Norway wind farms at heart of Sami protest violate human rights, minister says

Norway wind farms at heart of Sami protest violate human rights, minister says

OSLO (Reuters) -Norway's government apologised on Thursday to Indigenous Sami groups for the construction of wind turbines on reindeer pastures, calling it a "human rights violation", while also urging a solution that still allows power production in the area.

The apology by Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland followed a week of protests by Sami activists, and others including environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg, that led to a growing crisis for the government.

"I have apologised (today) on behalf of the government to the reindeer herding districts for the fact that the permits (to build wind farms) constituted a violation of human rights," Aasland told a news conference.

Norway's supreme court ruled in 2021 that the turbines erected on two wind farms at Fosen in central Norway violated Sami rights under international conventions, but they remain in operation almost 17 months later.

The court did not say what should happen next to the 151 turbines, which can power 100,000 Norwegian homes, or what should happen to the dozens of kilometres of roads built to facilitate the construction.

Sami protesters have blocked the entrance to the oil ministry and other government buildings in the Norwegian capital Oslo over the past week, demanding the removal of the turbines and arguing that a transition to green energy should not come at the expense of Indigenous rights.

Norwegian police detained Thunberg during a demonstration on Wednesday.

Aasland said the government had not ruled out any solutions, but added that he still believed it could be possible to uphold both power production and reindeer husbandry at Fosen.

"I've said my goal is to find solutions that enable the Fosen wind power and reindeer husbandry to coexist, and that's a task I still believe we can succeed with," he said.

His statement followed a meeting with the president of Norway's consultative Sami parliament, Silje Karine Muotka, who had demanded an apology.

"My goal remains to bring to an end the human rights violation and for the damage to be repaired," Muotka told reporters.

She declined to say whether she believed this would require the removal of all turbines and roads.

Owners of the Roan Vind and Fosen Vind farms, including Norwegian utilities Statkraft and TroenderEnergi, as well as Swiss firms Energy Infrastructure Partners and BKW, have said they hope a compromise could be found.

(Reporting by Nora Buli, editing by Terje Solsvik and Susan Fenton)