English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 4, 2000
Game grounds and reindeer rangelands: Re-registration or withdrawal?
Mikhail Todyshev, Nikita Kaplin, Olga Murashko and Olga Yakovleva
Citizens from numerous territories of the Russian Federation have sent alarming reports to RAIPON about the ongoing procedure of re-registration or withdrawal of reindeer rangelands and game grounds from indigenous peoples. We are being informed that re-registration is being done in favour of "legal entities". The indigenous clan communities and farms actually do not have a sufficient legal status, since at that time registration was done at the district level by a mere decision of the Head of the District Administration. Today the clan communities and farms have no opportunity for registration or lack information about how it is to be done. The majority of these entities are located far from the district centers; their members are engaged in traditional subsistence economies to provide for their families, which normally have many children. Conveyance, issuing of tax inspection certificates of non-profitability, and other bureaucratic subtleties present problems that are uncommon or, occasionally, unfeasible for reindeer herders and hunters. In these cases the administration gives the hunters and reindeer herders the "friendly advice" to hand over their plots to state farms in order to save themselves the trouble. But this is what the indigenous people do not want to do, because they are aware that their only maintaining their clan lands would provide for their families.
Some reports say that "the situation is aggravated by the fact that the above campaign has been launched at the time when the hunters have to go to the taiga … Some hunters have already been dropped in the taiga with no licenses, and would be regarded as poachers". Unfortunately, the majority of those complaints by indigenous people to RAIPON are not supplemented with copies of appropriate documents, which makes it difficult to understand the situation.
RAIPON has re-registration documents available from the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, which appear to be typically contradictory. When getting familiar with these documents numerous questions come up.
One of them is "Minutes of the Meeting of the Commission on Re-registration of Clan Community Holdings and Peasant Farms" of 24 January 2000 from the Tura village. Agenda: "Investigation of economic activity and solution of the feasibility problem of forest plot allotments for reindeer herding ranges and game grounds to Clan Community and Farms specialising in reindeer herding and registered in the village of Yukta". Three farms have been assessed. For one of them, due to the absence of the State Tax Inspection registration, it is recommended that the Department of Registration and Licensing prepare liquidation documents, and the Committee of Land Resources and Land Planning prepare a draft decision for withdrawal of the plots. For two other farms, Ayan and Eika, re-registration was recommended.
On 23 June 2000 the following decree was issued for the Ayan farm:
Decree of 23 June 2000, No. 152
In accordance with land and forest legislation, on the decision of the District and Okrug Commission for Leasing of Game Grounds and Rangelands of 24.01.2000 and 10.05.2000, the Administration of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug
1. The land plot of 470162.0 ha from the reindeer herding farm Ayan allotted by the decision of the Ilimpiyskiy District administration of 21.05.91 for a long-term use as reindeer rangelands and game grounds shall be withdrawn.
2. The State Act А-1 №405640 shall be considered invalid.
3. The manager of the farm Pëtr Kaplin shall hand in the state act for the use of land to the Committee for Land Resources and Land Planning of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug.
4. The Forest Management Board, EAO, shall allot, in due order, a forest plot to the Ayan farm for game grounds.
Let us try to clarify on what grounds the above decision was taken.
The premise section of the Decree refers to the land legislation of the Russian Federation (RF), but it is not stated which articles of the land and forest codes the present decree is based on. The decree refers to the resolutions of the District and Okrug commissions for lease of game grounds and reindeer rangelands of 24.01.2000 and 10.05.2000.
Let us see what the members of the commissions were guided by. The text of the Minutes of the Meeting of Okrug Commission for the Lease of Game Grounds and Reindeer Rangelands of 10.05.2000 in the Tura village, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, states that upon the proposals made in connection with "non-conformity of state acts and decisions of district administrations (concerning what?), it is necessary to prepare a decision of the administration to the effect that the above documents are invalid and shall be withdrawn". A decision has been taken: "The Committee for Land Resources and Land Planning in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug shall prepare a decision of the Governor on the abolition of the by-laws of the district administrations on allotment of game grounds and withdrawal land use acts issued previously by the Land Committee".
It is pointed out that "it is necessary to speed up the conveyance of the game grounds of the main land users, which are state farms". Thus, "with regard to the Production Association Promyslovik, the lease documents are ready, but due to the existence of other claimants to the lease of game grounds of the Ilimpiyskiy Farm, a contest should be organised".
Subsequently, the Minutes states "in conformity with the Wildlife Law and Governor's Decree No 63 (title and date not indicated), the game grounds shall be handed over only to legal entities".
It remains unclear from the above documents what legal documents the members of the Commission and the Governor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug are guided by as they take decisions on re-registration and withdrawal of reindeer rangelands and game grounds from indigenous people. The Governor refers to the decision of the Commission that was taken in conformity with the forest and land legislation. And, members of the Commission refer to the Wildlife Law without mentioning forest and land legislation and the Governor's Decree No 63. What is that decree about and when it was issued is unknown, but it follows from the minutes of the Commission meeting that it states the procedure for handing over game grounds for lease to legal entities alone. And how about the rights of individuals, including indigenous peoples employing traditional methods for protection and utilisation of wildlife as stated in articles 6, 48, 49 ФЗ of the Federal Wildlife Law?
Let us look at the text of the federal Wildlife Law of 24 April 1995 (Legislation of the RF, 1995, No 1, article 1462):
The authority of the bodies of state power of the administrative entities of the RF in protection and utilisation of wildlife include:
… Provision of the rights of indigenous people in the territories of their traditional distribution and economy.
Article 48. The right to use traditional methods of harvesting wildlife and products of animal activity
The citizens of the RF whose existence and income fully or partly rely on traditional systems of subsistence, including hunting, fishery and gathering, are entitled to the application of traditional methods harvesting of wildlife and animal activity products unless such methods result, whether directly or indirectly, in a decline of biological diversity, reduction of population or sustainable reproduction of wildlife, disturb wildlife habitats or is hazardous to humans.
The said right can be implemented both individually and collectively, through establishment of various associations (on the basis of families, clans, territorial-economic communities, unions of hunters, gatherers, etc.).
Article 49. The right to priority utilisation of wildlife
Citizens belonging to indigenous minorities and ethnic entities, whose original culture and way of life include traditional methods of protection and utilisation of wildlife, are entitled to priority utilisation of wildlife in traditional subsistence areas.
The right to priority utilisation of wildlife includes:
The law clearly states the special rights of indigenous minorities' wildlife utilisation, which can be implemented both individually and collectively. The law does not stipulate that members of indigenous people should represent "legal entities".
Further analysis of the Decree text reveals that paragraph 1 contains a well-defined injunction regarding "withdrawal of land plot of 470162.0 in the farm area", while paragraph 4 instructs that "… the farm should be allotted, in due procedure, as a forest plot for game grounds". Nobody knows what "due procedure" implies. This procedure has not been clarified. It is not understood what plot is implied and what size will be concerned with in future, since paragraph 4 does not give an indications of that. If this is re-registration, paragraph 4 should have stated the same plot of land of the same size and the terms on which it will be leased and for which period.
Comparison of the Decree text with the one of the recommendations of the Commission of 24.01.2000 on the Ayan farm demonstrates that the indigenous people's rights have been infringed upon.
The Commission recommends that the administration of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug should allot to the Ayan farm a forest plot for reindeer herding rangelands and game grounds.
By contrast, the Decree is only concerned with the plot of forest for game grounds, which implies that a decision has been taken not to allot land for reindeer herding ranges. If it is actually so, on what grounds has this decision been taken?
It follows from the other documents, including those sent from other regions, that game grounds and reindeer rangelands will be allotted only to "legal entities" and on a "contest basis". There are no guarantees that an indigenous hunter would receive a plot of his own. The terms of such "due procedure" contradict the statements of the above clauses of the Wildlife Law of the RF.
It would be natural to assume that if there are some statutory acts (which should not contradict the federal Wildlife Law) regarding allotment of game grounds and reindeer rangelands to "legal entities", "clan communities" and "peasant farms" should be allowed time for re-registration in accordance with the new federal law On General Principles of Clan Community Organisation… signed by RF President on 20 July 2000 and which was put into force immediately upon its publication, that is, after the above-mentioned Minutes and the Decree.
Why such a hurry? In fact, the majority of state acts on the utilisation of game grounds and reindeer ranges for indigenous people issued in 1991 to 1992 have not expired. Moreover, a special instruction of the RF Ministry of Justice on the re-registration of farms of April 30, 1999 Concerning the Instruction of RF Government of 22 04.1999 No. GK-P1-13491 GD states directly that "neither the Federal Law On the Introduction of the First Part of the Civil Code of RF nor any other federal laws establish deadlines for bringing the legal status of farms in conformity with the RF Civil Code. Today, work is being done on the development of a new federal law On Farms, which can determine the above-mentioned dates"
S.N. Kharyuchi, President of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, addressed the bodies of power of the RF demanding the legal assessment of the on-going re-registration of game grounds and reindeer ranges assigned to "clan communities" and farms of indigenous minorities and some northern administrative entities of the RF.
So far, we are calling upon the indigenous minorities of the North to forward information to RAIPON on similar facts of re-registration and withdrawal of game grounds from indigenous peoples of the North, supplementing appropriate documents and also to file respective complaints to the Prosecutor’s Office of the Administrative entities of the RF, to the Procurator General of the RF.
A draft collective letter by citizens regarding the above events in the Evenk Autonomous Okrug is presented below.
President of the Russian Federation
4, Staraya Ploshchad 103132
Chairman of the Government of the Russian Federation
2, Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya, 103274
Minister of Justice of the Russian Federation
4, Voronotsovo Pole, Moscow, 109830
Procurator General of the Russian Federation
15a, Bolshaya Dmitrovka, Moscow, 103797
copy: V.V. Botul, Prosecutor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug
2 Sovetskaya, village Tura, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Krasnoyarskiy Kray, 648000
copy: A.A. Bokovmikov Governor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug
2 Smidovicha, village Tura, Evenk Autonomous Okrug, Krasnoyarskiy Kray, 648000
On the basis of Article 33, RF Constitution
(Citizens of the Russian Federation are entitled to address personally, and also to forward individual or collective appeals to state bodies and bodies of local administration.)
A demand for immediate suspension of the operation of all statutory acts issued by the state bodies of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, RF on withdrawal of game grounds and other lands, which are territories of traditional subsistence and historical environment of the indigenous peoples of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug.
This is to inform you that in the territory of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug (hereafter referred to as EAO) the constitutional rights of representatives of indigenous minorities, whom the administration has put on the verge on extinction, are violated. Actions and decisions of the EAO authorities violate the Constitution of the RF and Federal Law.
The human being, his/her rights and freedom are the highest value. Recognition, observance and protection of the rights and freedom of the human being and the citizen are the obligations of the state.
Article 3, § 1
The carrier of sovereignty and the only source of power in the RF is its multinational people.
Article 7, § 1
The RF is a social state, whose policy is aimed at creating conditions providing a dignified life and free development of the people.
Article 9, § 1
Land and other natural resources are used and protected in the RF to form a basis for human life and activities in the respective territory.
Article 15, § 1
The Constitution of the RF has the highest legal status and is applied throughout the entire territory of the RF. Laws and other legal acts adopted in the RF shall not contradict the Constitution of the RF.
Article 16, § 2
No other article of the present Constitution may contradict the foundations of the constitutional system of the RF.
The rights and freedom of the people and the citizens are the following. They determine the meaning, content and application of the laws, the actions of the legislator, the executive power, and the local legislation and are supported by justice.
Article 20, § 1
Everybody has the right to live.
The RF guarantees the rights of indigenous minorities in the RF in accordance with the generally accepted principles and standards of the international law and international treaties of the RF.
The joint authority of the RF and the administrative entities of the RF comprises:
… b) Protection of human and citizens’ rights; protection of the rights of ethnic minorities
… l) Protection of the historical environment and traditional lifestyles of ethnic minorities …"
The above articles of the RF Constitution guarantee the indigenous peoples of the RF the right to life and freely develop as the human being.
What is going on in EAO today is a violation of the constitutional rights of the indigenous minorities of the RF
During the period proclaimed by the UN General Assembly as the decade of indigenous peoples of the world, , the bodies of state power of the EAO take decisions aimed at withdrawal of traditional lands and environment from indigenous people
The EAO Governor issues decrees on withdrawal of land plots that are sites of traditional subsistence practices of the indigenous people, i.e. hunting, reindeer herding, fishing and gathering. For centuries, those types of activity have been the prerequisite for the existence of all indigenous people living in Russia. It is exactly traditional subsistence that provides the basis of life of the indigenous minorities of the North.
During recent years of economic crisis, when the organised import of goods has been practically discontinued, only traditional subsistence ensures survival of the majority of indigenous people living far from built-up areas, where transportation is only possible by air.
Our right to traditional lifestyle has been stated by the Federal Law.
The federal law Оn Guarantees for Indigenous Peoples of the RF: In accordance with the generally adopted principles and standards of international law and international treaties, the RF establishes the legal foundations of the guarantees of original socio-economic and cultural development of its indigenous minorities, protection of their traditional environment, traditional lifestyle and economy. The rights of indigenous minorities are also protected by other federal laws, in particular, the Wildlife Law, articles 6, 48, 49, RF Forest Code, articles 107 and 124, and the Land Code, articles 4, 5, 14, 15, 21, 94, On Land Rent, articles 12, 13.
In defiance of the requirements of RF Constitution, the standards of international law and federal legislation of the RF, the EAO Governor and EAO bodies of state power have launched a massive campaign for withdrawal of land plots that are territories of traditional land use and historic traditional environment of the indigenous population of the EAO.
The present appeal is supplemented with a copy of the decree by the Administration of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug No. 152 of 23 June 2000 and a copy of the Minutes No. 1 of 10 May 2000 of the meeting of the Okrug Commission for Leasing Game Grounds and Reindeer Rangelands (village Tura).
Both documents are – legally seen – absolutely invalid. They lack any concrete articles of federal law that would entitle the administration to withdrawal of areas of traditional land use from the EAO indigenous population.
The above statutes are in sheer defiance of the articles 2, 7, 9, 15, 16, §§ 2, 18, 20, 69 of the RF, and also the articles of the federal law On Guarantees of the Rights of the Ethnic Minorities of the RF.
In response to the appeals of indigenous representatives and associations of indigenous minorities, the EAO administration came up with no intelligible legal arguments. The only document that was received was the letter by S. Yudushkin, Deputy Minister of Justice of the RF, regarding the instruction of the RF Government of 22.04.99, No. GK-P1-13491 GD. This letter implies that the question of re-registration of farms has nothing to do with the issue of withdrawal of traditional subsistence territories from indigenous peoples. The given letter contains no legal norms associated with the right of indigenous minorities to traditional lifestyle.
Thus, the actions and decrees of the EAO Governor are excess of authority, violating federal law and the RF Constitution. The implementation of acts aimed at withdrawal of traditional subsistence territories from the EAO indigenous population may entail tragic consequences for a large number of people, who are largely members of poor families with many children.
We demand that immediate measures should be taken to stop arbitrariness on the part of the EAO Governor regarding withdrawal of lands, which are the basis of traditional subsistence and historical environment of indigenous minorities.
In case no immediate measures are taken to stop this arbitrariness, we shall have to approach international human rights organisations and the United Nations.
Signatures to this appeal are collected throughout the entire Russian Federation.
1. Copy of Minutes No. 1 of meeting of the Okrug Commission for Leasing Game Grounds and Reindeer Rangelands (Tura village) of 10 May 2000 – 2 sheets.
2. Decree of the Governor of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug No. 152 of 23 June 2000. – 1 sheet.
3. Copy of the letter by RF Deputy Minister of Justice, S. Yudushkin, regarding the instruction of the RF Government of 22 April 1999, No GK-P1-13491GD – 2 sheets.
4. Copy of the letter of the Association of Clan Communities and Farms Ilimpeya to the head of the administration of the Ilimpeya Rayon N.A. Supryaga – 2 sheets.
5. Copy of the statement by M.D. Smirnova, President of the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North Arun (Revival) of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug to V.V. Botul – 2 sheets.
6. Copy of the letter by the President of the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North Arun of the Evenk Autonomous Okrug, M.D. Smirnova, of 09 October 2000 to the President of the Association of Indigenous Minorities of the North, S.N. Kharyuchi – 2 sheets.