28. Sweden: Alleged proposed relocation of the Kiruna Town and its potential effects on the traditional reindeer herding activities and way of life of indigenous Saami communities in the area

By | 15 September, 2010

Cases examined by the Special Rapporteur (June 2009 – July 2010)

A/HRC/15/37/Add.1, 15 September 2010
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XXVIII. Sweden: Alleged proposed relocation of the Kiruna Town and its potential effects on the traditional reindeer herding activities and way of life of indigenous Saami communities in the area

379. In a letter dated 10 December 2008, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya, called the attention of the Government of Sweden to the alleged relocation of the Kiruna Town due to a mining project which would reportedly have negative effects on the Saami people that live and herd reindeer in the area.

380. The Special Rapporteur included the contents of his 10 December 2009 letter in his 2009 report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/12/34.Add.1, paras. 399-402), but he mistakenly noted that no response from the Government had been received. The Government of Sweden had in fact responded to the Special Rapporteur’s communication by a letter dated 17 March 2009, but that had not been reflected in the files of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Special Rapporteur was not permitted to issue a corrigendum to his report. Therefore, the response of Sweden is included here.

Summary of allegations received by the Special Rapporteur and transmitted to the Government on 10 December 2008

381. As noted, the contents of the Special Rapporteur’s communication of 29 January 2010 transmitting allegations to the Government about Kiruna town were included in his 2009 report to the Council. For ease of reference, a brief summary of the allegations transmitted are included here.

382. In summary, according to information received, the mining company LKAB, in which the Government of Sweden has substantial ownership, has plans to relocate about half of the population and infrastructure of Kiruna Town, which has a population of about 30,000, in order to accommodate the expansion of an already existing iron ore mine into areas beneath the town. The information indicates that Kiruna Town is situated in the middle of an area where a number of Saami reindeer herding communities have grazing lands and vital moving paths. At this point, the effects of the proposed mega-project on traditional reindeer herding activities are unknown; it is expected that the effects of the relocation activities on the Saami way of life will depend on how that relocation is eventually carried out.

383. It is alleged that nearly all members of the affected Saami communities have been unable to participate in the consultations and negotiations held by LKAB in relation to the removal, because they must to tend to the daily needs of their reindeer herding businesses. Nevertheless, affected Saami communities have made efforts to participate in the consultation process to ensure that their concerns are addressed in the plans being developed, already spending large sums of money to do so. Allegedly, however, the Saami do not have the financial resources to ensure their continued participation throughout the duration of the consultation process. It is alleged that, despite numerous requests by the Saami, neither the Government of Sweden nor the LKAB has made efforts to provide resources to the Saami to ensure their participation in the consultation process. However, concern is expressed that if the affected Saami communities are denied participation in the consultations, the reallocation will take place in such a manner that invaluable reindeer grazing land will be lost.

Response from the Government of 18 March 2009

384. The Government of Sweden responded to the above information and allegations in a letter of 18 March 2009. The following is a summary of the Government’s response:

a) The relocation of the town of Kiruna involves moving buildings and infrastructure. The rock fractures from mining operations are spreading east in the direction of the town and will successively reach the railway, buildings, roads and sewer lines, etc. However, the term urban regeneration is a better description than town relocation of what is going to happen in Kiruna in the years to come. The urban regeneration will take place gradually over a period of some 30 years. According to the plans, in 2012 the railway will need a new route. Up until 2033 it is estimated that a total of around 3000 people will have to be re-housed in areas outside of the fracture zones.

b) There are two Sami communities, Gabna and Laevas, in the immediate vicinity of Kiruna. They make use of trails in the terrain outside the town for the migration of their reindeer to summer and winter grazing.

c) A common principle throughout all Swedish legislation is that opposing interests have to be taken into account in examining permit applications for projects of different kinds. Swedish legislation specifies reindeer herding among the opposing interests. Authorities considering a matter have to take opposing interests into account on their own authority. Moreover, in the examination of permit applications for infrastructure projects, all private parties, both legal and physical persons, affected by the project are entitled to state their opinion in the matter.

d) This particular project affects the two Sami communities mentioned in your letter. Under Swedish law these two Sami communities are thus entitled to state their opinion in the matter. The two Sami communities have indeed participated to a considerable extent in the examination of the present project. Therefore the Swedish Government does not share the view communicated in your letter that the Sami have been refused the right to consultation.

e) The participation of Gabna and Laevas Sami Communities in the consultation process has been much appreciated. This applies, for example, to work on the study of how reindeer herding will be affected by the changes and the analysis of the cumulative effects on reindeer herding. This study is an important document in the development work and has been funded by the companies and authorities concerned. The impact assessment in the study for reindeer herding has been performed in close cooperation between Gabna and Laevas Sami Communities, the Swedish Rail Administration, Kiruna Municipality, LKAB, Vattenfall AB and the Swedish Road Administration.

f) This cooperation has been conducted with openness and sensitivity by all the parties, contributing to the endorsement of the impact assessment by all the parties. The fact that the Sami communities are being given the opportunity to participate effectively in the consultation processes is of great importance. It is the Government’s view that this has taken place in a satisfactory manner in this case. The Government also has a working group charged with producing a unified Sami policy. The working group’s remit includes a review of the consultation procedure.

g) In the matter of consultation under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Swedish Government wishes to point out that, according to the Swedish explanation of vote when the Declaration was adopted, Sweden interprets “free and informed consent” as a guarantee of consultations but not as a right of veto.

h) Swedish legislation does not, however, contain any regulations providing that individuals stating opinions or participating in any other way in the examination of permit applications for infrastructure projects are entitled to do so at state expense.

i) The Swedish Government declared, in connection with the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, that the legislation regulating the obligations and rights of Sami and the non-Sami population in the areas affected meets the requirements set up in the Declaration.

j) The Swedish Government thus takes the view that the procedure being applied in the present case meets the requirements according to both Swedish law and Sweden’s commitments under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Observations of the Special Rapporteur

385. The Special Rapporteur thanks the Government of Sweden for its response to the communication of 10 December 2008. He is currently developing a report on the situation of the Saami people following his visit to Sápmi (the traditional Saami territory). The report will address issues relevant to this case, including with respect to the rights of Saami people to consultation and to lands and resources. His report will be presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2011 and will be made public sometime before then.