IWGIA, the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs and INFOE, the Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology and the information center “Indigenous Russia” submitted comments on Russia’s response to the List of Issues of March 29, 2021, for the UN Human Rights Committee within the Convention of Civil and Political Rights. The submission was proposed ahead of the CCPR 134 Session in Geneva (February 28 to March 25, 2022).
Several key issues were enlightened in the submission.
The introduction of the registration system for members of numerically small peoples, which was incorporated into the Act pursuant to Federal Act No. 11-FZ of February 6, 2020, conflicts with the status of indigenous peoples as collective rights-holders under international law principally. With its introduction, Russia appears to move away from the very concept of indigenous peoples as collective rights-holders. De facto, with the introduction of the new system, the State recognizes individuals who approach the State not as rights-holders but as petitioners. With the registration system, it is no longer the indigenous peoples who determine their identity but instead the State who grants or withholds such recognition.
While theoretically, Russian legislation still grants some priority rights over resources to indigenous peoples to maintain their traditional way of life, these rights are heavily curtailed by missing or defective by-laws and by rights-incompatible administrative practice. Thus, the State party continues to violate its obligations vis-à-vis the indigenous peoples.
The “Territories of Traditional Nature Use” system is dysfunctional and weakened further. Since enacting the Federal Law on Territories of Traditional Nature Use13 (No. 49-FZ) in 2001, the government has failed to establish any Territory of Traditional Nature Use (TTNU) with federal status, while the legal situation of TTNU on the local or regional levels is extremely unstable.
Russia arbitrarily closes independent indigenous organizations. Thus the pretext used for the liquidation of the Centre for Support of Indigenous Peoples of the North (CSIPN) in 2019 were minor issues with the Centre’s paperwork, rather than repeated “gross violations” of Russian legislation as it was mentioned in the court decision. Moreover, the decision was made even though the Centre’s lawyers had delivered new documents to the Ministry of Justice resolving said issues. However, the court did not give the organization any time to change its legal papers and instead decided to shut it down.
The State failed to mitigate harm to indigenous communities from a Norilsk diesel spill. On May 29, 2020, a Nornickel power plant failed, releasing 21,000 tons of diesel oil into the local rivers. This spill has been devastating for the region’s inhabitants and is deemed one of the worst environmental disasters in the Arctic since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Eventually, the company conducted an environmental assessment of the local rivers. As a result, it declared that the company’s rescue team had prevented all diesel oil from spilling into the nearby watercourses and that no significant harm had been caused to the water bodies downstream. According to Nornickel, there are thus no barriers to traditional indigenous peoples’ fishing there, while downstream indigenous communities report that since the incident, they are entirely unable to sustain themselves through fishing. Still, the State party has not undertaken sufficient measures to act on its findings.