English translation from the official periodical of RAIPON “Мир коренных народов живая арктика” (Indigenous Peoples’ World Living Arctic) No. 18, 2005

Russian State Duma delegates refuse to guarantee representation of Northern indigenous peoples in regional parliaments

Irina Kurilova and Olga Murashko

A short time ago the Russian Federal Government proudly announced in its 1st and 2nd Periodic Reports to the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities saying that it had created mechanisms  to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in the regional parliaments. Only two and half years ago, in March 2003, with the support of the government of the Russian Federation and the representatives of both houses of the Federal Assembly we held a roundtable with our foreign colleagues, under the title “Indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East and the parliamentary system in the Russian Federation: reality and perspectives”. Russia exchanged experiences  with other circumpolar countries, including Canada, the USA, Norway, and Denmark. We had something to speak about and to take pride in.

And suddenly the rule, which had guaranteed Russian indigenous peoples  participation in regional political fora, was severly undermined through article 13 and some other provisions of the federal law “On the guarantees of the rights of the numerically small indigenous peoples of the North of the Russian Federation”— the notorious Federal Law No. 122, also known as “the law on the benefits of monetisation”.

RAIPON and the regions of the Russian Federation, which for quite a long time have been developing parliamentary bodies for the Northern peoples that would not conflict with Russian legislation, are trying to mend the situation and restore the guarantees of the rights of the indigenous peoples. But, as the  recent events in the State Duma that are described below show, the majority of the delegates is not ready to accept the suggestions coming from the regions of the Russian Federation.

The State Duma of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug introduced to the State Duma of the Russian Federation the bill “Amendments into #4 of the federal law ‘About the general principles of the organisation of legislative and executive bodies of the state authority in the subjects of the Russian Federation’".

On 19 October 2005, at the Plenary Meeting of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, Sergey Kharyuchi, President of the State Duma of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and President of RAIPON, presented the main ideas of a bill that would make possible a quota representation of indigenous peoples in the country’s regional parliaments.

The President of the Committee on Federation Affairs and Regional Policy, Viktor Grishanin, read aloud the committee’s conclusion..

Clause 18 F3 of the federal law “On the Main Guarantees of Electoral Rights and the Right to Participate in a Referendum of the Citizens of the Russian Federation” guarantees the electoral rights of indigenous peoples. The law permits, in indigenous residence areas, that their representation in an elected assembly can deviate by as much as 40% (plus or minus) from their actual proportion in the constituency's population.

Point 3 Clause 1  F3 admits that the regional laws of the Russian Federation can guarantee the right to vote and to take part in a federal Russian referendum, complementing the guarantees provided by the abovementioned federal law. However, according to the Committee’s opinion, “strengthening of the guarantees for the mentioned category of people will derogate the right to vote of other citizens who live in the territory of the corresponding region of the Russian Federation, but not related to the indigenous peoples, which does not conform to Article 19 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation”. Moreover, the Committee thinks that the bill presents no concrete notion of the representation quota. Further it was mentioned that the setting up candidates for deputy representatives is already regulated by Chapter V of the Federal Law ‘On the Main Guarantees …’, which is one of the main guarantees of the citizens’ right to vote. In view of the above, the Committee on Federation Affairs and Regional Policy recommended that the bill should be rejected as unconstitutional. It was also recommended to be refused by the Committee on Nationality Affairs, and? a negative comment was received from the Government of the Russian Federation.Consequently the bill was not passed. The results of the voting on the bill are the following:

·   94 delegates (20.9%) voted affirmatively

·   No delegates  voted negatively

·   No delegates  abstained

·   94 delegates (20.9%) voted

·   356 delegates (79.1%) did not vote

Result: no decision made.

Petr Stanislavovich Volostrigov, the representative of the Duma of the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug (Yugra) and member of the Federation Council, supported the bill.

In the following we publish the speeches of Sergey Kharyuchi and the comments of Mikhail Todyshev, who also was present at this State Duma meeting.

Speech at the plenary meeting of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, 19 October 2005

Sergey N. Kharyuchi, President of the State Duma of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug

Distinguished delegates, colleagues! The legislative initiative of the representative body of the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is based, above all, on the world experience of the representation of national minorities. There is a wide spectrum of forms for safeguarding the political representation of national minorities.

There are countries like Denmark , Spain, Canada, Finland and China , where the representation of autonomous areas or indigenous peoples’ residence territories is defined. Others define the representation of national minority groups or associations (Hungary). In the Republic of Croatia ethnic communities , which make up more than 8% of the population have the right to be presented in the legislative and executive bodies. In Romania they have the right for one seat in parliament, even if during the elections the representative of the national minority was not elected. In Columbia’s congress two places are reserved for representatives of the indigenous communities.

Courts of many European countries , including Hungary and Germany, support the possibility of guaranteed representation of national minorities in public authorities.

Second , we also based our bill upon the national experience of ensuring additional guarantees of the electoral rights of this category of the population, which is diverse. It is important to mention that already in 2002, at the meeting of the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Russian Federation in its report marked as a positive fact the experience of several regions of the Federation, particularly the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous okrugs. In Russia’s report of 2005 the same regions were recognised as model regions in terms of implementation of the provisions of the Framework Convention.

In the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug three parliamentary mandates are reserved for representatives of indigenous peoples and are elected by the population of the Autonomous Okrug.

In the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrug there are three delegates (formerly five) elected by the okrug population; these form the Indigenous Peoples Assembly. The Congress of the Indigenous Peoples nominates deputy candidates for legislative bodies. It is remarkable that representatives of any ethnic group can be nominated for deputy.

The Sakhalin Oblast had its own way of solving the issue. In 1994 the regional Duma introduced the position of an Indigenous Peoples’ Representative of the Sakhalin Oblast. This representative is also elected at the regional Congress of indigenous peoples, answers directly to the President of the Oblast Duma, has the right of legislative initiative and is paid as a Sakhalin Oblast Duma delegate, but without the right of voting on Duma decisions.

Other administrative regions of the Russian Federation have other ways of handling this delicate issue. It should be noted, distinguished colleagues, that the experience of the application for indigenous peoples’ representation quotas in some parts of the Russian Federation showed that this representation has had a positive impact on the relations between the mainstream population and the indigenous peoples, between oil and energy companies and traditional indigenous communities. As a result, the laws passed at the regional level are always well-considered, mainly those concerning environmental  issues and the use of natural resources in the interest of the entire population of the territory. Creating interethnic concordance in the territories promotes solving industry development and economic problems in a reasonable way.

The goal of representation (not necessarily limited to the Northern indigenous peoples) is to provide legally equal participation of the indigenous peoples in political processes, in the governing system, and a real possibility to control their own development. It does not distort the representative system in any way, which has been proved by global and national experience. The opinion and the decision of the majority remains decisive anyway.

It has been recognised at the international level that indigenous peoples’ cautious attitude towards nature has helped to preserve about 20% of the world’s most valuable lands in terms of biodiversity. Therefore, the level of rights provided to indigenous peoples for preservation of their original way of life and land use is in essentially an indicator of the potential of sustainable development for the state.

The bill submitted for your consideration suggests the regulation of this issue by federal legislation, as envisaged by paragraph 3 of article 1 of the federal law “On the Main Guarantees of Electoral Rights…”, which states that “... can be established the guarantees for the elective franchises and the right to participate in referendum for the citizens of the Russian Federation”.

Comments after the meeting of 19 October 2005

Mikhail A. Todyshev, RAIPON

Yamal’s legislative initiative is aimed at setting additional guarantees of electoral rights for the most socially, economically and politically vulnerable category of citizens – the Northern indigenous peoples. Paragraph 3 of article 1 of the federal law “On the Main Guarantees of Electoral Rights …” stipulates their implementation in the regions of the Russian Federation. For some reason, when the bill was being passed, none of the delegates mentioned that it would contradict the principle of everybody’s equality before the law. Based on the same principle, the Constitution of the Russian Federation itself favours children, disabled people, women, national minorities and indigenous peoples (article 69) in a number of articles. These groups of citizens are picked out by the legislator because of their especially vulnerable position, which requires additional privileges and state guarantees. For this reason, the characterisation of the proposed bill as violating article 19 of the Constitution is wrong.

The determination of a representation quota is not required in this bill. It can be determined freely in the regional legislations. And strict limitations of the conditions and order of candidates for deputy nomination are groundless in this case, because the legislative initiative does not pretend to introduce a new main guarantee of the electoral rights. The bill only suggests additional guarantees of electoral rights, which can be expressed in different forms, such as quotas, representation etc.

Which conclusion can be drawn from this?

We witness a deviation of the Russian Federation from the earlier proclaimed principles of protection of the indigenous people’s rights according to internationally recognised principles, rules and international agreements. Unfortunately, the State Duma delegates, rejecting this legislative initiative, did not take into consideration Russia’s international obligations, following the ratification of the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. It is not clear when the Government is telling the truth: through the negative resolution for the bill signed by the vice-chairman of the Government Aleksandr Zhukov, or through the 1st and 2nd Periodic Reports of the Russian Federation to Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

The reports show the examples of the Yamal-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk autonomous okrugs as well as the Sakhalin Oblast as positive experience of the implementation of the provisions of the Framework Convention, of making political decisions in terms of quota representation of the indigenous peoples in legislative (representative) bodies of state authorities of the Russian Federation.

In the present situation we have no other choice than to prepare a parallel report to the Council of Europe’s Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.