2016.12 Pavel Sulyandziga. Government & businesses interests silencing Russia’s indigenous peoples

Pavel Sulyandziga – Russian politician, human rights activist, one of the leaders of the Russian indigenous peoples’ movement, member of the UN Working Group on business & human rights, Ph.D. in Economics, professor emeritus of the UNESCO Department of the Novosibirsk State University. 

The article was originally published at the Business & Human Rights Resource Centre web-page 21 Dec. 2016 

[Unofficial translation from original Russian by Business & Human Rights Resource Centre]

It is very difficult to write about certain events when you can inadvertently hurt people who are trying to be fair and honest in Russia. And being fair and honest in our country is indeed a challenge – sometimes a life-threatening one. However, I will still try to do it, because deception has become the norm for the state, fear the norm for society, rudeness and ignorance the most important factors for “well-being and prosperity.” Again, as in the past, vilification and denunciation have become commonplace, and, most importantly, abuses of indigenous peoples’ rights have reached such a scale that the disappearance of many indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Russian Far East can become a reality in the near future.

In this article I want to tell you about some of the cases of repression and persecution that indigenous peoples have suffered in our country in recent years. I want to emphasize that I am describing only those cases that are relevant to businesses – cases in which I was involved or which I have encountered personally. I would also like to stress that this article does not describe the general situation for indigenous peoples (for this, one has to have much more time and space), but I can say that it is very difficult. Three years ago, when speaking at the Congress of the Peoples of Russia, I stated that we can see an emergence of “modern serfdom” for indigenous small-numbered peoples of Russia. It occurs when “certain misters from the cities” come to indigenous peoples’ remote villages with documents claiming to confirm that hunting and fishing grounds, reindeer pastures belong to them, and at the same time adding: “we are not driving you out of here, but all of what is being produced here is ours.” Therefore, authorities sell territories and resources together with indigenous peoples, who live and die on their own lands. Thus, entire nations become poachers and foreigners on their own land… Similarly, under the current regime, many Russian citizens become “foreign agents”, “fifth column”, “public enemies” in their own country.

Why have I decided to describe these cases and to give them visibility and a voice? Because they can demonstrate that repression by Russian authorities and law enforcement agencies against indigenous peoples protecting their rights has become the norm.

The Case of Casas

Casas is a Shor village in the city of Myski in Kemerovo region (South-West Siberia), the territory of traditional residence of the Shors, Russian indigenous people (Shor population is 10-11 thousand people).

For more than three decades, coal mines have been destroying the ecosystem and the environmental around the Casas settlement. In 2011, JSC “MC South” [mining company] started its activities. By 2012, the coal pit was so close to Casas that life in the village became impossible: the foundations of the houses cracked and following blasts a poisonous yellow cloud sank on the village. The villagers are obliged to undergo humiliating screenings at checkpoints established by the coal miners in order to get to their homes. Those, who are not willing to show their vehicles for inspection are simply not allowed into their native village.

The destruction of the sacred mountain “Karagay-Lasch” where the Shors have been conducting their rituals for centuries became a major blow to the spiritual heritage of the Shors. Today, mining works are carried out on this mountain.

At the end of 2012, JSC “MC South” started buying houses and land in the village of Casas. The majority of Casas villagers were persuaded to sell their houses and lands as a result of the problems from the mine, moral and psychological terror, and JSC “MC South” and the workers of the Mysky City District Administration setting Shors against each other. There was no voluntary resettlement!

By November 2013, there were 5 families who refused to sell their houses and lands. On 2 November 2013, the CEO of JSC “MC South” Mr. Halimov met with villagers in Casas, where he said that “if they do not sell their houses and lands to the coal company, the houses can be burnt down” (there is a complaint to the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the testimony of seven persons).

The first house was set on fire 11/26/2013; the second house was burnt out 12/29/2013; the third house was burnt out 01/15/2014; the fourth house burnt out also 01/15/2014; the last – the fifth house – was burnt out 03/05/2014.

Another house – the house of orphans – was destroyed by a coal company bulldozer and a fertile layer of black soil was removed and taken to an unknown destination.

On 9 May 9 2014, Casas fire victims held a collective meeting, created an organization to protect their rights and put forward joint requirements. All these requirements have been sent to all authorities in Russia, but no action has been taken to protect them. Moreover, activists face serious pressure:  people are being dismissed from their jobs, threatened, lawsuits are initiated against them, letters denouncing activists as working for public enemies of Russia are being written on behalf of the Shors. Meanwhile, after learning that the coal from their lands is being sold to Europe, the Shor activists raised the issue of transparency in the coal supply chain to Europe in order to demand adherence to the provisions of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights on the part of the Western buyers.

At a recent public meeting with the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination on 23 November, activists of the [Shor] organization drew attention to the fact that their lives and the lives of their loved ones were at risk: The Russian authorities and mining companies possess enormous resources; it costs nothing to make mincemeat of people who represent the indigenous small-numbered people”.

The Case of Sergei Nikiforov

Sergei is the leader of the Amur Evenki people. Currently he is serving time in prison on a falsified criminal charge against him for extortion of money from a company. Nikiforov’s lawyers presented evidence to the court proving that at the time the company claims Nikiforov extorted money, he was 500 km away from the place indicated by the company representative. “Naturally”, the court did not take this into account.

So why was Sergei Nikiforov imprisoned? Because he united the people in their struggle against gold mining in traditional areas of Evenki livelihood, which was promoted by the authorities of the Amur region and “Petropavlovsk” company. Moreover, he encroached upon the greatest man, calling the Amur Evenki to boycott Putin’s elections in 2012. The word about the boycott has spread around the country due to the support of environmentalists and ‘Yabloko’ political party. Of course, the authorities could not accept that even a small group of Russian citizens refused to participate in the election of the “Sun Faced” [1]Putin, and promised to investigate ordering the company to suspend all operations for the time of elections. The elections took place and the Evenki took part in them. Nevertheless, the authorities realised then and understand now that if they would leave this case without attention, others would also demand their rights. This is when the “criminal case” against Sergei Nikiforov was initiated. The prosecutor demanded to sentence Sergei to 12 years of maximum security prison and a fine of 16 million roubles for the amount of 180 thousand roubles, which Nikiforov has allegedly received from the company.

For a more complete understanding of the situation, I would like to briefly describe the situation of the Amur Evenki. Among all the indigenous small-numbered peoples of Russia, their situation has probably been one of the most difficult. Every second male has a criminal record (for murder under the influence of alcohol, poaching, battery), this nation also has the highest suicide rate. I had a lot of communication with the women of this nation, who told me with bitterness and pain about what was happening to their people. They told me how many of them, leaving on business to the city (to the hospital or for a meeting), were passing all their valuables to sisters and female friends, so that their husbands could not sell them to get drunk in their absence. And then came Sergei Nikiforov. Young, educated, non-drinker. He has not only begun to fight the flaws of his compatriots, he offered them his vision and plan for the development of the nation. He managed to unite the people, gave them confidence in themselves and helped to believe in their own dignity. At the initiative of Sergei Nikiforov, the Evenki people adopted all Evenki children from the orphanages in the Amur region. Sergei himself adopted five children…

With their actions, the authorities are not simply cracking Sergei, they are killing the nation and its hope for the future. Sergey Nikiforov was declared a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

The Case of Shaman Kechimov

Sergei Kechimov is a Khanty shaman, reindeer herder, guardian of the sacred Lake Imlor. A criminal case was opened against Sergei Kechimov for allegedly threatening to kill two representatives of “Surgutneftegaz” oil company.

In 2013, Surgutneftegaz company obtained a license to explore oil and gas deposits under Lake Imlor, which is considered sacred by the Khanty people, and started preparatory works around the lake. Sergey Kechimov, who lived by the lake, started appealing to various authorities through his compatriots regarding the abuses of his rights and the rights of his people. During one of his walks around the lake (it is part of his duties as the guardian of the sacred lake), Sergei was attacked by a dog and had to shoot it defending himself. The oil workers declared that it was their dog and that he would pay for this. In 2014, the conflict reached its climax – two company employees accused Kechimov of threatening to kill them, and the police opened a criminal case. All the charges are based solely on the fact that Sergei Kechimov had signed a statement of confession against himself. However, Sergei claims that he had signed the documents handed to him by the police while not even understanding what was written in them. It should be noted that Sergei understands Russian poorly. Now, when he got a lawyer, all meetings with the law enforcement are carried out with the presence of an interpreter.

The trial against Kechimov is currently on-going. It is no secret that the case against Kechimov had one purpose – to intimidate those who try to defend their rights and the rights of their people.

The Case of “Dylacha” Community

The case of the Evenk community “Dylacha” is a little different from the above-mentioned cases. But its essence is the same – intimidation and destruction of indigenous peoples.

The community “Dylacha” was the most successful community of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of the Russian Federation in terms of economic and social development. The community used to be the largest developer and manufacturer of jade, used to own a milk-processing factory, brick factory, reindeer herding and hunting grounds, and used to be among the ten largest taxpayers of the Republic of Buryatia.  It has also established Evenki Museum used to finance virtually all the projects on the development of Evenki culture and the arts, helped their brethren from other regions.

Criminals and local authorities tried to appropriate their assets but the leaders of the community always managed to resolve arising conflicts. And, then in 2012, Mr. Chemezov and his entourage took an interest in the Evenk businesses. For the record: Mr. Chemezov is the head of the state corporation “Russian Technologies” and his main position is Putin’s friend. The troops of the Moscow riot police landed in Buryatia; criminal proceedings over the alleged misappropriation of state property for the amount of 600 million roubles were initiated against community leaders. Simply put, this meant that the community allegedly moved beyond the licensed area and “stole” (illegally produced) jade worth 600 million roubles from the state. At the initiative of the community and the Ministry of Internal Affairs three independent examinations were held (two – at the initiative of the community, one – at the initiative of the Ministry of Internal Affairs), and all three examinations proved that the community had not diverged for a single centimetre from the limits of its licensed area. At the same time, the public hearings in the case of “Dylacha” were held in the Public Chamber of Russia (at that time, it was still possible to organize something independent from the authorities) and in the Republic of Buryatia, publications appeared in Izvestiya, Kommersant, and other outlets. The well-known leaders of the indigenous peoples of Canada and Bolivia visited the Republic of Buryatia (holding positions within the UN at that time), hearings at the UN Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination were held, an official request from the United Nations was sent to the Russian government. And here, as inherent to all cowardly people, the organizers of a raid of the community became afraid. And they turned to the “sun faced” Putin. With the official letterhead of Russian Technologies, Chemezov wrote a letter about the “smugglers” from the community, described the “terrible violations” by Evenki. The letter contains an order signed by Putin saying “to mister Chaika, mister Bastrykin, mister Kolokoltsov – to find out and report…”. They have sorted it out very quickly – they no longer bothered to proceed with the “criminal case” (although the case against the leaders of the community is still not closed) – the Buryatia prosecutor simply filed a petition in a court to close the community citing that the community’s statute and its activities do not correspond to Russian legislation. And – that is it. The court has closed the community. Its assets and property were plundered by the initiators of the process, and community leaders were forced to flee from Russian criminals or “justice”.

I want to explain why I write such hard-hitting things about Russian “justice”. Not even because they take “illegal decisions”, which I have described above. I will just mention two cases, which have occurred during the “Dylacha” community events. When the Public Prosecutor wanted to “negotiate on good terms” (they call it this way), he invited the head of the community and asked him to voluntarily give away the community business. After he refused, in the evening of the same day, there was an incident with the sister of the community’s head – the car which she was in together with her child was poured over with gasoline and set on fire. The man who did it was immediately detained and handed over to the law enforcement bodies. The next morning, this man (it was a person well-known in the criminal circles) as if nothing had happened came to the head of the community and said: “Personally, I have nothing against you, but you were given an offer yesterday. I am just a warning.” The second incident occurred when the community leaders left Russia. In an Asian country, where one of the community leaders was staying, the intelligence services of that country were preparing his assassination. The perpetrator was known in criminal circles of his country. When he was “uncovered”, it became clear that the person who hired the perpetrator is affiliated with Russian authorities. That is why it is not clear who are the criminals and who are the authorities. Everything had got all mixed up. Or are they now simply the same?

[1] Translator’s note: A Russian idiom, literary translates as ‘Sun Faced’, archaic expression denoting ‘beautiful, God-like, divine’. Presently used among the Russian opposition activists to sarcastically describe Vladimir Putin

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