kiruna Iron AB (“Kiruna Iron”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Scandinavian Resources Ltd (ASX:SCR). We would like to respectfully outline our concerns in regards to Kiruna Iron’s proposed mining activities in the Kiruna area, in the far north of Sweden, and highlight the human rights violations associated with the activities.
As part of our work, the Saami Council monitors mining, windpower, forestry and other industrial activities in the Saami areas, seeking to ensure that indigenous rights are respected. We have been contacted by one of our member organisations, SSR – the National Swedish Saami Association – and the Saami reindeer communities of Girjas and Laevas.
The communities have recently expressed their firm opposition over Kiruna Iron’s plans to mine in the Kalix River Valley . The proposed mining activities would destroy the environment and wipe out Girjas and Laevas possibility to pursue their traditional livelihood of reindeer herding, as inherited from their ancestors.
International law affirms that indigenous peoples’ communities hold property rights to areas traditionally used. This position of international law has also been confirmed by Swedish law, most recently by the Supreme Court’s ruling in the so called Nordmaling Case.
Consequently, no industrial activities are allowed in Saami reindeer herding communities’ traditional territories unless an agreement is reached with the relevant community. This property right is protected by the Swedish Constitution, as well as of Article 1 of Additional Protocol 1 to the European Convention on Human Rights, in addition to other international legal instruments such as the UN Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
As mentioned, in this instance, Girjas and Leavas Reindeer herding communities are not interested in negotiating an agreement, as mines in the relevant areas would force them out of their traditional livelihood.
In addition, the right to culture as enshrined e.g. in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 27, as interpreted by the UN Human Rights Committee, establishes that the right to culture prohibits any activity that renders it seriously more difficult for indigenous individuals to continuously pursue their traditional livelihoods, such as reindeer husbandry.
Multiple international guidelines stipulate that investors and partners of resource extraction companies must ensure that they are not complicit in breaching indigenous rights. For instance, companies and investors involved in the Kiruna Iron project risk breaching the Equator Principles (to which all reputable investments banks are now signatories), the OECD Guidelines (which apply to multinational enterprises operating in or from adhering countries) and the UN Global Compact.
The General Policies of the OECD Guidelines underline, for example, that enterprises must contribute to economic, social and environmental progress with a view to achieving sustainable development, and respect the human rights of those affected by their activities consistent with the host government’s international obligations and commitments. The Saami Council respectfully suggests that if Kiruna Iron goes ahead with its plans, the company – and all those partners and financial institutions involved in Kiruna Iron and/or Scandinavian Resources – are in breach of the General Policies of the OECD Guidelines.
Shareholders, and those banks providing guarantees or project financing for controversial projects on indigenous territories, have increasingly found themselves facing sustained NGO campaigns. Protest by indigenous peoples against controversial projects has led to losses of millions of dollars for project proponents, project sponsors and project partners.
These risks are relevant for both investors and partners of Kiruna Iron AB. The Saami Council has run similar successful campaigns in the past, targeting companies that do not respect Saami rights, by undertaking shareholder and investor dialogues, media campaigns and filing complaints with bodies such as the UN Human Rights Committee. We will act in the same manner if the mining plans in the Kiruna area continue.
The Saami Council also wishes to draw your attention to the fact that the principal position of Swedish law, as well as relevant international legal norms, has not been incorporated into Swedish mining legislation. Foreign companies investing and operating in Sweden commonly place a high level of trust in Swedish public authorities and regulatory bodies.
This trust is often misguided. The Swedish mineral law and permitting processes have been heavily criticised by the UN for excluding Saami communities and not respecting indigenous rights, most recently in UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples´ report on the Saami people. In other words, complying with Swedish law is in no way any guarantee for Kiruna Iron, or its investors and partners, that they are not in breach of human rights.
Kiruna Iron plans to apply for planning permission for two mines – one for Ruovdenjunnji/Ekströmsberg and one for Rakkurijokki. The planning permission is the first step towards opening the mines and the environmental impact assessment processes have already begun. The proposed mine site at Ruovdenjunnji, south of the Kalix river, is on the traditional lands of the Girjas saami community and in previously undeveloped mountain areas.
These lands are important autumn grazing lands for the reindeer before they migrate down from the summer pastures in the mountains to the west, and continue down to the winter forest pastures in the east. However, during the last few winters, as the snow conditions further east have made grazing difficult, the reindeer have remained grazing in the Ruovdenjunnji area well into the winter. This means that the Ruovdenjunnji area is of crucial importance to Girjas saami community and their traditional livelihood. There is simply not room for a mine, with associated roads and transports.
The proposed mine at Rakkurijokki also poses an enormous threat to reindeer herding in the Saami community of Laevas. The expansion of LKAB’s mining activities, in combination with new rail lines and roads associated with the town’s relocation, have left Laevas Saami community with a tight bottleneck through which they must carefully herd the migrating reindeer between their small remaining pockets of pasture. It is in this bottleneck, with nationally protected migration routes and crucial grazing lands, which Kiruna Iron now wants to mine. There are no reserve pastures to replace these grazing lands and no mitigation measures that could lessen the impacts: if the mine were to go ahead Laevas’ grazing lands would be cut into two, destroying the Saami community’s reindeer herding forever.
Both proposed mining sites are in nationally recognised reindeer herding zones and within Natura 2000 protected areas.
We hope that we have provided some clarity on the significance of the human rights breaches associated with the proposed mining activities of Kiruna Iron. Should you wish to receive any further information please do not hesitate to contact us.
Telephone: +47 47 37 91 61
Board of Directors
Scandinavian Resources Ltd
1 The Saami Council is a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), representing the Saami people, indigenous to northern Fennoscandinavia and the Kola Peninsula of the Russian Federation. It is an umbrella organisation, whose members are the major representative Saami organisations in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Russian Federation. The Saami Council has represented the Saami people at an international level for 30 years, and has consultative status with the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOC). It is also a permanent participant to the Arctic Council.