Indigenous communities suffer from the war against Ukraine
The Russian war of aggression affects countless innocent people. In Russia, it impacts also indigenous communities and human rights work in the country. Since the beginning of the war, the Russian regime has suppressed criticism more harshly than ever. Even before the war began, indigenous people were usually left out in the cold when they fought for their rights. But since the invasion, the Russian regime has ramped up repression and nipped any activism in the bud. Many human rights activists are forced to flee into exile. Only in this way can they continue their commitment and continue to raise their voices against the Russian regime without putting their lives in danger.
Many indigenous men remaining in the country find themselves forced to join the Russian war under state and financial pressure. There they then fight for a country where it is currently impossible to engage for indigenous rights and which also occupies indigenous territories in Ukraine. A war that currently makes engagement for indigenous rights and concerns in Russia impossible.
Finally, indigenous peoples in Russia continue to suffer from environmentally damaging projects of state-affiliated corporations. The concept of "Free, Prior and Informed Consent" (FPIC) would actually provide a remedy. Indigenous peoples would be involved on an equal footing if their habitat were to be affected. In Russia, this was already difficult in the past, but since the beginning of the war, it is almost impossible to advocate for indigenous voice and environmental protection in economic projects.
The STP adapts its campaign for indigenous communities in the Arctic to the current situation in Russia. Because it is currently too dangerous to do human rights work in Russia, the STP supports the new exile organization "International Committee of Indigenous Peoples of Russia" (ICIPR). This is all the more important because the Russian indigenous organization RAIPON has been staffed with members loyal to the state, publicly supports the Russian regime and actions, and works closely with business groups close to the state.
As an ecosystem and habitat, the Arctic is in danger
The Arctic plays a central role in the natural balance on Earth. This region includes parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Russia, Greenland as well as the USA (Alaska) and Canada. The landscape is characterised by ocean, snow and ice, by wetlands, fjords, islands and by mainland with vast coniferous forests, tundra and permafrost. Despite the inhospitable climate, the Arctic is home to fish, birds and mammals. Around 400,000 members of indigenous communities live here – that is about 10 per cent of the Arctic population. Not only they, but all of us depend on the future of the Arctic: when the Arctic ice melts, the sea level rises. The permafrost stores greenhouse gases in the soils, which would rise into the atmosphere in the event of warming.
The Arctic is endangered: According to the latest findings, the Arctic could be ice-free in summer as early as 2035 and forest fires will continue to increase. If the permafrost thaws, this will upset the ecological balance of this region. The Arctic is also endangered because it contains important raw materials such as copper, nickel, oil and natural gas. With the melting ice, a real run on these raw materials has started: Russia, for example, wants to invest 210 million euros in the development of new oil deposits, and in the USA, the Trump administration released environmental protection areas and indigenous territories in Alaska for oil and natural gas production. Hopes are now pinned on the newly elected President Joe Biden, who has appointed an Indigenous woman as Secretary of the Interior and has publicly spoken out against oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.
The hunger for raw materials and climate change are destroying the habitat of indigenous communities such as the Sami in Norway or the Nenets in Russia. Hunting, fishing and reindeer herding are endangered, rivers are contaminated and entire landscapes are cut up by major projects. In many cases, the indigenous communities receive hardly any support in the struggle for their rights and the preservation of their habitat. On the contrary, in Russia in particular, indigenous activists experience massive threats and become victims of repression by the government when they campaign for their territories to be respected.
This is where the STP campaign comes in: Help us to stop the destruction together with the indigenous communities and to fight for an environment worth living in – both for them and ultimately for us!
How the STP supports indigenous communities in the Arctic – please help!
The STP supports indigenous communities in the struggle for their living space, and the observance of their human rights and self-determination. In our campaign, we focus on the following priorities and advocate for corresponding demands:
- Economic responsibility: The STP demands that economic actors respect the rights of the indigenous communities in the Arctic and wants to enforce these, especially with Swiss companies. For example, as part of a mediation process with BKW before the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
- Switzerland's responsibility on a political level: Swiss foreign policy should do more to promote the environment and human rights in the Arctic, especially within the Arctic Council, where Switzerland has observer status, but also through direct diplomatic intervention with Arctic countries.
- Empowerment: The STP supports the networking and educational work of its partners on site.
- Support of delegations: The STP supports indigenous delegations so that they can present their concerns to political and economic actors and international organisations.
- Public relations: The STP publicises the critical situation of the indigenous communities in the Arctic and thus supports their work on the ground.
Join us in defending people and nature in the Arctic! Thank you!
Indigenous communities in Russia
Russia's Far North is the country's new El Dorado: millions of tonnes of copper, nickel, iron ore, crude oil and natural gas exist on the Taimyr Peninsula, as well as on the Yamal and Gydan Peninsulas. The Russian government and Russian companies, partly with partners from Europe and China, are investing in the development of these natural resources - with pipelines, ports, production facilities and other infrastructure. But the extraction of the coveted resources endangers the way of life of the indigenous communities.
These projects are associated with high risks and further worsen the already grave situation of the indigenous communities in the Russian Arctic. They are also in a particularly bad legal position. In addition, they are put under massive pressure and intimidated by the Russian government. Russia has not ratified the ILO Convention on Indigenous Peoples and has not agreed to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). The state has also taken control of the umbrella organisation of indigenous peoples, RAIPON. Therefore, some Russian indigenous peoples have set up their own independent network. The STP supports its educational and networking work by making the concerns of the indigenous peoples in the Russian Arctic heard and providing information about their precarious human rights situation.
Commodity Company Nornickel and their Oil Spill
In May 2020, thousands of tonnes of diesel oil spilled into the wild from a damaged tank belonging to the Russian nickel producer Nornickel. The indigenous communities of the Dolgan, Nenet and Nganasan peoples live north of the site where the incident took place. Since the incident, they have suffered an acute shortage of food: their water supply is poisoned and the fish from the rivers are no longer edible. In addition, reindeer have largely left the area due to the pollution. Hunters often return to the village empty-handed.
The indigenous communities are urging Nornickel to support them in supplying their village. So far, however, without success. An indigenous representative from the region, whom we do not mention by name for security reasons, says: "Communities living near the area of the incident have asked Nornickel for help, but they are being ignored". Publicly, Nornickel claims to be willing to cooperate and has announced compensation for the affected communities. Indeed, some indigenous communities have received some compensation payments. However, these have only been made to indigenous organisations and groups which are loyal to the commodity company: "Those who ask inconvenient questions about breaches of regulations and other issues are simply excluded," says Pavel Sulyandziga, president of the independent indigenous organisation, the Batani Foundation. The company is avoiding the fundamental issues of land rights, resource use and compensation mechanisms. Negotiations with the company and the local government do not take place on an equal footing.
This may seem to have changed in recent years – but that is just an illusion. Nornickel boasts of carrying out so-called FPIC (free, prior and informed consent) processes to involve indigenous communities in business decision-making. However, there is no basis for any FPIC process. Freedom of opinion and expression does not exist in Russia, a situation that has been further exacerbated by the war of aggression on Ukraine, and affected communities are often denied the right to reject planned projects: “They are confronted with them as irreversible facts,” says Pavel Sulyandziga.
This is the reason why indigenous communities are now putting pressure on international stakeholders. With the support of STP, indigenous people from Russia are approaching Swiss banks Credit Suisse, UBS and Pictet, which are among Nornickel's investors. Together, we are drawing the banks' attention to the breaches of environmental and human rights on the part of the company and calling on them to apply pressure to Nornickel.
The STP and the indigenous communities concerned make the following demands on Nornickel:
- Nornickel should maintain an ongoing dialogue and relationship on an equal footing with the indigenous communities who live near their plants and are actually or potentially affected by their business activities.
- Nornickel should comply with international environmental standards, take measures to prevent environmental damage and adequately repair any damage that occurs. Compensation to the affected communities must be made in consultation and collaboration with the communities.
- Nornickel should outline its Indigenous Rights Policy in compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, including an unambiguous and binding commitment to the right to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).
- The STP is requesting Metal Trade Overseas SA, i.e. Nornickel's Swiss branch, as well as the Swiss banks involved with Nornickel, to put pressure on Nornickel and demand that they take appropriate measures.
Example: the Repparfjord copper mine in Norway
The Repparfjord is a small fjord in the northern Norwegian Finnmark. Now the mining company "Nussir ASA" is planning to operate two copper mines at the Repparfjord. From the point of view of the STP and the Sami communities, the project endangers the environment and Sami rights: in the eyes of the affected Sami, the operation of these mines would endanger traditional reindeer herding on site - and thus their livelihood. In addition, the residual waste from the mines, contaminated with chemicals and heavy metals, would be poured into the Repparfjord, threatening the fish stock and local fisheries.
According to the STP's research, Credit Suisse managed 20.6 per cent of the shares in Nussir ASA as a nominee shareholder until 2019. Thus, the big bank managed the second largest shareholding in the company behind the Norwegian company Monial AS. The affected Sami communities, the Sami Parliament and the STP called on Credit Suisse to relinquish its role as nominee shareholder until an amicable solution is found with the affected Sami. In 2020, Credit Suisse withdrew from the project as a nominee shareholder. This is a partial success: with the withdrawal of Credit Suisse, the identity of the actual investor is finally being revealed. They are now officially listed in the investor directory of Nussir ASA under their own name and thus have to take responsibility themselves.
Despite Credit Suisse' exit, the mining project is not yet off the table. Nussir ASA recently signed a letter of intent with the German copper giant Aurubis. Thus, the realisation of the project has taken another step forwards. The Sami communities are currently fighting the project with all political and legal means and are in talks with Aurubis. The STP supports the concerns of the Sami and will closely follow this case.
These are the specific demands of the STP and the affected Sami communities:
- Sami land rights must be recognised in all projects. This means adequate compensation in the case of an agreement on land use rights, for example through profit sharing.
- Nussir ASA should stop the project until an amicable solution is found with the affected Sami.
- All stakeholders must commit to Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for all future investment projects. This ensures that the rights of indigenous peoples are taken into account and that their participation is guaranteed. This also applies to renewable energy projects.
Example : Storheia wind farm in Norway
In Central Norway, a huge wind farm was built on the Fosen Peninsula. As one of the affected areas, Storheia is of great importance for the local Southern Sami: The Storheia area provides around 44 per cent of the winter grazing land for the indigenous reindeer herders of the Southern Sami. Because of the project, this grazing land has now disappeared - the reindeer avoid the wind farm. This has drastic consequences for the Southern Sami. The loss of this large grazing area means that in the long term they will have too little winter pasture for their reindeer husbandry. As a result, the last remaining herding families will have to reduce or completely abandon their traditional trade - and with it their culture. For this reason, the Society for Threatened Peoples believes that the project violates international agreements and human rights conventions.
The project was implemented by the Fosen Wind DA consortium. The owners are the Norwegian state-owned energy company Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA, a consortium of European investors founded by Credit Suisse Energy Infrastructure Partners AG. One of its members is the Bernese energy company BKW, which holds an indirect 11.2 per cent stake in the project. In 2020, Credit Suisse handed over its shares to the Swiss investment firm Energy Infrastructure Partners.
What the STP does:
The Society for Threatened Peoples has visited the affected reindeer herder families in Storheia and supports their demand for co-determination in the construction of the wind power plant. In December 2018, it organised a trip to Switzerland for a delegation of the Southern Sami so that two of the affected people could hold talks with the investors BKW and Credit Suisse, and present their concerns in person. The STP then filed a complaint against BKW with the National Contact Point (NCP) for the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.
These are the demands of the STP and the affected Sami communities:
- Statkraft should dismantle the project in Storheia and adequately compensate the affected South Sami communities for the disruption caused during the construction phase.
- Statkraft and Nordic Wind Power DA are to conduct and publish an independent environmental and social impact assessment on the effects of future projects.
- Sami land rights must be recognised in future projects. This means adequate compensation in the case of an agreement on land use rights, for example through profit sharing.
- All stakeholders must commit to the UN's Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) for all future investment projects and ensure that the rights of indigenous people are taken into account and their voice is guaranteed. This also applies to renewable energy projects.
More corporate responsibility in the future
The STP achieved an important success in the summer of 2021: As a result of the mediation process with the STP, BKW is now anchoring the principle of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) in its internal guidelines. Thanks to this improved due diligence, human rights violations should no longer occur. Should they nevertheless occur, BKW will be able to withdraw from the business relationship thanks to new exit clauses. In addition, it will establish low-threshold complaints mechanisms at the project level.
At the same time, Norway's highest court ruled that the wind farm in Storheia poses a direct threat to the persistance of local reindeer herding. It therefore ruled – in favour of the affected Southern Sami – that the turbines violated their right to culture according to Article 27 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Therefore, the court retrospectively declared the wind power project's operating license invalid. The Norwegian Ministry of Energy must now decide whether and how the plant will be dismantled. The ruling sets a precedent in Norway and thus influences further wind power plants as well as raw material projects on reindeer pastures.
The ice melts, the demand rises
The wind farm in Storheia shows: Also the so-called "green" economy must respect human rights. The energy transition must not be at the expense of indigenous communities. Due to the run on raw materials in the Arctic, which are also needed for renewable energies, this issue is becoming increasingly important. The STP stays tuned.