25th Anniversary of the Arctic Council (May 20)

Arctic littoral states must respect basic indigenous rights (Press Release)

The Society for Threatened Peoples (STP) has called on the new presidency of the Arctic Council to respect and effectively safeguard indigenous land and self-determination rights. On May 20, Russia is taking over the leadership of the 25-year-old body by rotation. "At the moment, indigenous interests are not sufficiently heard in the Arctic Council, as the participating indigenous organizations only represent some of the indigenous peoples living there. Also, they don't have a right to vote," stated Yvonne Bangert, STP expert on indigenous peoples. "That's why an internationally binding set of rules is needed to guarantee indigenous rights as well as environmental and climate protection in the Arctic. If the Arctic Council remains inactive, the EU and UN should intervene if necessary." The only way to contain the extractive industry and protect human rights would be to establish a comprehensive set of rules. This year's meeting will focus on the topic of the relationship between Russia and the USA in the Arctic. With regard to China's increasing involvement in the region, both countries are interested in good cooperation.

According to Nikolai Korchunov, Russian Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic, the priorities for the upcoming presidency should be climate change, biodiversity, raw material extraction, and ship passage in the Arctic Ocean. "All of these issues affect indigenous rights. The Russian government has to show that it is serious about respecting them," Bangert said. Thus, it is important that Russia accedes to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ratifies UN Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization. "Everything that happens in the indigenous areas requires the free, informed, and prior consent of those living there," Bangert emphasized. "The people who have always lived in and with this sensitive ecosystem have a great interest in preserving it. Indigenous communities have repeatedly proven that they are excellent environmental and climate protectors." 

With the increasing climate change, the Arctic is becoming more and more accessible for shipping, and it is becoming easier to exploit the abundant raw materials. Thus, indigenous interests tend to fall behind. In the Russian Federation, 40 peoples are officially recognized as indigenous minorities of the North, Siberia, and the Far East. They were able to partially maintain their traditional way of life and settle in their territories in the north and in the Asian parts of the country. The Arctic Council was founded in 1996 by Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden, and the United States – with the aim of protecting the environment and furthering sustainable development. The chair changes every two years. There are six indigenous organizations that represent indigenous interests in the Arctic Council as permanent participants without voting rights. They have an advisory role and can contribute to the discussions and decision-making of the council with input.