UN advisers urge Sweden to stop a proposed mine planned in a Sámi herding area

UN human rights specialists said the mine would threaten local ecosystems and endanger Sámi traditions and livelihoods.

By Johan Ahlander, Reuters - February 10, 2022
A northwest facing view shows Jokkmokk, Sweden, near the site of the proposed Kalak (Gallok) iron mine. (Bengt Oberger / CC BY-SA 3.0 vis Wikimedia Commons)

STOCKHOLM — United Nations human rights experts on Thursday urged Sweden not to award a license for an iron-ore mine in the Gallok region in Northern Sweden, home of the Indigenous Sámi people, saying the open-pit mine would endanger the protected ecosystem and reindeer migration.

British company Beowulf Mining has sought a license for an iron ore mine and the Swedish government will announce its decision in coming months. The Indigenous Sámi are opposed the mine and they have backing from environmental groups and climate change activist Greta Thunberg.

José Francisco Cali Tzay and David R. Boyd, special rapporteurs who form part of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s independent investigative and monitoring mechanisms, said an open-pit mine would generate large amounts of dust containing heavy metals, and the deposit of toxic waste in ponds would impact the environment and water sources.

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“We are very concerned by the lack of good-faith consultations and the failure to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the Sami, and over the significant and irreversible risks that the Gallok project poses to Sami lands, resources, culture and livelihoods,” they said in a statement.

An estimated 80,000 Sami live in the northern lands of Sweden, Finland, Norway and Russia, where reindeer herding has been the cornerstone of their culture and livelihood.

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Beowulf Chief Executive Kurt Budge said this week that “the future conditions for mining and reindeer husbandry to coexist at Kallak (Gallok) are possible,” adding lessons could be learned from local Sámi and the many examples across Sweden where coexistence is a reality.

“The company is committed to doing all it can to achieve this, through preventative and precautionary action and compensation deemed necessary.”

The Swedish government could not immediately be reached for comment.