Sami Culture - Sami Policy - Russia

Russia

Russia has not adopted the ILO Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, C169. The inhabitants of the Kola tundra were forcibly relocated to kolkhoz'es (collective communities) by the state; most Saami are in one kolkhoz at Lujávri (Lovozero).

The 1822 Statute of Administration of Non-Russians in Siberia asserted state ownership over all the land in Siberia and then "granted" possessory rights to the natives. Governance of indigenous groups, and especially collection of taxes from them, necessitated protection of indigenous peoples against exploitation by traders and settlers.

The 1993 Constitution, Article 69 states, "The Russian Federation guarantees the rights of small indigenous peoples in accordance with the generally accepted principles and standards of international law and international treaties of the Russian Federation." For the first time in Russia, the rights of indigenous minorities were established in the 1993 Constitution.

The Russian Federation ratified the 1966 U.N. Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Section 2 explicitly forbids depriving a people of "its own means of subsistence." The Russian parliament (Duma) has adopted partial measures to implement it.

The Russian Federation lists distinct indigenous peoples as having special rights and protections under the Constitution and federal laws and decrees. These rights are linked to the category known since Soviet times as the malochislennye narody ("small-numbered peoples"), a term that is often translated as "indigenous minorities", which include Arctic peoples such as the Sami, Nenets, Evenki, and Chukchi.

In April 1999, the Russian Duma passed a law that guarantees socio-economic and cultural development to all indigenous minorities, protecting traditional living places and acknowledging some form of limited ownership of territories that have traditionally been used for hunting, herding, fishing, and gathering activities. The law, however, does not anticipate the transfer of title in fee simply to indigenous minorities. The law does not recognize development rights, some proprietary rights including compensation for damage to the property, and limited exclusionary rights. It is not clear, however, whether protection of nature in the traditional places of inhabitation implies a right to exclude conflicting uses that are destructive to nature or whether they have the right to veto development.

The Russian Federation's Land Code reinforces the rights of numerically small peoples ("indigenous minorities") to use places they inhabit and to continue traditional economic activities without being charged rent. Such lands cannot be allocated for unrelated activities (which might include oil, gas, and mineral development or tourism) without the consent of the indigenous peoples. Furthermore, indigenous minorities and ethnic groups are allowed to use environmentally protected lands and lands set aside as nature preserves to engage in their traditional modes of land use.

Regional law, Code of the Murmansk Oblast, calls on the organs of state power of the oblast to facilitate the native peoples of the Kola North, specifically naming the Sami, "in realization of their rights for preservation and development of their native language, national culture, traditions and customs." The third section of Article 21 states: "In historically established areas of habitation, Sami enjoy the rights for traditional use of nature and activities."

Throughout the Russian North, indigenous and local people are being denied rights to fish, hunt, use pastureland, or exercise control over resources upon which they and their ancestors have depended for centuries. The failure to protect indigenous ways, however, stems not from inadequacy of the written law, but rather from the failure to implement existing laws. Unfortunately, violations of the rights of indigenous peoples continue, and oil, gas, and mineral development and other activities (mining, timber cutting, commercial fishing, and tourism) that bring foreign currency into the Russian economy prevail over the rule of law.

The life ways and economy of indigenous peoples of the Russian North are based upon reindeer herding, fishing, terrestrial and sea mammal hunting, and trapping. Many groups in the Russian Arctic are semi-nomadic, moving seasonally to different hunting and fishing camps. These groups depend upon different types of environment at differing times of the year, rather than upon exploiting a single commodity to exhaustion. Throughout northwestern Siberia, oil and gas development has disturbed pastureland and undermined the ability of indigenous peoples to continue hunting, fishing, trapping, and herding activities. Roads constructed in connection with oil and gas exploration and development destroy and degrade pastureland, ancestral burial grounds, and sacred sites and increase hunting by oil workers on the territory used by indigenous peoples.

In the Sami homeland on the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia, regional authorities closed a fifty-mile (eighty-kilometer) stretch of the Ponoi River (and other rivers) to local fishing and granted exclusive fishing rights to a commercial company offering catch-and-release fishing to sport fishers largely from abroad. This deprived the local Sami (see Article 21 of the Code of the Murmansk Oblast) of food for their families and community and of their traditional economic livelihood. Thus, closing the fishery to locals may have violated the test articulated by the U.N. Human Rights Committee and disregarded the Land Code, other legislative acts, and the 1992 Presidential decree. Sami are not only forbidden to fish in the eighty-kilometer stretch leased to the Ponoi River Company but are also required by regional laws to pay for licenses to catch a limited number of fish outside the lease area. Residents of remote communities have neither the power nor the resources to demand enforcement of their rights. Here and elsewhere in the circumpolar north, the failure to apply laws for the protection of indigenous peoples leads to "criminalization" of local indigenous populations who cannot survive without "poaching" resources that should be accessible to them legally.

Although indigenous leaders in Russia have occasionally asserted indigenous rights to land and resources, to date there has been no serious or sustained discussion of indigenous group rights to ownership of land.

Read more about this topic:  Sami Culture, Sami Policy

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