Thursday, March 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: ‘The Genocide of the Evenks Must Not Remain Unpunished’

Paul Goble

Baku, March 20 – Moscow’s plans to build a large hydro-electric dam on the Lower Tunguska River in Siberia will flood the territory members of the Evenk nationality have traditionally used for reindeer herding and thus destroy the basis oft their continued existence.
These plans thus constitute a form of genocide as defined by the United Nations convention, ethnic and environmental activists and Russian legal specialists say, and they are now insisting that, if this project is realized, “the genocide of the Evenks must not remain unpunished” (
Because the Evenks are such a small community – they numbered just over 35,000 in the 2002 census – and because they are so isolated – they live in the far north of Siberia – Russian officials, just like their Soviet predecessors, typically have assumed they can do what they like to them.
But the Evenks over the last several months have been able to attract support for their cause from three larger groups, a development that has prompted Russian officials to lie about this project, sometimes denying that there were any plans to construct a dam even after such a plan had been formally approved.
First of all, the Evenks have draw support from environmentalists concerned about the impact of the proposed dam on biological diversity. Not only would it flood an entire eco-system, they say, but the dam would also affect plant and animal life downstream as well, something environmental activists have decried.
Second, they have won the backing of other numerically small peoples of the North and their ethnic Russian allies. The former, although not numerous have become adept at attracting the attention of circumpolar peoples abroad, and the latter, more politically important, view this attack on the Russian north as a threat to themselves.
And now, third, the Evenks are winning the backing of Russian and international legal specialists who argue that what Moscow is planning to do falls under the provisions of the genocide convention to which Russia is a signatory and that Russian officials involved are at risk of being charged with that most heinous of crimes.
Because Moscow has ignored other arguments in the name of producing electric power, activists of the Association of the Numerically Small Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East have long insisted that this project is “a hidden from of genocide” (
Indeed, Russian officials, along with many in the media and broader society there, have been inclined to treat such charges as hyperbolic and absurd, but now a number of Russian legal specialists have shown why they are anything but and why those involved with this project could put themselves in legal jeopardy.
In the article on the Evenk situation, Dmitriy Verkhoturov summarizes their arguments. The 1948 UN Genocide convention, he points out, defines that crime as including all actions “committed with the intention to destroy in whole or in part any national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such.”
And consequently, as Rafael’ Lemkin, one of the drafters of that convention, has pointed out, depriving a group of the conditions it needs to continue to survive thus falls under the definition of this crime. That the dam would do so was recognized by Soviet academic specialists as early as 1988.
Moreover, Russian and international lawyers point out, the third section of the 1948 convention specifies that individuals and groups can be punished “not only for genocide itself but also for conspiracy to commit genocide, instigation of genocide, attempts at genocide and participation in genocide.”
In other words, Verkhoturov says, “the list of those who would be subject to responsibility for the genocide of the Evenks [if this dam project goes forward] will be quite large.” And many Russians involved with it even now could in fact face charges at trials at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

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