Anthropological expert review: socio-cultural impact assessment for the Russian North

Anthropological Expert Review (AER) is a Russian form of socio-cultural impact assessment, aimed at evaluating the effects of industrial projects on northern indigenous communities, their culture and traditional livelihoods. This paper, co-authored by a Russian AER practitioner and a British SIA practitioner, explains the principles of AER and shows how this works in practice in
a range of locations, through working with the affected indigenous communities to identify critical natural resources, water sources and sacred sites. The paper links back to the SIA paper (No.4) and considers the relevance of comparing Russian and international experience of social and cultural impact assessment.

The paper shows how companies may commission an AER following a conflict or on the request of a local community that feels the EIA process has been inadequate. While AER is mentioned in federal law on indigenous peoples, there is no legal obligation for companies to commission an AER. The paper shows how despite this, the practice of AER has been repeated voluntarily throughout the Russian North, and how this often eases relations between companies and local indigenous populations. Legal and practical innovation is emerging in Russia’s federal regions, notably in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia). The paper highlights the main challenges to implementation, namely the lack of a clear legal and institutional basis for application; the lack of an agreed methodology established within regulations; failure to understand communities; and lack of follow-up.

Recommendations Within Russia:

• Though there is some flexibility, with some notable success stories, at the regional level, the legal framework needs to be strengthened at federal level;

• There is a need to develop criteria and mechanisms to enable the use of AER in the effective application of FPIC.

Within and beyond Russia:

• The research confirms the wider need to build capacities for carrying out social and cultural impact assessment;

• There is a need to strengthen the application of recommendations, including the involvement of indigenous communities in decision-making processes based on impact assessment results;

• Consideration should be given to sharing and testing the AER methodology in other contexts, including the sharing of both positive and negative lessons from Russia.

The paper is 16 pages long and contains a list of acronyms and abbreviations, and lists of legal documents and standards, papers and reports.