Russia stomps on human rights of its Arctic indigenous citizens: report

Russian indigenous org submits critical report to UN Human Rights Council


Women walk down the snowy streets of Uelen in Russia's Arctic. (FILE PHOTO)

Women walk down the snowy streets of Uelen in Russia’s Arctic. (FILE PHOTO)

RAIPON, the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, which was shut down last month by the Russian ministry of Justice and unable to attend a recent Arctic Council meeting, is fighting back.

In collaboration with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, which supports indigenous peoples’ organizations globally, and the Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology in Germany, RAIPON has filed a critical report with the United Nations’ Human Rights Council.

In it, they say Russia has failed to live up to its own “voluntary pledges” to improve conditions for indigenous residents of its Arctic region in such key areas such as land rights, the rights to self-determination, food, education, health and work.

The report, which shows the plight indigenous peoples in northern Russia, says:

• in most regions, indigenous communities have no guaranteed and sustainable access to their traditional territories and resources;

• indigenous communities can’t stop encroachment by resource developers and have no guarantee of adequate compensation for damages suffered as a result;”

• many traditional fishing grounds have been re-classified as industrial fishing grounds and leased out;

• environmental impact assessment hearings on resource development projects are “often poorly publicized, held in places inaccessible to the indigenous communities affected and held in such a way that the information provided is incomplete and objections are not duly registered;” and,

• “no sufficient action has been taken” to ensure that damage to indigenous peoples’ territories and livelihoods caused by resource development is adequately compensated for, citing Norilsk Nickel whose mining activities have had “a devastating effect” by destroying stretches of reindeer pasture as well as many sacred sites, “Norilsk Nickel’s contribution to the socio-economic development of the indigenous population is virtually non-existent.”

Statistics on the plight on Russia’s indigenous Arctic peoples are hard to come by because no official ethnic statistics are kept, the report says.

But that available data that it cites shows the indigenous peoples of the Russia’s North have remained “one of the most disadvantaged population groups within Russia” and that “their level of well-being remains significantly below the national average:”

• unemployment is up to two to four times above the Russian average;

• incomes of indigenous peoples are two to three times lower than the Russian national average;

• “extremely high mortality rates among adults,” with 36 per cent of northern indigenous peoples dying prematurely from unnatural causes, more than double the national average;

• high rates of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis which is almost three times the national average; and,

• increases in the rate of alcoholism has increased by 20 times over the past 10 years, “mostly due to increased alcohol consumption among women and children.”

“This increase is attributed to an uncontrolled flow of alcohol into the regions inhabited by indigenous peoples and to the lack of opportunities, as indigenous peoples have neither sufficient rights to land and resources to pursue their traditional occupations nor do they have access to the regular labour market,” the report says.

Indigenous children are an “especially vulnerable subgroup within the indigenous peoples of the North,” it says.

That’s because Russia has continued a policy of school closures in indigenous settlements, “forcing parents to send their children to distant boarding schools, threatening family bonds, intergenerational transfers of culture, knowledge, language and skills.

The report, which can be consulted here, also contains recommendations about how Russia can improve its treatment of northern indigenous residents and a call for Russia to change its position on RAIPON.

The move to shut down RAIPON has been widely by Canada, Greenland, Norway and other members of the Arctic Council where RAIPON sits as a permanent participant.

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