Barents indigenous peoples raise their voice

KIRKENES: “The industry must begin to treat indigenous peoples as equal partners in their activity”, stressed the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights Professor James Anaya on a visit to Kirkenes.


Around 100 representatives of the indigenous peoples of the Barents Region – Saami, Nenets and Veps, gathered in Kirkenes last week for the 2nd Barents Indigenous Peoples’ Congress and a conference on Indigenous Peoples, Business & Environment.

Dr. James Anaya. Photo: Christina Henriksen.

Dr. James Anaya, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, opened the conference with a key note speech on indigenous peoples’ rights and international corporations.

Anaya spoke of corporate responsibility that is in the process of being formalized in international customary law. He reminded of the three main dimensions of it: the duty of states to protect indigenous peoples; the duty of corporations to respect indigenous peoples; and the need to have remedial mechanisms in place when states and corporations fail on the two first-mentioned accounts.

The aim of the 2nd Barents Indigenous Peoples’ Congress was for the peoples involved – the Saami, Nenets and Veps – to adopt two documents related to their common positions and policies – a conference statement and an action plan for 2013 – 2016.

Read the whole resolution and the Action Plan (in English)

Delegates to the 2nd Barents Indigenous Peoples’ Congress. Photo: Christina Henriksen

The conference was held at the same time as the so-called “Kirkenes Conference”, which focuses on the possibilities for the extraction of minerals, oil and gas and development of hydropower in the northern areas, which are also traditional areas for the indigenous peoples in the Barents Region.

Many indigenous people in the Barents Region are affected by the increasing activity within mineral extraction that is taking place across the area. This is also reflected in the resolution made by the congress, which states that additional national legislation is needed to regulate the interaction between industrial and extractive enterprises and indigenous communities in the Barents region. The legislation should have a special emphasis on the right of indigenous peoples to be effectively consulted about the increasing industrial activities affecting them, and the right to compensation and mitigation measures.

The cooperation between the three different indigenous peoples in the Barents Region is flourishing. Despite long distance and different history, their issues and challenges in their daily live are much the same.