MOSCOW / GENEVA -- "I am impressed by the several initiatives by the Government of the Russian Federation and regional governments to address the concerns of the country’s small-numbered indigenous peoples," stated James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, as he concluded his visit to Russia. "Significant challenges remain, however, to consolidate and effectively implement these initiatives for the benefit of these indigenous peoples," he added.
Over the past two weeks, the Special Rapporteur met with Government authorities at the federal and regional levels, representatives and members of indigenous communities and organizations in Moscow and in the regions of Khanty-Mansiysk, Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk. In each region, he carried out a number of field trips to meet with members of indigenous communities living in remote compact settlements or isolated dwellings.
The Special Rapporteur expresses his gratitude to the Government of the Russian Federation and to the regional authorities of the Khanty-Mansiysk, Krasnoyarsk and Khabarovsk regions for providing support in the planning and carrying out of his visit. He also thanks the Senior Human Rights Advisor to the United Nations country team in Russia for coordinating essential aspects of the visit.
In his preliminary observations on his visit, the Special Rapporteur notes that the Concept Paper on the Sustainable Development of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation, which the Federal Government issued in February of this year, provides an important impetus for advancing the rights of indigenous peoples and for overcoming their disadvantage in social and economic spheres.
The Special Rapporteur observes that several important framework laws are in place at the federal level to address the concerns of indigenous peoples, including in regard to lands and natural resources and the preservation and development of their distinctive cultures. At the same time he encourages steps to implement these laws and harmonize them effectively with other laws and development policies that favor commercial development of natural resources. Also significant are the laws and programs at the regional level focusing on indigenous peoples.
The Special Rapporteur learned of a number of situations in which indigenous peoples have access to formal education and health services, are able to pursue traditional economic activities such as reindeer herding, and benefit from programs that advance their cultural preservation and economic and social development.
However, he also learned that indigenous peoples in many places continue to suffer from poverty, unemployment, and related social ills, and face impediments to their access to traditional economic activities and effective participation in the decisions affecting them. It is obvious to the Special Rapporteur that, as elsewhere in the world, indigenous peoples in Russia continue to require special attention, and he encourages the efforts of the federal and regional governments in this regard. Furthermore, he calls upon the Federal and regional governments to strengthen their efforts to secure the rights of indigenous peoples and to enhance indigenous peoples participation in the design and implementation of the programs intended to benefit them. The Special Rapporteur added that further research and exchange of information would be needed to more completely understand the situation of indigenous peoples in Russia.
The Special Rapporteur stresses the importance of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a benchmark for the development of government policies and action regarding indigenous peoples. He notes that the Government of the Russian Federation has stated its support for most of the provisions of the Declaration and encourages the Government to further consider its position on the Declaration, in a spirit of cooperation and strengthening of the rights of indigenous peoples.