Governance of human security of Arctic indigenous peoples necessitates states’ affirmative actions, says Dr. Kamrul Hossain at ASSW 2015

Arctic Science Summit Week is an annual event that brings together scholars from all across the world who are involved in Arctic studies both from natural science and social science disciplines. In the year 2015 the event has been organized in Toyama – an amazingly beautiful city located in the central east coast of Japan by the Sea of Japan in its main island. With approximately 800 participants, the event has seen a great success both in sharing knowledge on Arctic studies from multi-disciplinary angles as well as in facilitating building of strong networks amongst scholars themselves as well as scholars and stakeholders. As part of the HuSArctic project, Dr. Kamrul Hossain has presented a paper arguing for states’ assertive actions for the promotion of the governance of human security to the extent the concept is applicable to the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. The summary of his talk is captured as follows:


A number of transnationally located identified indigenous peoples make the Arctic special. They are around forty in numbers and the population size is approximately 400,000, equal to about 10% of the region’s total inhabitants. This number is significant given that many of the peoples, in particular in the remote communities, still are engaged in traditionally based nature oriented activities, which give them both physical means for survival and cultural sustenance, and make then unique within the geo-physical structure of the region. However, the scope of traditional based activities is shrinking with new developments taking place in the whole region. The effect on natural environment is often taken as an example to indicate that expanding developmental activities go counter to effective environmental protection. This is true! The region is facing numerous challenges indeed, as human activities are on the rise, rather rapidly, resulted from climate change induced effects. Opening up of new sea routes throughout the Arctic coasts, increased navigation, northward moves of both fishing resources as well as of contaminants through marine sources and increase in in-land and offshore resource extractions contribute to the acceleration of further climate change and environmental degradation. The developments offer the evidence with respect to the critical challenges facing the region. Both indigenous and non-indigenous groups of peoples are affected by these developments in various ways. It is equally true, however, that human activities also bring new opportunities in terms of boosting region’s economy. The beneficiary of this developments would indeed include the indigenous groups, as one of the most significant interest groups in the region amongst the others.

How would then human security for the indigenous peoples be perceived when the concept is, to some extent, based on contradictory premise as both environmental security and economic security cannot be achieved at the same time? One of the security concepts undermines the other. For indigenous peoples, it is, however, argued as gaining a strengthened role to play in the decision-making process – a greater voice, which goes hand in hand with the understanding of a right to self-determination. The right is invoked to enhance a more democratized exercise security in the promotion of the governance of human security. The indigenous peoples as actors prioritize their view on which of the security concepts to be endorsed for them and for their own benefits.

As for the tools applicable to take up the governance of indigenous security, while the Arctic does have fairly good regional governance framework in general, indigenous peoples are not however covered by any overarching legal framework. The law of the sea, for instance, is regarded as offering adequate legal framework to govern the Arctic, fails to address the issues pertaining to indigenous peoples despite the conflicting interests they may have in regard to both on land and marine and coastal resource usage. Despite the important contribution provided by the UN Declaration on the Rights if Indigenous Peoples, and that all the Arctic states, except Russia, have endorsed the Instrument, yet the nature of it is non-legally binding bringing very little meaning in the realization of indigenous peoples’ rights. ILO Convention 169 is only applicable to Norway and Denmark within the region, however, with overlapping contested clams between state and Sámi people in Norway, while noteworthy is that in the mainland Denmark there are no indigenous peoples. The ICCPR is applicable to all across the Arctic, but the rights of the indigenous peoples may only be addressed in a limited context to the extent right to culture of the minorities is concerned, where indigenous peoples form minority.

Given the gaps in legal framework it is suggested that existing regional framework, such as the Arctic Council, Barents Euro-Arctic Council (both heavily engage indigenous peoples of the region at various levels) as well as indigenous peoples’ organizations active in the regional governance structure may make greater contributions to the promotion of human security. Already there exist a number of documents mainly produced as non-legal policy papers as a result of the initiatives of these bodies. These documents address the challenges, and strategy to develop, in regard to the promotion of human security of Arctic indigenous peoples. However, it is important that states, as the main authoritative actors having a vertical relationship with these various bodies, would need to make proper space for allocating the concerns addressed, and strategies proposed, by the latter, in their policy priorities within the national mechanisms in order to give human security framework a real meaning for their indigenous peoples.