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Crackdown on RAIPON spurs international concern

Arctic Council issues a statement in support of RAIPON, Russia's umbrella association for Indigenous Peoples in the north. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The Arctic Council expresses concern about Russian authorities’ planned closure of Russia’s biggest organization for indigenous peoples.

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In yesterday’s high-level Arctic Council meeting in Haparanda, northern Sweden, representatives of the Arctic states expressed major concern about the situation with RAIPON, the Russian umbrella organization for Arctic indigenous peoples.

As previously reported, the Russian Ministry of Justice has ordered the forced closure of the organization allegedly because its statutes do not correspond with Russian legislation. The organization represents 41 indigenous peoples in the Russian North and has status as Permanent Participant in the Arctic Council.

As part of an ongoing session in Haparanda, the Council members said that they are “concerned about the absense of RAIPON”. The joint statement issued calls on “the Senior Arctic Official of the Russian Federation in close cooperation with RAIPON and the Ministry of Justice of the Russian Federation to facilitate, as appropriate, the fulfillment of RAIPON’s important role as a permanent participant in the Arctic Council”. 

Also the Russian delegation to the council appears to have approved the statement. 

The RAIPON representatives did not attend yesterday’s meeting in Haparanda. In an open statement, the organization says that “for the first time in the history of the [Arctic Council] Senior Arctic Officials’ meetings the working place under the RAIPON flag will remain empty”. In the statement, the organization also “appeals to the Arctic Council to call upon the Russian government to stop administrative and political pressure and interference into the self-governance of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.” According to the organization, Russian officials have made “a repressive move demonstrating selective justice and act of intimidation and rude interference in the internal affairs of RAIPON”.

The organization at the same time stresses that it “intends to continue its activities by legal measures directed at protection of the rights of indigenous peoples of Russia in spite of continuous persecutions”.

In a comment to BarentsObserver, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Espen Barth Eide expresses hope that the situation with RAIPON ultimately will be resolved from the Russian side. At the same time, he underlines that the involvement of the indigenous peoples is a key pilar in Arctic cooperation which is “impossible to remove”.

Minister Eide confirms that he addressed the RAIPON issue in a meeting with the Russian Ambassador to Norway Vyacheslav Pavlovsky and Murmansk Governor Marina Kovtun in Oslo Wednesday. The situation with the organization is also being address by Norway’s diplomatic corps in Moscow, he subsequently confirmed in a tweet.