Russia’s Constitutional Court defended the right of indigenous peoples to hunt

Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation on July 5, 2021, has issued its resolution concerning the legal appeal of Mr. Andrey Danilov, a representative of the Saami people, one of the indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Far North. In 2019, Danilov applied to the Murmansk regional Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology with a request to allow him to hunt in order to maintain a traditional lifestyle and traditional economic activities. Danilov submitted his appeal on the grounds that, as a representative of the Saami people, he has the right to enjoy benefits for the use of land and natural resources in places of traditional residence and traditional activities of Saami people. However, the regional administration refused him this, referring to the fact that Mr. Danilov currently lived and worked in the city of Olenegorsk, which did not belong to the territories of traditional residence of indigenous minorities, and his Saami identity alone could not serve as a basis for granting him the right to hunt on special conditions. This refusal was confirmed by all four instances of the courts of general jurisdiction, which have stated that the Russian legislation considered only those who permanently resided in traditional territories to be indigenous peoples, for whom traditional use of natural resources was the basis of their existence. The laws “On guarantees of the rights of indigenous small-numbered peoples of the Russian Federation” and “On hunting and preservation of resources for hunting” put it this way, and preferences for the use of natural resources and land are given only to permanent dwellers of the territories of traditional residence, who keep the traditional way of life.

Mr.Danilov has challenged this legislative regulation in the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation and has pointed out in his legal complaint that normal living conditions and living in an urban environment should not contradict the possibility to lead a traditional lifestyle.

Constitutional Court recognized the requirements of the law on the need to preserve places of traditional residence and to conduct traditional activities in order to establish guarantees of the rights for indigenous minorities to be fair, since they proceeded from the need to preserve traditional ways of life. At the same time, the Court considered that such requirements could prevent the provision of these guarantees for those representatives of the indigenous peoples who did not live permanently in their former places of traditional residence, who have moved to the city (including forced resettlement) and could not lead their historically established lifestyle, but at the same time kept their contact with the land of their ancestors, followed their customs and passed them on to new generations. In its decision, the Constitutional Court indicated that life outside of the places of traditional residence and activity did not mean that a representative of a small-numbered people had lost this status or broke off contact with their people and culture. The Court has also emphasized that for small-numbered peoples, their traditional crafts, in particular hunting, were not so much a means of subsistence but a guarantee of preserving identity and culture.

Thus, the Constitutional Court sided with Mr. Danilov, and the refusal of the Murmansk regional Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology to grant the latter hunting privileges will be reviewed. In addition, the legislators will have to clarify the basis for the implementation of the right to hunt in order to preserve a traditional way of life and carry out economic activities by representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East.

The decision of the Constitutional Court in the case of Andrey Danilov has particular importance not only for the Saami people, but also for all other indigenous peoples living in Russia. The court ruling, according to which traditional crafts are a guarantee of the preservation of identity and culture, should become fundamental in the situation when land, forests and water resources on the lands of indigenous peoples are given over to industrial companies for development without any restrictions. These activities lead to the destruction of the natural environment and resources used by indigenous peoples, and therefore threaten the existence of the latter, their languages and culture.

Photo from Andrei Danilov’s fb page

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