Indigenous Peoples are not recognized by the Russian legislation as such; however, Article 67 of the current constitution guarantees the rights of “Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples”. The 1999 Federal Act “On Guarantees of the Rights of the Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the Russian Federation” specifies that Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples are groups of less than 50,000 members, perpetuating some aspects of their traditional ways of life. According to this and two other framework laws that were enacted during the late 1990s, Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples have rights to consultation and participation in specific cases.
Indigenous Peoples in Russia
Of the more than 160 peoples inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, 40 are officially recognised as indigenous. While the Russian constitution and national legislation set out the rights of “indigenous minority peoples of the North”, there is no such concept as “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” enshrined in legislation and thus, Indigenous Peoples are not recognised by Russian legislation as such. Russia has a multitude of regional, local, and interregional indigenous organisations, but the national umbrella organisation, RAIPON, operates under tight state control.
Russia has not endorsed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, nor has it ratified ILO Convention 169. The country has inherited its membership of the major UN Covenants and Conventions from the Soviet Union: the ICCPR, ICESCR, ICERD, ICEDAW and ICRC. It also has ratified the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM) of the Council of Europe.
Indigenous Peoples in Russia
Of the more than 160 peoples inhabiting the territory of contemporary Russia, 40 are officially recognised as “Indigenous Minority Peoples” of the “the North, Siberia and the Far East”. The latter together number around 260,000, less than 0.2% of the total Russian population, of which ethnic Russians account for roughly 80%. One more group, the Izhma Komi or Izvatas, is seeking recognition, which continues to be denied, and at least one other, the Kerek, is already extinct. Seven more Indigenous Minority Peoples live in European Russia.
Larger peoples, for example the Tuvans and Yakuts, are not officially considered Indigenous Peoples, and their self-identification varies. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea, several ethnic groups who self-identify as Indigenous have come under Russia’s control: the Crimean Tatars, the Krymchaks and the Karaim; however, Russia has not recognised this self-identification.
Two-thirds of Indigenous Peoples are rural and largely depend on traditional subsistence strategies such as fishing, hunting and reindeer herding, while Russia as a whole, is a highly urbanised country.
Main challenges for Russia’s Indigenous Peoples
Civil society in Russia is affected by continually shrinking civic space. Since 2012, NGOs that receive foreign funding can be officially classified “foreign agents”, leading many of them to close down in order to minimise exposure to legal risks. Many foreign NGOs have been banned as “undesirable organisations”. Russia’s export revenues are largely generated from the sale of fossil fuels and other minerals, often extracted from territories traditionally inhabited or used by Indigenous Peoples. Like many resource-rich countries, Russia is heavily affected by the “resource curse”, fuelling authoritarianism, corruption and bad governance and which, in many ways, impacts negatively on the state of Indigenous Peoples’ human rights and limits opportunities for their effective protection.
Another struggle for Indigenous Peoples in Russia relates to land and natural resource rights. In 2015, an important article in Russia's legislation in regard to this issue was revoked. The articles stipulated that in places of traditional residence and traditional activities of indigenous peoples, local authorities should decide on the “prior determination of locations for the placing of objects” on the basis of the results of meetings or referenda of the indigenous and local communities. This means that local authorities have now lost most of their legal leverage in terms of being able to protect indigenous lands from incursions by business enterprises and other resource users. In 2015 and 2016, this led to a number of cases of violations of Indigenous Peoples’ land tenure.
The law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) from 2001 is the only federal law affording some form of recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ land tenure. However, the federal government has never confirmed any of the several hundred Territories of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) created by regional and local administrations, in cooperation with indigenous communities, despite repeated calls from UN treaty bodies, indigenous organisations and human rights experts to do so. Thus, the regionally- and locally-established TTNU has no guaranteed legal status and can be dismantled at any time.
In relation to this topic, one more regulatory change passed in 2017, making fishing applications for members of Indigenous Peoples much more difficult. The legal principles are that they have the right to fish without special permits, but especially in the Pacific region of Russia, where fishing is big business, special rules and regulations require indigenous peoples to go through a tedious application process first, accept the amount, time and place assigned by the authorities for fishing and accept a number of additional restricts.
Indigenous Peoples are not recognised by Russian legislation as such; however, Art. 67 of the current constitution guarantees the rights of “indigenous minority peoples”, (literally: “indigenous small-numbered peoples”). The 1999 Federal Act “On Guarantees of the Rights of the Indigenous Minority Peoples of the Russian Federation” specifies that Indigenous minority peoples are groups comprising less than 50,000 members who are perpetuating some aspects of their traditional ways of life. According to this and two other framework laws that were enacted during the late Yeltsin era, Indigenous minority peoples have rights to consultation and participation in specific cases. There is, however, no such concept as “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” enshrined in legislation. The last two decades have seen a steady erosion of this legal framework and a heavy re-centralisation of Russia, including the abolition of several Indigenous autonomous territories.
Shifting to electric vehicles (EV) is seen as an important step towards a greener future. However, the process of extracting nickel, a crucial component of EV batteries, very often is not environmental-friendly. The world’s largest producer of nickel, Nornickel, has been destroying the environment and violating Indigenous Peoples’ rights in the Arctic for decades. Indigenous Peoples are now trying to bring the international community’s attention to the problem with the hope of protecting their ancestorial lands.
BY DMITRII HARAKKA-ZAITSEV FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
A century ago, the Izhora people of Russia numbered about 30,000 individuals, but the repression experienced under Stalinism and multiple wars filled this Indigenous community's history with tragedy. Today, they number less than 1000 and mostly live in some 30 villages in an area close to Russia’s border with Estonia, just a couple of hours drive from Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg. Intensive industrial development on their ancestral territory is posing a serious threat to their survival, but the Izhora remain strong thanks to their determination to preserve their traditions and defend their land.
BY ANTI-DISCRIMINATION CENTRE MEMORIAL (ADC) FOR DEBATES INDÍGENAS
In addition to open-pit coal mining, which has had a major impact on Shors, a small-numbered Indigenous group from South Siberia, gold mining companies are also expropriating Indigenous Peoples’ lands where they have led their traditional lifestyles for centuries, polluting the environment, and destroying Indigenous cultural sites. The companies involved in gold mining neither follow Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) processes, nor pay taxes in the municipalities where they operate. Thus gold mining not only puts at risk the very survival of the Shor traditional way of life and livelihoods, but also doesn’t benefit them in any way economically.
Coal mining is destroying the forests of Siberia. Contamination of the taiga and rivers is harming the Shor people, who live from hunting, gathering and fishing. Anyone who stands up to the government and companies in defence of the right to nature suffers threats and harassment.