Norway Supreme Court rules for Sámi reindeer herders in wind power case
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Norway Supreme Court rules for Sámi reindeer herders in wind power case

The Supreme Court of Norway unanimously ruled Monday that the license for a Storheia and Roan wind power plant is invalid. The court determined that Sámi reindeer herders on the Fosen peninsula have a right to enjoy their own culture under Article 27 of the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and that construction of the Storheia and Roan’s plant would violate that right.

According to the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry (ICR), the Sámi have resided in present-day Norway and have herded reindeer for thousands of years. Under Norwegian law, only those of Sámi descent who have a family history of reindeer herding as a primary occupation may mark and herd reindeer. The Sámi also travel freely between Sweden, Norway, and Finland with their migrating herds. The ICR considers reindeer husbandry “the corner stone of Sámi culture.”

The ICCPR provides that “persons belonging to an ethnic, religious or linguistic minority shall not be denied the right…to enjoy their own culture.” The Court noted that green energy is an essential endeavor, and Norwegians have a right to a “good and healthy environment.” However, they also said that there are “other – and for the reindeer herders less intrusive – development alternatives” available to increase renewable energy in the area. Consequently, the  Sámi’s right to practice their culture does not interfere with Norwegian’s general right to environmental protection. 

Because the wind power development would “have a significant adverse effect” on the practice of herding on the Fosen peninsula, the Supreme Court ruled that the license would violate the ICCPR unless substantial remedies were implemented. However, considering that “such a solution is burdened with so much uncertainty,” the Court ultimately opted to invalidate the license.

The entire judgment is currently available only in Norwegian but is expected to be translated soon.