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RAIPON fights for survival

The biggest and oldest of Russia's indigenous peoples organizations is in crisis. Here from RAIPON's 20 years anniversary in 2010. Photo: Barentsindigenous.org

Amid mounting pressure from Moscow, Russia’s biggest indigenous peoples organization is taking its case to the Supreme Court. Federal authorities are trying to get rid of a bothersome critic in the Arctic, RAIPON’s first deputy president maintains.

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At the same time, internal conflicts could ultimately lead to a major reshuffle in the organization’s leadership.

Addressing the Supreme Court
The Ministry of Justice’s decision to close RAIPON is ill-judged and illegal and must therefore be withdrawn, First Vice President of RAIPON, Rodion Sulyaudziga, underlines in the request sent to the Russian Supreme Court on 15 November.

Sulyaudziga argues that the indigenous peoples are increasingly seen by federal authorities as a troublesome element in Arctic developments. “There is an extensive hike in the level of industrialization in the north, and the indigenous peoples are among the last barriers against the companies’ and state’s development of the resources”, he told newspaper Novaya Gazeta. He also believes that the authorities strongly dislike RAIPON’s extensive international engagement.

The RAIPON deputy underlines that all basic rights of indigenous peoples are being taken out of federal legislation. Furthermore, Sulyaudziga is confident that federal authorities now are trying to establish alternative organizational structures, which can replace the role of RAIPON.

Reshuffle in the pipeline
Meanwhile, President of RAIPON Sergei Kharyuchi does what he can to protect the organization which he has lead since 1997. In a statement last week, Kharyuchi said that he sees no political motivation behind the decision of the Justice Ministry and that he therefore opposes the statements made by his deputy Sulyaudziga. According to Yamal.org, he also confirms that the upcoming congress of the association, due March 2013, will not only adjust the statutes in line with the demands of the Justice Ministry, but also make “serious conclusions about the organizational structure”. 

International reactions
As previously reported, the Justice Ministry on 1 November ordered the closure of the organization because of an alleged lack of correspondence between the association’s statutes and federal law. The organization will be closed for six months, whereupon the statutes will have to be adjusted, the ministry announced.

The decision sparked major reactions, also internationally. In a joint statement, the members of the Arctic Council on November 14 expressed major concern about the situation. In a meeting in the Barents Regional Council the same day, Aili Kesketalo, the leading Sami politician from Norway, said that she is “shocked” about the decision to close RAIPON and that it is “challenging the very foundation for international cooperation between indigenous peoples”, Barentsindigenous.org informs. 

As previously reported, RAIPON has in its more than 20 years of its existence worked actively to protect indigenous peoples’ human rights and legal interests, as well as to promote their right to self governance. RAIPON represents 40 groups of Indigenous peoples inhabiting huge Arctic territories of the Russian Federation from Murmansk to Kamchatka.

Among the international structures where RAIPON is represented is the Arctic Council, where it has status as a permanent participant.  RAIPON also has a special consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council and is observer in the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum of the United Nations Environment Program. Members of RAIPON’s presidium are members in the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, as well as the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN Expert Mechanism on indigenous rights, and the UN Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.