We’re hearing deeply troubling news from Russia today: an ally in the struggle to protect the Arctic and the largest association of Indigenous Peoples of Russia has been ordered by the Russian government to close its doors.

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Russian authorities represented by the Ministry of Justice have suspended the activities of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) until April 2013, citing formalities of inconsistencies between the bylaws of the organisation and the Russian Federal law.

RAIPON has been working on the basis of these bylaws for 22 years, without any comments from the authorities. Since its creation in 1990, it united, promoted and protected the rights of 41 groups and organisations of Indigenous Peoples of Russia’s north, uniting 300,000 people who don’t always have a voice in the political arena.

The suspension of RAIPON’s activities took place on the day before the opening of the meeting of the Arctic Council in Haparanda, Sweden (where RAIPON is a permanent participant), and in the run up to the 7th Assembly of the Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and Far East of Russia, that was planned for March 2013.

In August 2012, RAIPON, along with representatives of other Indigenous Peoples of the Russian North, supported the demand to ban oil production on the Arctic continental shelf in the areas of traditional land use, and called on all the Indigenous Peoples of the Arctic to join in sounding this demand.

Greenpeace International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo wrote the below letter to President Putin today, requesting that he intervene and reverse this decision, so that RAIPON can continue its legitimate activities in representing the rights and interests of the Indigenous Peoples of Russia’s North.

Dear Mr. President,

I am writing to urge you to intervene as a matter of urgency to prevent the dissolution of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON) on minor technicalities. 

Earlier this year I participated in a conference with representatives of Russia’s Indigenous Peoples during a visit to Moscow. During the event, I was informed of their continuing struggle for self-determination and for the protection of Indigenous lands and livelihoods. There were reports of the oil industry’s reckless behavior, which has greatly contributed to the environmental destruction of vast lands and human misery. On an almost daily basis, unavoidable oil spills plague the rivers and destroy the forests of the Russian north.

As I am sure you are aware, the Indigenous Peoples of Russia have first-hand experience of this ongoing environmental disaster; rivers are dying and communities are facing increased cancer rates. For a long time, the Peoples of northern Russia have sought to have their collective voice heard, but have been met with continuing indifference at best, and at worst, with intimidation bordering on bullying. 

This week, the Russian Minister of Justice ordered the main organisation representing the Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Arctic to close its doors. The legal status of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), which functions as the umbrella organisation for the majority of Indigenous Peoples in the Russian North, is under threat.

It is my understanding that the Ministry of Justice has shut down RAIPON due to an administrative rule. I am hopeful that you agree that such an important voice shouldn't be forced to dissolve because of mere technicalities.

Should RAIPON be disbanded and ousted from the Arctic Council where it has sat since the formation of the Council, it will be perceived as a deliberate attempt to silence dissenting voices in the debate on the future of the Russian Arctic and as a cynical manoeuver to silence those who speak out on the impacts of oil drilling.

RAIPON has been steadfast and courageous in helping to give a voice to the Indigenous Peoples of Russia – both nationally and internationally. Where Indigenous Peoples dare to raise their voices they must be supported and empowered; not punished for their bravery.

On behalf of Greenpeace, I appeal to you and the Russian government to ensure the future of RAIPON, including its continued participation in the Arctic Council, the body that guides cooperation in the region, where RAIPON has the status of Permanent Participants. RAIPON is a key partner in the Arctic Council and a way must be found to allow them to continue to represent the interests of Indigenous Peoples of the North there.

Sincerely,

 

Dr. Kumi Naidoo, Executive Director, Greenpeace International