Oliver Loode is a human rights and development practitioner focusing on indigenous peoples and minorities. Between 2014 and 2016 Oliver was a Member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. He hosts the "Indigenous Hour" podcast.
Crimea.Inform has talked to Oliver about indigenous people’s rights in Ukraine, ways to protect them and issues arising in this field from the occupation of Crimea.
Oliver, what makes indigenous peoples different from other peoples and how is Ukraine protecting them?
There are 400 million indigenous persons living in the world. The Ukrainian state after the 2014 Crimea’s occupation by Russia recognized its indigenous peoples meaning Crimean Tatars, Krymchaks and Karaites. Soon after that Ukraine joined the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples originally adopted in 2007. Back then Ukraine abstained from supporting the declaration. By joining the document, it took the responsibility both in front of the world and domestically to uphold and to implement this declaration. I think every country that has indigenous peoples has the responsibility to make sure that their rights are respected, as rights of all other citizens. The unique thing about indigenous peoples, however, is that they also have collective rights which, for example, ethnic minorities do not have. And an important right is the right to self-determination.
What is the practice in other countries with respect to the exercise of the right to self-determination?
There is no ideal example of how that could be done. But there are practices in the world Ukraine can and should learn from. I often talk about the example of Greenland. What could be more realistic for Ukraine is the way Sami people organized and developed their institutions in Finland and Norway, namely the Sami parliaments. The states of Finland and Norway recognize the Samis as the indigenous people, support and work with their parliaments, engage in dialogue. It’s not always smooth or pretty and there are thorny issues between the state and the indigenous people but as least the state recognizes the Samis as an indigenous people with corresponding rights.
I think now that Ukraine has supported the UN declaration it is very important that it implements is principle and ideas in reality. I understand that Ukraine finds itself in a very challenging situation in that the traditional lands of its indigenous peoples are occupied for now and Ukraine has limited opportunities to truly ensure their rights. However, there are still some things that it can do. By doing what it can Ukraine certainly will send a message to the world that Ukraine is taking its responsibilities with respect to the indigenous peoples seriously.
Could you talk in more detail about the Sami people? What has worked for them and which of those practices could be adopted in Ukraine?
It all starts with recognition of their representative institutions. In the Sami case these are Sami parliaments. They are funded by the state but they are independent from the state in their decisions and resolutions. There is variation between those three countries in the mandate of the Sami parliaments. In Finland, the Sami parliament is responsible for cultural autonomy and language issues, whereas in Norway the Sami parliament has more say over the use of the traditional Sami lands and natural resources. Basically, they are participating in the decisions on how Sami lands are used. The Norwegian example would be extremely difficult for Ukraine to follow because the land is occupied by the foreign power. But I think it is relevant in terms of the resources the state provides to the work of the representative institutions.
In 2016 there was an announcement that a Federal national cultural autonomy would be formed for the Crimean Tatars in Russia. What do you think of this initiative?
The reality of what Russia has done is the opposite of ensuring the rights. By banning Mejlis Russia is denying the Crimean Tatars the right to their representative institutions. Mejlis is a democratically elected representative body of the indigenous people which has self-identified as such and is perceived as such by most of the world. And the representative bodies of the indigenous peoples are the instrument for realization of their collective rights. Other approaches that the state is somehow setting up, establishing some other group, picking and choosing representatives of a particular group is completely against the spirit of the UN Declaration. Russia abstained from the vote on the Declaration the same way Ukraine did back in 2007 but the important difference is that Ukraine has now changed its position. Ukraine is on the way to acting in line with the UN Declaration whereas Russia continues with its old colonial and imperial habits of not respecting right of ethnic groups including the indigenous peoples. I think this is an example of curating and controlling.
How can the international community help Ukraine, its indigenous people and Crimea?
Now that Ukraine has endorsed the UN Declaration on the rights of the indigenous peoples, I think this emphasizes the direction Ukraine is taking by becoming more integrated with the global consensus on human rights including rights of the indigenous peoples. There are some practical benefits Ukraine can get from this. One possibility is to engage more with the three international mechanisms within the UN that focus on the indigenous peoples. They are the UN forum on the indigenous issues, the expert mechanism on the rights of the indigenous peoples and the special rapporteur on the rights of the indigenous peoples. Prior to 2014 Ukraine had paid practically no attention to those UN mechanisms. Since then interest has been growing. There is a very tangible near term opportunity for Ukraine to invite the special rapporteur for the rights of indigenous peoples Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz to Ukraine on a country visit to assess the situation with the rights of Ukraine’s indigenous peoples. Perhaps, this could be combined with a visit to the occupied Crimea. I think it will be important to bring more international attention to the situation of its indigenous peoples, especially those affected by Crimea’s occupation.