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UNPFII Panel on Russia Roundup - WRH and UNEP Comments, Download Statements
Written by Philip Burgess   
Wednesday, 23 May 2012 20:00
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Forum Concludes First Week with Discussion on Indigenous Peoples in Central, Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia

Speakers Call for Improved Socio-economic Conditions for Indigenous, Steps To Help Them Adapt to Climate Change, Control of Corporate Expansion on Lands

 The Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues this session put its spotlight on the native peoples and cultures of Central and Eastern Europe, Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia, with civil society groups and Forum experts urging firm steps from the region’s Governments to improve the socio-economic conditions of the indigenous peoples, help them adapt to climate change and to reign in corporate-driven globalization.


During a special half-day dialogue, Permanent Forum experts from the Russian Federation cited the vast region’s ethnic and cultural diversity, and lamented that its fragile natural ecosystems — along with the reindeer herding and other traditional livelihoods they supported — could be ruined by a combination of indifference, legislative gaps and unchecked industrial expansion. While the Russian Federation and Ukraine had pledged to support indigenous peoples, they still found their lands, languages and cultural heritage under serious threat.


“For all the importance of international cooperation, it is important to acknowledge that States have the ultimate responsibility for addressing the situation of indigenous peoples,” said Andrey Nikiforov, who joined fellow Permanent Forum expert Ana Nikanchina in noting that, while countries of the region were substantially developed, the indigenous peoples faced socio-economic challenges and their rights under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were often disregarded. Today’s discussion should raise awareness about such challenges and highlight ways they could become more involved in local decision-making on issues that affected their rights and cultures, she said.


Dialogue on the Indigenous Peoples of Central and Eastern Europe

ANNA NAIKANCHINA, Permanent Forum member from the Russian Federation, said Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian Federation, Central Asia and Transcaucasia were among the world’s most ethnically diverse. They were substantially developed, but the indigenous peoples living there continued to face socio-economic challenges and their rights under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were disregarded. Moreover, across all the areas, life expectancy was low, and in some of the specific regions, traditional languages were under serious threat and land use was routinely restricted.


One of the main drivers of those challenges was the fact that the people of those regions did not have access to mechanisms that would ensure the protection of their rights. Today’s panel discussion aimed to raise awareness about the challenges the peoples of those regions faced, including through discussing ways those people could become more involved in local politics and in decision-making on issues that involved the protection and promotion of their rights. She said that there was also great potential for indigenous peoples to cooperate with corporations wishing to develop their lands. It was absolutely necessary to ensure, however, that they had access to education and basic services.


ANDREY NIKIFOROV, Permanent Forum member from the Russian Federation, said that indigenous issues were gaining more prominence, with international structures and mechanisms in place that would help them become more aware of their rights, so that they could be protected and promoted. Discussions like the one the Permanent Forum was holding today should be a platform for dialogue between States and indigenous peoples, “not a platform for criticism”.


He hoped that diverse country situations would be discussed and he expected that customary questions would arise, such as “who are indigenous peoples?” and “what is their status?” Overall, he expected that it would become clear that there was no single solution to the challenges faced by indigenous peoples. What was generally needed was a long-term strategy and targeted measures to support those people. In the Russian Federation, for example, measures were being discussed towards building broad support structures. Yet, for all the importance of international cooperation, it was important to acknowledge that States bore the ultimate responsibility for addressing the situation of indigenous peoples.


MAXIM TRAVNIKOV, Deputy Minister of Regional Development of the Russian Federation, said that of the indigenous peoples in the Russian Federation, 40 groups lived in the far north of the country, where there were severe climatic conditions. Addressing the interests of indigenous peoples was the subject of the fundamental work of the Government at the central level, as well as many groups representing the interests of minority peoples. Following the 2010 census, it was found that the number of Russia’s indigenous minorities had increased to 316,000 people. The increase had not been the same for all indigenous peoples.


The main thrust of the Government’s policy was to maintain a complex balance by strengthening social protection for the indigenous peoples by ensuring that they had all the rights and services enjoyed by all Russians while not interfering with the ways of life they had acquired from their ancestors, he continued. The Russian Federation had produced a document that informed its policy. That document, developed by the federal authorities in cooperation with regional and local authorities, established clear criteria for dealing with indigenous peoples. The main thrust of the Government was to improve the system of health care and medicine, in order to improve health and reduce mortality, and to enhance access to education, including the development of languages. Today, the Russian Federation had 277 dialects and 39 languages being studied in schools, including 17 indigenous peoples’ languages.


Another thrust of the Government was enhancing job opportunities among indigenous peoples. The aim was to make the people competitive, so that they could find their niches within the economy. The Government believed that special cultural rights existed for indigenous people wherever they lived, including language training in schools and economic rights directly linked to the indigenous way of life.


RODION SULYANDZIGA, of the Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East of the Russian Federation (RAIPON), said that in the Russian Federation in the last 10 years, none of the problems of the indigenous peoples had been resolved. Instead, the situation remained extremely unsatisfactory, in many regards. The configuration of the world was changing and there were plans for Siberia, the Arctic and the Northern oceans that would affect the lives of the indigenous peoples and their way of life. Addressing the problems of indigenous peoples, therefore, called for real action, and not just public proclamations. There needed to be real improvements on the ground through State policies for indigenous peoples on the ground.


Concerning the latest census in the Russian Federation, at least one indigenous people had disappeared and another was down to three people, he continued. The increase in the numbers of indigenous peoples had only been seen in seven areas. That was a negative indicator of how things were for indigenous peoples. In the Russian Federation, the Constitution provided guarantees in line with international law, but those were only decorative. The national committee facts were only on paper and were not being implemented. The traditional lands of the indigenous peoples were up for auction and they had lost the right to be recognised by Government, as the federal authority had moved away from certain rights.


MIKHAIL POGODAEV, Association of World Reindeer Herders, said his group represented herders living in nine countries. Recalling his statement from earlier in the week, when the Permanent Forum had considered the impact of the Discovery Doctrine on indigenous people and their livelihoods, he said reindeer herding communities continued to struggle in the face of land use change, climate change and globalization. As reindeer herding was largely based in Arctic countries — which were both rich in raw materials and biodiversity and seriously impacted by climate change — it was necessary for stakeholders to understand how such issues affected the daily lives of the herders.


For instance, he said that intensive industrial development and expansion in Scandinavia had seriously reduced the land area of reindeer pastures there. “We need to proceed with great caution and seek to identify solutions that do not do more harm,” he said, calling for holistic measures to address specific challenges in Scandinavia, as well as in the Russian Federation. Indeed, industrial development in traditional reindeer herding areas in the Russian Federation had sparked a broad dialogue on finding opportunities for herders to benefit from such projects. All such efforts should be based on the free prior and informed consent of indigenous communities.


At the same time, he noted that the Russian Federation had not yet reformed its land use laws and had not implemented legislation for reparations. Therefore, as things stood now, traditional herders were forced to pay to use land they had lived and worked for centuries, “something that many people see as unacceptable and immoral.” He encouraged the Russian Federation to develop a federal law on reindeer herding, which set out mechanisms for protecting pastures and provided socio-economic development programmes for herders. More broadly, he called for strengthening indigenous peoples’ capacities, and improving indigenous education systems, especially for young people. Such systems should incorporate both science-based and indigenous learning, so herder communities could be more self-sustaining.


KATHERINE I. JOHNSEN, Senior Expert, Indigenous and Community Issues, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), provided information on that agencies engagement with reindeer herders in the Russian Federation and Mongolia. Working with the Association of World Reindeer Herders, the International Centre for Reindeer Husbandry, and local herders, UNEP had developed an initiative called “Nomadic Herders”, a partnership-based project in line with the Permanent Forum’s recommendations. The participants had the shared goal of securing healthy and well-functioning ecosystems to protect the biodiversity and ensure the basis for indigenous livelihoods, and the ability for the communities to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.


Providing specific details about Nomadic Herders, she said the project had kicked off in Mongolia in late 2010 with a request from that country’s Ministry of Nature, Environment and Tourism to engage further with local reindeer herders, the Dukha, to asses and increase awareness on Mongolian reindeer husbandry, its challenges and opportunities. Subsequently, in June 2011, UNEP and the Reindeer Herders Association had facilitated a community-based workshop and field visits to the Tsagaannuur reindeer herding district to meet Dukha herders and to discuss with them ways to jointly address their concerns.


She went on to outline some of the recommendations that had emerged from a report based on those discussions, including on the need to establish community monitoring of the changes in land use, industrial development and other social and economic changes affecting reindeer herding and taiga (boreal forest) ecosystems. Other recommendations called for training the Dukha in recording their own terminology and knowledge related to reindeer husbandry, migration practices and land use, and developing adaptation strategies based on traditional knowledge

WRH Statement on Item 3, UNPFII 2012. “Study on the impacts of land use change and climate change on indigenous reindeer herders’ livelihoods and land management, including culturally adjusted criteria for indigenous land uses” (In English)

WRH Statement on Item 8, UNPFII May 11, 2012 на русском языке

Sources include : UNPFII Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues

Eleventh Session

8th Meeting (AM)

Anna Naykanchina, Dukha, Kathrine Johnsen, Loss of pastures, Mikhail Pogodaev, Mongolia, New York, UN, UNEP, UNPFII
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