Indigenous Rights in the Arctic and the UN Human Rights Council: A Special Relationship?

Dr Martin Mennecke

The UN Human Rights Council is the UN’s primary body to focus on promoting and protecting human rights all over the globe. In this context, the Council is also equipped with a number of special instruments to address indigenous rights issues, including a Special Rapporteur and an Expert Mechanism.


This paper will explore to what extent the Council deals with indigenous rights issues through its regular, non-specialised processes. Particular attention will be paid to the work of special rapporteurs not focusing on indigenous rights issues and the Universal Periodic Review.


The underlying question is to what extent the Human Rights Council addresses Arctic indigenous rights issues outside the fora that are specifically designated to do so. This question also applies to the work of the Arctic countries at the Council. This seems particularly timely, as Denmark for the first time has been elected onto the Human Rights Council – after having pledged, inter alia, to work on indigenous rights issues. The paper will build on the record of the Council as well as interviews with relevant government officials, indigenous leaders and UN officials.


Dr. Martin Mennecke is Associate Professor of International Law at the University of Southern Denmark where he from 2017-2018 headed a special research unit on the Arctic and international law. His research priorities include the prevention of human rights violations, the United Nations and transitional justice issues. Having lived and worked in Greenland, he has a particular interest in the role of international law in the Arctic. Since 2005, Mennecke also acts as academic adviser to the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and attends frequently official meetings at the United Nations, the International Criminal Court and the International Whaling Commission.

Communities’ Reflections on Oil Companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility Activities in Utqiaġvik, Alaska

Ms Yu Cao1

1Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, United States

My paper explores Utqiaġvik community members’ reflections on oil companies’ Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities within the region of North Slope, Alaska. My  research question is: how have the people of Utqiaġvik responded to the CSR activities of oil companies whose operations impact the region’s social, economic, and environmental welfare? This paper also seeks to understand why CSR activities sometimes fail to achieve their purported goals. By interviewing residents from Utqiaġvik through fieldwork in both Utqiaġvik and Fairbanks, Alaska, I obtained perspectives on the impacts of oil development on the local environment and community, bringing to light the limits of current CSR activities. I argue that while oil companies’ profit motives tend to restrict the potential of CSR activities, local people should be able to influence the types of CSR activities corporations pursue, given that they experience the local impacts of the industry.  I suggest that oil companies improve their risk-management approaches and communicate more effectively with local communities their current and planned developments and their intentions to minimize impacts, and respect local culture especially when operating in the Arctic region. I conclude by offering recommendations to the oil companies regarding the nature and desired impacts of their CSR activities.


Ms Yu Cao is a second year Ph.D. student at Northern Arizona University in the department of Politics and International Affairs. She gained her Master’s degree at University of Alaska Fairbanks in Environmental Politics and Arctic Studies. Her research focuses on resource extraction and corporation-community relations especially in the Arctic region. Originally from China, she is currently working on her research project regarding Chinese-owned multinational extractive industries’ social responsibilities in the Arctic region.


Prof. Grant Christensen1

1University of North Dakota School of Law, Grand Forks, United States

Alaska Native Corporations are their own unique entity. Freed from many American constraints, including even strict compliance with the U.S. Constitution, Alaska Native Corporations have developed ownership structures and models for governance which take into account the need for sustainable development of everything from subsurface minerals to the conservation of wildlife. These corporations limit shareholder consolidation, require community participation in development decisions, restrict voting rights to long term shareholders to focus board decisions on sustainability instead of encouraging exploitative growth, and are specifically directed to make decisions taking into the Arctic ecosystem and the risks presented by climate change.

My paper looks at how ANCSA helped bring about Alaska Native Corporations and explains how using indigenous law and reconceptualization of both ‘the corporation’ and ‘the shareholder’ – Alaska Native Corporations may provide a model for other Arctic actors to both promote development and sustainability of Arctic resources.

Departing from assumptions baked into common and civil legal traditions, to embrace chthonic or authochthonous thinking about corporations and sustainability, has the ability to change the approaches taken to resource extraction and conservation across the Arctic region.


Grant Christensen is an Associate Professor of Law at the University of North Dakota where he also serves as the Director of the Indian Law Certificate Program, is an Affiliated Associate Professor of American Indian Studies, and is a member of the Sustainable Market Actors Network through the University of Oslo. He is also an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. He holds an LLM in Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy from the University of Arizona and a JD from the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants — A New Legal Paradigm for the Arctic?

Dr Nikolas Sellheim1

1Helsinki Institute Of Sustainability Science (helsus), Helsinki, Finland

On 17 December 2018 the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNROP) was adopted by the UN General Assembly. This human rights instruments is the first that recognises the needs and interests of indigenous and non-indigenous rural populations.

This paper discusses how the UNROP can serve as a basis for a new paradigm in the Arctic that goes beyond the nation state/indigenous peoples dichotomy. It argues that the impacts of legal decisions concerning rural populations are oftentimes similar, irrespective of whether they are of indigenous or non-indigenous origins. A closer legal recognition of rural populations might thus prove helpful in the Arctic, particularly regarding Arctic mineral and marine resource extraction.

In light of the UNROP, and for a post-ArCS legal and policy research agenda, special emphasis could be put on the role of the indigenous/non-indigenous dichotomy in the context of Arctic sustainable development. Thus, this presentation aims to trigger the discussion on whether (or not) it might be better to apply a rural/non-rural dichotomy rather then distinguishing between indigenous and non-indigenous populations within the Arctic Council and other Arctic governance bodies.


Nikolas Sellheim is a postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki. His research focuses on the role of local communities in international conservation law. He has extensively published on the seal hunt. He is the author and editor of several books and works as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Polar Record, the journal of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.


Nikolas Sellheim is a postdoctoral researcher at the Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science (HELSUS), University of Helsinki. His research focuses on the role of local communities in international conservation law. He has extensively published on the seal hunt. He is the author and editor of several books and works as Co-Editor-in-Chief of Polar Record, the journal of the Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge.

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