(CN) – Norway’s highest court has ruled a governmental agency, not residents, has the sole authority to regulate fishing, hunting and natural-resource use in the region of Finnmark, according to a report Friday by the Library of Congress’ global legal monitor.
The dispute stems from the Norwegian government’s creation of the Finnmark Estate Agency in 2006. The government also transferred ownership of public land to the agency, land which the Sami people have inhabited for thousands of years.
At present, the agency owns 95 percent of the land in the Finnmark region. Six people sit on the agency’s board: three chosen by the Norwegian Sami Parliament and three by the Finnmark City Council. All board members must be residents of the region.
The agency is required to guarantee public access to the land and its resources and to be respectful of the land.
But residents argued that because their rights stem from the thousands of years they’ve lived on the land, they should be solely responsible for managing its use – particularly the control of hunting, trapping and fishing.
While a Norwegian land tribunal agreed with the residents, the Norwegian Supreme Court unanimously ruled that just because the residents have immemorial use rights doesn’t mean they’re entitled to regulate how the land is used.
In its March 9 ruling, the high court said the Finnmark Estate Agency must continue to consult with the Sami people regarding their immemorial rights, but nothing in the International Labor Organization Convention Concerning Indigenous and Tribal Peoples confers the right to self-determination or self-regulation in the way the residents proposed.
The Sami people have inhabited Arctic Europe since prehistoric times, with petroglyphs and archeological findings from their settlements dating back to 10,000 B.C. At present, they live in the northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, Finland and a small portion of northwest Russia.
A similar case will be heard by the Swedish Supreme Court later this year.