Länsman et al v Finland, Communication No. 511/1992, UN GAOR, 52nd Session, UN Doc. CCPR / C / 52D / 511 / 1992, opinion approved the 8 November 1994

Indigenous herdsmen claimed stone quarrying interfered with traditional livelihoods and therefore cultural rights; Committee found that right to culture contains some limit on development activities that States Parties have no margin of discretion in development activities; but mining not significant in this case enough to breach right; importance of consultation in development.

Date of the Ruling: 
Feb 13 2013
United Nations Human Rights Committee
Type of Forum: 

A permit was granted by the Central Forestry Board to a private company to quarry stone from the Etela-Riutusvaara mountain. Indigenous members of the Muotkatunturi Herdsmen's Committee asserted that the quarrying of the stone and its transportation through their reindeer herding territory would violate their right to enjoy their culture under Article 27 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).  

The Committee confirmed its previous interpretation that economic activities (or means of livelihood) come within the ambit of Article 27 if they are an essential element of the minority's culture. They noted that such traditional means may evolve over time with modern technology. State Party's had no margin of discretion in the choice of its development activities; a State's freedom to pursue economic development is limited by its obligations under article 27.

The Committee concluded that since the quarrying was limited to a small area it did not ‘substantially' infringe the Herdsmen's rights. Instead, it warned that any future approval of large scale mining activities in the area used for reindeer herding may constitute a violation of a minority's right to enjoy culture. The Committee emphasised the importance of consultation before undertaking the activity, although it did not indicate whether this required the minority's consent.

Keywords: Länsman et al v Finland, Communication No. 511/1992, UN GAOR, 52nd Session, UN Doc. CCPR / C / 52D / 511 / 1992, opinion approved the 8 November 1994, Poverty

Enforcement of the Decision and Outcomes: 

This case is one of a number brought by Sami Indigenous people to the Committee concerning permits granted by government ministries to companies to develop on ancestral lands: e.g., Jouni E. Länsman v Finland, No. 671/1995. Finland's Supreme Court has subsequently quashed at least 109 agreements made by the Ministry of Trade and Commerce on the basis of cultural rights. However, political progress has been slow and, in 1998, the Human Rights Committee noted in concluding observations that “the proposed Sami Act, by which forests within the Sami homeland would be turned into commons owned by the Sami villages, has not passed the Parliament and that the issue of land rights of the Sami have not been resolved.” In 2005, a case was filed with the Human Rights Committee by Sami alleging significant harm in one herding area.

Groups involved in the case: 

Advocate: Martin Scheinin Director of the Institute of Human Rights Abo Akademi University Department of Law FIN -20500 Turku/Abo Finland Fax: (358 -2) 215 –4699 Email: maschein@abo.fi

Significance of the Case: 

The case is significant in establishing that the right of minorities to culture protects traditional economic livelihoods, that there is a right to consultation before development activities proceed and that no significant harm to culture can be caused by such activities.