In the middle of the times of climate change we are still witnessing that human activities are damaging and degrading the lands of the earth in an unsustainable fashion. According to the UN climate reports, most of the nature remaining is on Indigenous Peoples traditional areas where they have been living in immemorial times. These lands are now being destroyed, polluted and taken away from them, bit by bit.
Due to this ever-increasing pressure to seize the Indigenous Peoples areas for industrial activities, lawyer Ragnhild Marit Sara took in 2022, the initiative to create the Indigenous Rights Fund with the aim of promoting the rule of law for Indigenous Peoples, as well as contributing to legal development within Indigenous Peoples rights and environmental justice in general.
In Norway where Sara is from, she is concerned about what she characterizes a fundamental rule of law issue. That the Indigenous Sami reindeer herders have no affordable access to legal advice about their own rights in these cases, and far away in their own language. Nor is access to justice secured through financial resources, which would make it possible to engage the lawyers and have the many land encroachment cases reviewed in the courts. Despite this, the land encroachments in the Indigenous Peoples areas are urged by the State, which at the same time is the one responsible both for ensuring the rule of law and for complying with the Indigenous Peoples Rights and Human Rights, that are in high risk of being violated.
What makes it even more worrying for her is that it has recently been shown that there are gross legal misjudgments on the part of decision-makers in these cases. Reference is made to the Norwegian Supreme Court judgement from 2021 in the Fosen-case, which shows that all administrative bodies through all instances completely overlooked violations of the Human Rights of reindeer herders (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). It is unbearable that the individual Sami reindeer herders, time and time again, have to bear the burden of taking every case all the way to the Supreme Court in order to gain recognition for their Human Rights in Norway. The same, however, often applies in most other countries where there exists Indigenous Peoples.
The Indigenous Rights Fund has therefore been founded to provide legal assistance especially in the land encroachment cases. We will also work on collecting funds to provide free of charge litigations in matters of principle. This will be the first legal aid body of its kind in Europe, but a similar organization has since the 1970s existed for Indigenous Peoples in the US.
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