Exiled Siberian Shor indigenous representative Yana Tannagasheva had just finished reading a statement on Monday about human rights violations in her homeland when she was subjected to aggressive behavior by a representative of the Russian Mission to the UN in Geneva. The Russian diplomat’s open hostility, in the midst of the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ signature event, prompted a strong reaction from the other participants, who circled a weeping Yana, acting as a human shield.
Multiple witnesses to the scene agree that the incident is without precedent at the UN. One told us: “This goes to show that Russia is no longer concerned by its public image. Even the most basic codes of communication in what is supposed to be a safe space for discussion are no longer respected.”
Kenneth Deer, the world-famous Mohawk Nation spokesman, was up next. Instead of reading his prepared statement, Deer improvised a heartfelt speech in support of Yana Tannagasheva: “We are truly upset by the behavior of a state representative to intimidate indigenous peoples who have every right to be here and speak truth to power. If that individual was an NGO, we would have had his badge pulled. […] We ask that the Bureau take action, so that this does not happen again.” A standing ovation ensued.
INCREASING PRESSURE ON INDIGENOUS GROUPS IN RUSSIA
The July 4 incident is an illustration of the increasing pressure that Russia is putting on its more than 160 ethnic minorities. Yana, currently a refugee in Sweden, fears for her life, as well as the wellbeing of her loved ones. She told The G|O that indigenous peoples in Russia have become a target since the beginning of the war: “Any form of criticism against the government is being crushed,” she told us. “Before I made the trip to Geneva, my husband was very worried about my participation in the Geneva meeting. I have been vocal in criticizing the coal mines that are destroying my region in many international forums. There is a lot of money at stake in these operations and I’ve made some powerful people angry.”
Christoph Wiedmer, co-director of the Society for Threatened Peoples, says that communication with indigenous minorities has become impossible. “I was extremely shocked by what happened here at the UN, on Monday. There has been increasing intimidation from the Russian government on indigenous peoples, but I would not have expected them to make them so public. Russia has just crossed an unprecedented line.”
He adds, “By such actions, the Russian government is trying to frighten civil society activists who contribute to human rights causes on [the] international level. Many of the indigenous people in Russia are extremely scared. An already tense climate has worsened significantly. We wonder if this is just an intimidation, or if this is the first step to an actual attack?”
The Russian Mission to the UN declined The Geneva Observer’s request for comment.