Sub-Commission on the Promotion and                                                                         13 May 2003

Protection of Human Rights

Fifty-fifth Session

Working Group on Minorities

Ninth Session

Geneva, 12-16 May 2003





Statement by Ms. Elisabeth Nauclér, Head of Administration

The Government of the Åland Islands




Mr. Chairman,


First of all I would like to congratulate Mr Tom Hadden for his excellent contribution to this years session. His paper is a very valuable starting point for the future practice of the Working Group.


I am here as an observer in the Finnish delegation, but as I do have my daily work in the administration of the Åland Government I am continually encountering problems as well as challenges in connexion with discussions about autonomy, and thereby a need for a concept of autonomy as well as the need for further actions on autonomy by the Working Group. To be cautious I would therefore like to say that my ideas may not necessarily coincide with those of the Finnish delegation, but in fact I do believe that we have quite a common ground for our thoughts on this work.


The decision that determined the statehood of the Åland Islands was made here in Geneva by the League of Nations in 1921 and it was decided that the solution should be seen as a case of minority protection. The history of the Åland autonomy is therefore long and cumbersome, but nevertheless one of the best examples of  autonomy as a conflict solving mechanism in an international framework with a sustainable outcome. The interest in the autonomy of the Åland Islands is therefore always on the agenda and attracting the interest of other minority groups. Since I addressed this audience last year we have arranged a seminar in Oslo ( December 2002) with the chairman Mr Asbjörn Eide as one of the speakers. The title of the seminar was "Autonomy a useful tool for peace mediators?" It ended with a question mark, but I think one could conclude by saying yes, and even yes, definitely  in some cases. One of the speakers was Ambassador Erik Solheim from the Norwegian Foreign Ministry engaged in the peace talks in Sri Lanka. As a result of this seminar representatives of the Liberation Army of the Tamil Tigers from Sri Lanka came to visit the Åland Islands this year to see for them selves how an autonomy works in practice, with its shortcomings as well as its successes.


Among other groups having expressed great interest in the Åland autonomy during, and also sent a delegation to the islands during this past year is the autonomous region of Vojvodina in Serbia. An autonomy that was abolished along with the autonomy of Kosovo, but is now being reinstalled. The work on the question of Tansniestria and Gagauzia in Modova that was initiated by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has also been followed up. Just to give you a short overview of the most recent developments.


One could argue that if a society is democratic and all citizens have equal rights there is no need for any special rights or affirmative actions. We all know that this is the optimal solution, and what we all struggle for, but it is unfortunately not the reality. Autonomy is in no way the only way of solving minority conflicts, on the contrary, but it is too important and useful to be left out of a future strategy.


Why are these groups coming to the Åland Islands? Is our autonomy a model for others? The answer is NO. There are no models. The Åland question was and is unique, even if not as unique as some would claim, and the same applies to most autonomy solutions. They all have their own background which is based on historical events, military actions, etc. They have different needs, resources and possibilities. It is not the fact that the conflict was settled by an international organization, but the mechanisms we have worked out over the eight decades that our autonomy has existed that is of interest to others, and that we are ready to share with other minority groups. Ways of negotiating, compromising and solving conflicts, and I can assure you there is a need for it. We do disagree on several issues. A majority always believe that the minority asks for more than what they deserve, and the minority always demands for more than they can get, and they should, because no one else is demanding on there behalf.


Mr Hadden is in his paper stating that there has been a lack of focus on the failure of European practice in respect of the continuing violent conflicts over autonomy and self-determination for some established national minorities in Spain, Corsica and Balkans.  This is of course true. Especially all the failures in the Balkans, starting with the Z-4 plan in Croatia and we have not yet seen the end, as there is not yet a  the final solution to the future of Kosovo. No doubt, this has left us all with some mixed feelings to the autonomy approach. In some parts of the world autonomy is due to recent developments viewed only as a mean to reach independence. In a few cases this is maybe the only, and best outcome of a conflict, but these few cases should not make us believe that autonomy solutions should be out ruled as a conflict solving mechanism in other regions. Autonomy should be looked upon as an alternative to secession, and not as a way to independence. An autonomy can exist and flourish if it is allowed to expand and improve according to some given limits.


I am not here to advocate for autonomy as a general concept for protection of minority rights, but I do strongly believe in the mechanisms for power-sharing that has worked out within the framework of autonomy solutions as a conflict-solving mechanism. I get more and more convinced about this as I in my daily work in the Åland Government encounter an increasing interest for autonomy solutions from the international arena.


Further details on the Åland Islands' autonomy can be read, for instance, in the working paper (E/CN.4/Sub.2/AC.5/2001/WP.5) which is a study prepared by an independent minority rights expert, Dr. Lauri Hannikainen. This working paper was before the Working Group on Minorities at its seventh session in May 2001, and Mr Hadden has made reference to it.  There are many cases where the only solution to a conflict is autonomy in one or another version, hence initiatives should be taken to develop an international concept.


As already stated by the member of the Expert Group, Mr Kartashkin there is a need for different approaches to the question of autonomy in different regions, and during different periods. Some of the elements of the autonomy of the Åland autonomy would probably not have been acceptable  today, but did fly in the 1920th.


The autonomy granted to the Ålanders was intended to be a permanent solution to guarantee the Swedish language and culture of the population, and did never aim at assimilation or integration. In other cases autonomy may be created as a way to integrate. The autonomy solutions are all different, but not as unique as some minorities tend to believe. They do have many common elements, and there is therefore a need for further work on a concept. It is useful to look into the mechanisms already in place and working elsewhere when creating new models.  


Mr Hadden is in his recommendations for the form and content of the proposed regional declaring the need for consultations with representatives and experts from the regions concerned when preparing Guidelines or Codes of Practice. He is furthermore stating that there is a need for discussion and guidance on the potentially controversial issues of self-determination or autonomy and their relationship to territorial integrity. I would like to strongly support the idea of further discussions and guidance. We should not avoid the difficult political questions nor let the failure and short comings of the international society in concerning possible autonomy solutions in other regions. The question of the right of self-determination should be tackled instead of avoided. An unclear or false notion of self-determination has raised many expectations in vain, and such further mistakes should be avoided through clearer clarifications.    


To conclude with I would like to urge the Working Group to continue their efforts to find a way ahead for elaborating useful autonomy solutions to be applied in different circumstances, to answer the difficult questions instead of avoiding them, and to think of useful mechanisms to make them function in practise and last over a longer period of time.



Mr Chairman,


I wish to thank you for your work and encourage you to continue your efforts on the issue of autonomy as well as minority rights within the framework of human rights.


Thank you.


Elisabeth Nauclér