Russia: Chukchi community defends territorial rights against coal mining company
An indigenous obshchina (kinship-based community and cooperative) of indigenous Chukchi on Chukotka peninsula in the Russian Far East has successfully appealed a 2013 administrative decision depriving it of its territory and overturned a court ruling ordering the obshchina to pay a fine of approximately 15,000 US Dollars to a mining company which had devastated their territory. However, no compensation for the damage inflicted on the obshchina has been ordered. The company has until 22 June to appeal the ruling.
The Sixth Arbitration Court of Appeals in the city of Khabarovsk overturned a decree dated 12 November 2013, which had revoked the community’s territorial rights to the Amaam lagoon area, after the community had protested the devastation of their territory by a subsidiary of the North Pacific Coal Mining (Severo-Tikhookeanskaya Ugolnaya Kompaniya / STUK).
Location of Amaam Lagoon
In 2007, the company had obtained an exploration permit for the Beringovyi hard coal deposit, holding an estimated 4.2 billion tons. Initially, the permit was given under the condition, that the company stays out of the territories of the indigenous obshchina , however the company chose to ignore this condition. The exploration works led to serious environmental damage by drillings, fuel spills, movement of heavy machinery in the summer period across the Amaam river. (In the summer months, the environment is particularly vulnerable due to the thawed ground). In 2011, STUK hired the Chukokta Trading Company (ChTK) as a subcontractor. With the arrival of this company, the violations aggravated. In summer of 2011, right in the middle of the the salmon spawning season , ChTK hauled cargo from the Ushakov bay across the pristine tundra, the floodplains of the Amaam lagoon and the Amaam river all the way to the base using heavy transport equipment, inflicting irreparable damage to the river.
Photo taken 15 August 2011 after 3 transports
The same place on 22 September 2011
The obshchina responded by filing complaints which led to several investigations by water and fishing authorities and criminal charges filed by the public prosecutor’s office in February 2012. Unimpressed by these moves, the company continued its operations unmitigated and filed a countersuit, claiming damages of 582,869 roubles (at that time approximately 15,000 US Dollars). In February 2013 the arbitration court of Chukotka ruled in favour of the company and ordered that the obschchina had to pay the damages. This scandal was widely reported in Russian media. A few months later, in November 2013, the head of the Anadyr municipal district of Chukotka adopted a decree revoking the rights of the community to the given territory.
After a lengthy legal battle, this ruling by the arbitration court and the decree revoking the territorial rights of the obshchina have now been overturned. The defendants have until 22 June to appeal the ruling. While there is hope, that the obshchina’s defense of their territorial rights remains success, the Khabarovsk court did not order any compensation for the irreparable environmental damage inflicted to the environment.