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The Russian Federation is a multiethnic and multicultural country. Russian legislation does not contain a general definition of indigenous people. The Law on Guarantees of the Rights of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation only defines “small-numbered” (groups of no more than fifty thousand) indigenous peoples of the North, Far East, and Siberia.

 Existing legislation contains several provisions aimed at guaranteeing the protection of objects of cultural and archaeological heritage. The Law on Objects of Cultural and Historic Heritage (Monuments of Culture and History) of the People of the Russian Federation is the primary law governing discoveries of human remains, sacred places, and artifacts of indigenous peoples. The Law governs the process and policies for archaeological excavations, inventories, and the protection of finds. The Law also provides a legal framework for land development in the context of the protection of objects of cultural and archaeological heritage.

Sacred places and places of worship of indigenous peoples are considered a part of their natural habitat. The Federal Law on Territories of Traditional Use of the Natural Habitat of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East provides limited protection for these sites, as parts of specially protected lands of traditional use of the natural habitat.

I. Introduction

The Russian Federation is a multiethnic and multicultural country, with more than 180 different nationalities and ethnic groups. The Russian Constitution provides for the protection and preservation of the cultural heritage of Russians. According to article 44, paragraph 3 of the Constitution, “everyone shall be obliged to care for the preservation of cultural and historical heritage and protect monuments of history and culture.”[1] 

Russian legislation does not contain a general definition of the term “indigenous people.”  National legislation only defines “small-numbered indigenous peoples of the Russian North, Far East, and Siberia.” Article 1 of the Law on Guarantees of the Rights of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Federation (Law on Guarantees of Rights) states that “indigenous small-numbered peoples” are those who live in the territories of traditional settlement of their ancestors; preserve their traditional lifestyle, economic activities, and crafts; and have a collective population in the Russian Federation of less than fifty thousand.[2]  According to the Governmental Resolution on the Unified Registry of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples, of 180 nationalities and ethnic groups living in the Russian Federation more than forty are classified as “small-numbered indigenous peoples” and are thus subject to a special legal status and protection.[3] 

The protections accorded to small-numbered indigenous peoples can be found in a variety of legal sources:

  • Article 69 of the Constitution provides that “the Russian Federation shall guarantee the rights of the indigenous small-numbered people according to the universally recognized principles and norms of international law and international treaties and agreements of the Russian Federation.”[4] 
  • Article 72 of the Constitution states that the protection of the natural habitat and traditional way of living of small-numbered ethnic minorities, as well as issues of the possession, use, and disposal of land, subsoil, water, and other natural resources, are under the joint jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and its subjects.[5] 
  • The Federal Law on Territories of Traditional Use of the Natural Habitat of Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (Law on Territories of Traditional Use) is the main piece of legislation providing protection for traditional habitats, places of worship, and objects of history and culture situated on the specially protected territories of traditional use of the natural habitat.[6]  
  • Additionally, the Law on Guarantees of Rights states that small-numbered indigenous peoples have the right to their unique culture, to observe their traditions and perform religious ceremonies, and to preserve and protect their places of worship.[7]

This report examines the legal framework for the protection of indigenous peoples’ graves, human remains, sacred places, and artifacts discovered during archaeological activities. The report outlines the process and protocol applicable to archaeological discoveries, land use and development on the territory where the objects of cultural heritage of indigenous peoples are found, and the protection of their places of worship and sacred places.

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II. Process of and Protocol for Archaeological Excavations

A. Governing Principles and Definitions

Russian law does not contain specific provisions on conducting archaeological activities on the territory inhabited by indigenous peoples. The general principles for conducting scientific and exploratory activities on the specially protected territories of traditional use of the natural habitat are contained in the Law on Territories of Traditional Use. Article 10 of the Law on Territories of Traditional Use of Natural Habitat stipulates that parts of the specially protected lands allocated (demarcated) for use by small-numbered indigenous peoples may include objects of historical-cultural heritage, such as religious buildings, places of ancient habitation, and sites of ancestral burials.[8] Scientific and exploratory work conducted within the limits of these specially protected lands must be carried out with due consideration to the status of the lands.[9] 

All archaeological activities, including the discovery and treatment of artifacts, graves, sacred places, and places of worship, are regulated by the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage (Monuments of History and Culture) of the People of the Russian Federation (Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage).[10] Article 7 of that Law guarantees the preservation of cultural heritage sites.[11]  According to article 3 of the Law, “objects of cultural heritage” (historical and cultural monuments) of the Russian people include objects of immovable property (including objects of archaeological heritage) and other objects that are associated with them within historically associated territories.[12] “Objects of archaeological heritage” are defined as partially or fully hidden traces of human existence in past eras (including all archaeological objects and cultural layers associated with such traces), the main or one of the main sources of information about which are archaeological excavations or finds.[13]

Article 3.1 of the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage provides that the territory of the object of cultural heritage may include land, forests, water bodies, or parts thereof that are under state or municipal ownership or are owned by individuals or legal entities.[14] Such objects are classified as having federal, regional, or municipal significance. [15]

 

B. Permit Requirements and Eligibility

According to article 45.1 of the Law, all archaeological activities, including those aimed at the discovery and storage of archaeological objects, are subject to obtaining a permit (“open list”), which is issued for a period not exceeding one year. [16] The permit is issued by the federal body for the protection of cultural heritage on the basis of the decision of the Russian Academy of Sciences confirming the right of the organization to conduct archaeological activities. The government of the Russian Federation establishes the order and requirements for issuance and cancellation of permits.

Permits may be issued to physical persons (individuals) who are

  • citizens of the Russian Federation;
  • in possession of the scientific knowledge and professional experience needed to carry out archaeological fieldwork;
  • capable of producing a scientific report upon the conclusion of the fieldwork; and
  • employed by the legal entity occupied in archaeological fieldwork or scientific research, educational activities, and/or collection activities for museums.[17]

The individual who holds the permit is obliged to inform the local bodies for the protection of cultural heritage about the commencement of archaeological activities in their jurisdiction. This information, along with the date and place of the intended activities, must be submitted to the regional body for the protection of cultural heritage no later than five days prior to starting work.[18]

The Law stipulates that the owners of the plots of land where archaeological excavations are to be conducted are obligated to provide unlimited access to the plots, as well as access to all land areas and water bodies identified in the permit.[19]

If archeological heritage objects are discovered during archaeological fieldwork, an individual who has received a permit must, within ten working days from the date of discovery of these objects, inform in writing the regional authority responsible for cultural heritage protection of the objects of cultural heritage. The report must include textual and graphic descriptions of the location of the discovery, as well as a list of geographical coordinates of the discovery.[20]

C. Transfer of Findings and Related Reports

Those who carry out archaeological fieldwork (both the physical and legal persons) are required to transfer within three years from the date of expiry of the permit, and in the manner prescribed by the federal body for the protection of objects of cultural heritage, all archeological objects taken (including man-made, anthropological, paleozoological, paleobotanical, and other objects of historical and cultural value) to the state part of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation.[21]  The Ministry of Culture is responsible for ensuring that all archaeological items taken during archaeological fieldwork are accepted for permanent storage in the state part of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation.[22]

Those conducting archaeological fieldwork must also prepare a detailed scientific report at the conclusion of their work and submit it to the Archival Fund of the Russian Academy of Sciences for storage within three years after the expiration of the permit.[23]

D. Accidental Discoveries

In the case of an unplanned discovery of an object of archaeological heritage, the person who made the discovery must immediately suspend work and send a written statement about the said objects to the regional body for the protection of objects of cultural heritage within three working days from the date of discovery. The regional body for the protection of cultural heritage then organizes an assessment to determine the cultural and historic value of the finds and their classification.[24]

E. Unified Registry

The Russian Federation maintains a unified registry for objects of cultural heritage, including those of archaeological heritage.[25]  Objects included in the registry are subject to special protection by the state. According to article 18(12) of the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage, objects of archaeological heritage are subject to inclusion in the registry if they are at least one hundred years old.[26] Data included in the registry is the main source of information concerning objects of historical and cultural heritage.

F.  Ownership and Preservation Archaeological Heritage Objects

According to the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage, objects of archaeological heritage, whether lying on the surface of the earth, underground, or under water, are under state ownership. The Law also states that if there are no approved boundaries of the territory of the archaeological heritage site in the registry, the earth’s surface, land plot, or body of water occupied by the archaeological heritage site is considered its territory.[27]

Article 49 of the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage provides that if an object of archaeological heritage is found on a plot of land plot or in a body of water, from the day of the discovery of this object of archaeological heritage the owner or authorized user of the land or body of water must use or dispose of the land or water with due consideration for the preservation of the object of archaeological heritage.[28]

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III. Land Use and Development Considerations

Russian legislation does not contain specific provisions pertaining to the status of lands in the context of the protection of cultural heritage, including graves, sacred places, and artifacts of indigenous people. The specially protected lands that are part of the traditional use of natural habitats of small-numbered indigenous peoples (including objects of cultural and historic heritage, religious buildings, and places of ancient habitation and ancestral burials) are regulated by the Law on Territories of Traditional Use.[29]  The Federal Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage, however, provides a legal framework for land use and development for the area where objects of cultural heritage are located or discovered.

The cultural heritage object and the plot of land where it is located are subject to differentiated land-use regimes. This differentiation allows for the possibility of conducting archaeological work regardless of the ownership status of the land. Land development, construction, and amelioration activities must be conducted with due consideration for the preservation of archaeological sites included in the unified registry of objects of cultural heritage, as well as newly-discovered objects of archaeological heritage from such sites.[30]

According to the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage, a historical and cultural expert assessment must be conducted prior to commencement of planned land development, reclamation, and amelioration activities. The goal of the assessment is to determine the presence or absence of archaeological heritage sites and, if determined to be present, to ensure their preservation.[31] The contractor or developer is responsible for bearing the costs associated with conducting the assessment. [32]

The government of the Russian Federation has adopted a Regulation with regard to procedures for choosing expert assessors and conducting the historical-cultural assessment.[33] The Regulation stipulates that the assessment must be impartial, transparent, and professional. For example, paragraph 8 of the Regulation specifies that persons who have kinship ties (members of the family) with the contractor, as well as those having a vested financial interest with regard to the outcome of the assessment including financial ties with the contractor, are precluded from conducting the assessment. [34]  

The Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage obligates the developer or the contractor to ensure the safety of the objects of cultural and archaeological heritage, including conducting rehabilitation work, if necessary. [35]

In the event that during land and forest exploration, excavation, construction, or ameliorative work objects possessing the attributes of cultural heritage, including those of archaeological heritage, are discovered, the contractor must immediately suspend work and within three days from the date of discovery send to the regional authority for cultural heritage protection a written statement about the discovered cultural heritage objects.

The regional body responsible for the protection of objects of cultural heritage must conduct an assessment of the discoveries and determine their eligibility to be included in the unified registry of protected objects of cultural and archaeological heritage.[36]  If the regional body determines that the objects should be included on the list of discovered objects of cultural and historic heritage, it (the regional body) informs the contractor or developer of the decision with instructions underlining protective measures that the developer or contractor must undertake. [37] In cases where the regional body decides not to include the discovered object on the list of protected objects of cultural and historic heritage, it must inform the developer or contractor of its decision. In this case the developer or contractor may continue to work.[38]

Archaeological objects discovered in the course of land-based or forestry activities and development or other economic activity must be transferred to the state by the individuals or legal entities carrying out these activities. [39]

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IV. Protection of Sacred Places (Places of Worship) of Indigenous People

Freedom of religion and conscience is guaranteed in article 28 of the Constitution of the Russian Federation. The Constitution states that “everyone shall be guaranteed freedom of conscience, [and] freedom of religion, including the right to profess individually or together with others any religion or to profess no religion at all.”[40]  Article 3 of the Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Unions provides guarantees for religious freedom and freedom to engage in the practice of religion.[41] The Law on Guarantees of Rights secures the right of small-numbered indigenous peoples to conduct religious ceremonies in accordance with their cultural traditions.[42]

There is no definition in federal legislation as to what constitutes a place of worship or object of religious or sacred significance for indigenous peoples. For many indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation such places are integral parts of their natural habitats. This is recognized in article 10 of the Law on Territories of Traditional Use.[43]  

The definition of sacred places or shrines can be found in the Law on Shrines of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the Khanty-Mansiyisk Autonomous Region—Ugra (Law on Shrines).[44]  The Law defines “shrine” as an element of the natural landscape that is considered to be a sacred place because of its significance for religion and for practicing religious rituals and rites.[45] For shrines and sacred places to be properly protected, they should be included in the registry of objects of cultural and historical heritage. For that purpose, article 5 of the Law on Shrines guarantees the small-numbered indigenous peoples of the Khanty-Mansisyisk Region the right to appeal to the authorized executive body of the autonomous region (okrug) with a request to include shrines of indigenous peoples in the regional registry of objects of cultural heritage. Article 5 also guarantees indigenous peoples the right to free access to shrines and sacred places for the performance of religious rites and rituals.[46]

The Law on Territories of Traditional Use states that, should the specially protected lands of traditional use of the natural habitat be alienated for state or municipal use, the indigenous peoples affected are entitled to equal land plots and other natural objects, as well as to compensation for incurred losses.[47] However, the Law does not provide for specific compensation or restitution for alienation or destruction of the sites containing shrines and places of worship of small-numbered indigenous peoples.

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V. Recent Developments

Several recent developments in the area of protection of cultural heritage could impact the protection of cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of the Russian Federation.

  • On February 21, 2019, amendments to the Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage came into effect. The amendments provide for the protection and demarcation of the territories of historic and cultural museums, reserves, and complexes.[48]
  • The State Duma (Committee on the Affairs of Nationalities) supported the initiative to put forward legislation aimed at preserving and developing the nonmaterial cultural heritage of the indigenous peoples of Russia. The legislation seeks to preserve the ethnographic heritage of indigenous peoples, as well as provide a legal definition of “nonmaterial culture.”[49]
  • At the international forum concerning the cultural and spiritual heritage of small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East, under the auspices of RAIPON (the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North), participants recommended to the Ministry of Culture the development of “a mechanism for creating and maintaining a register of sacred places, sanctuaries and burials of the indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East of the Russian Federation.”[50]

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Prepared by Astghik Grigoryan
Legal Resaerch Analyst
March 2019


[1] Constitution of the Russian Federation 1993, art. 44, para. 3, available at http://www.constitution.ru/ en/10003000-04.htm (in English), archived at https://perma.cc/9QVU-E6N8.

[2] Federal’nij Zakon Rossiskoi Federatsii o Garantiakh Prav Korennikh Malochislennikh Narodov Rossiiskoy Federatsii [Federal Law of Russian Federation (RF) on Guarantees of Rights of Indigenous Small-Numbered People (Law on Guarantees of Rights)] art. 1 (1999), available in Russian on the legal information portal of the Russian Federation, at http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102059473, archived at https://perma.cc/BK2M-STVQ.

[3] Postanovlenie Pravitel’stva RF ot 24 Marta 2000 goda N 255 O Edinnom Perechne Korennikh Malochislennikh Narodov Rossiskoi Federatsii [Resolution of the Government of the RF from March 24, 2000, N 255 on the Unified Registry of Indigenous Small-Numbered Peoples of the RF], available in Russian on the website of the legal information portal Garant, at http://base.garant.ru/181870/, archived at https://perma.cc/2Q9C-5KR9.

[4] Constitution of the Russian Federation 1993, art. 69.

[5] Id. art. 72.

[6] Rossiiskaya Federatsia, Federal’nii Zakon o Territoriakh Traditsionnogo Prirodopol’zovanoya Korennikh Malochislennikh Narodov Severa, Sibiri, i Dal’nego Vostoka, 4 Aprelya, 2001 goda [Federal Law on Territories of Traditional Use of Natural Habitat of Small-Numbered Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia, and Far East (Law on Territories of Traditional Use)], Apr. 4, 2001, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docview& page=1&print=1&infostr=xO7q8+zl7fIg7vLu4fDg5uDl8vH/IO3lIOIg7+7x6+Xk7eXpIPDl5ODq9ujo&nd=102070941&rdk=4&&empire (in Russian), archived at  https://perma.cc/XWR4-XUHE.

[7] Law on Guarantees of Rights art. 10.

[8] Law on Territories of Traditional Use art. 10.

[9] Id. art. 16.

[10] Federal’nii Zakon Rossiskkoi Federatsii ob Ob’ektakh Kul’turnogo Naslediya (Pamyatnikakh Istorii I Kul’turi) Narodov Rossiskoi Federatsii [Federal Law of the RF on Objects of Cultural Heritage (Monuments of History and Culture) of the People of the RF (Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage)] (2002), http://pravo.gov. ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102076756, archived at https://perma.cc/824E-FW8S.

[11] Id. art. 7.

[12] Id. art. 3.

[13] Id.

[14] Id. art. 3.1.

[15] Id. art. 4

[16] Id. art. 45.1.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id.

[24] Id. art. 47.1.

[25] Id. art. 15.

[26] Id. art. 18(12).

[27] Id. art. 49.

[28] Id.

[29] Law on Territories of Traditional Use art. 10.

[30] Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage art. 5.1.

[31] Id. arts. 28, 31.

[32] Id.

[33] Pravitel’stvo Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Postanovlenie ob Utverzhdenii Polozheniya o Gosudarstvennoi Istoriko-Culturnoi Ekspertizi. 15 Iyul’ya, 2009 goda, N 569 [Government of the RF, Regulation on the Approval of the State Historical-Cultural Expert Assessment], July 15, 2009, N569, http://pravo.gov.ru/proxy/ips//?doc body=&prevDoc=102147815& backlink=1&&nd=102131087 (in Russian), archived at https://perma.cc/9DWR-UJHG

[34] Id. para. 8.

[35] Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage art. 36.

[36] Id.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.

[39] Id.

[40] Constitution of the Russian Federation art. 28.

[41] Rossiskaya Federatsia, Federal’nii Zakon o Svobode Sovesti i Religioznikh Ob’edineniyakh. 24 Sentyabrya 1998 goda [Federal Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Unions] art. 3 (Sept. 24, 1990), http://pravo. gov.ru/proxy/ips/?docbody=&nd=102049359, archived at https://perma.cc/27ZX-AB5X.

[42] Law on Guarantees of Rights art. 10.

[43] Law on Territories of Traditional Use art. 10.

[44] Zakon Khanti-Masiskogo Avtonomnogo Okruga—Ugri, ot 8 Noyabrya 2005 Goda “O Sviatilishakh Korennikh Malochislennikh Narodov v Khanti-Masiskom Avtonomnom Okruge—Ugre” [Law on Shrines of Small-Numbered Indigenous People of Khanty-Mansiyisk Autonomous Orkug, Ugra (Law on Shrines)], Nov. 8, 2005, available on the website of the Duma (legislature) of Khanty-Masiyisk Autonomous Okrug, at https://www.dumahmao.ru/decisions/detail.php?ID=7089, archived at https://perma.cc/6JQ8-T2GT.

[45] Id. art. 3.

[46] Id. art. 5

[47] Law on Territories of Traditional Use art. 12.

[48] Federal’nii Zakon ot 21 Fevralya 2019 goda N11 FZ “O Vnesenii Izmenenii v Federal’nii Zakon ob Ob’ektakh Kul’turnogo Nasledia (Pamyatnikakh Istorii i Kul’turi) Narodov Rossiiskoi Federatsii [Federal Law on Amending the Federal Law on Objects of Cultural Heritage (Monuments of History and Culture) of the People of the RF] (Feb. 21, 2019), http://www.garant.ru/hotlaw/federal/1260093/, archived at https://perma.cc/68VH-BEV2.

[49] V Rossii Mozhet Poyavitsja Zakon o Sokhranenii Nematerial’nogo Nasledia Korennikh Narodov Rossii [Law on Protection of Non-Material Heritage of Indigenous People of Russia Could Be Adopted], Parlamentskaya Gazeta (official publication of the State Duma) (Mar. 22, 2018), https://www.pnp.ru/culture/v-rossii-mozhet-poyavitsya-zakon-o-sokhranenii-nematerialnogo-naslediya-korennykh-narodov.html, archived at https://perma.cc/Z365-ZPXR.

[50] Mezhdunaronii Forum “Korennie Malochislennie Narodi Severa, Sibiri, i Dal’nego Vostoka Rossiskoi Federatsii”, Rekommendatsii, Rabochaya Sessia “Dukhovnoje i Kul’turnoye Nasledie Korennikh Malochislennikh Narodov Severa, Sibiri, i Dal’nego Vostoka Rossiiskoi Federatsii” Salekhad 23-25 Marta, 2017 goda [International Forum “Indigenous Small-Numbered People of North, Siberia, and Near East of the RF”, Recommendations of the Working Session on “Spiritual and Cultural Heritage of Indigenous People of North, Siberia, and Near East of the RF,” Salekhad, Mar. 23-25, 2017, available on the website of the Russian Association of Indigenous People of the North (RAIPON), at http://www.raipon.info/documents/Docs_ RAIPON/итоговые документы VIII Съезда/Рекомендации рабочей сессии_Духовное и культурное наследие коренных малочисленных народов.pdf, archived at https://perma.cc/RHF7-YYK4.

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Last Updated: 12/30/2020