|Western Shoshone Victorious at United
Nations: U.S. Found in Violation of Human Rights of Native
Americans - Urged to Take Immediate Action
|10 March 2006, Geneva Switzerland.
Today, in an historic and strongly worded decision by the United
Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
the United States was urged to "freeze", "desist" and "stop" actions
being taken or threatened to be taken against the Western Shoshone
Peoples of the Western Shoshone Nation. In its decision, CERD
stressed the "nature and urgency" of the Shoshone situation
informing the U.S. that it goes "well beyond" the normal reporting
process and warrants immediate attention under the Committee's Early
Warning and Urgent Action Procedure.
This monumental action challenges the US government's assertion of
federal ownership of nearly 90% of Western Shoshone lands. The land
base covers approximately 60 million acres, stretching across what
is now referred to as the states of Nevada, Idaho, Utah and
California. Western Shoshone rights to the land - which they
continue to use, care for, and occupy today - were recognized by the
United States in 1863 by the Treaty of Ruby Valley. The U.S. now
claims these same lands as "public" or federal lands through an
agency process and has denied Western Shoshone fair access to U.S.
courts through that same process. The land base has been and
continues to be used by the United States for military testing, open
pit cyanide heap leach gold mining and nuclear waste disposal
planning. The U.S. has engaged in military style seizures of
Shoshone livestock, trespass fines in the millions of dollars and
ongoing armed surveillance of Western Shoshone who continue to
assert their original and treaty rights.
Based upon these actions and a dramatic escalation of new actions
threatening irreparable harm to Western Shoshone and their
environment, last year, with the support of the Univ. of Arizona
Indigenous Law and Policy Program, the Western Shoshone filed a
renewed legal action at the United Nations CERD. In addition to
evidence of the United States' conduct, the Western Shoshone
delegation also delivered over 13,000 signatures from citizens
across the United States of America supporting the Western Shoshone
action to CERD. This petition was a result of a campaign organized
by the rights-based development organization Oxfam America to
demonstrate the widespread concern for the Western Shoshone peoples
to the United Nations.
CERD rejected the U.S.' argument that the situation was not "novel"
and therefore should wait to be reviewed until the U.S. submits its
Report - past due since 2003. The Committee informed the U.S. that
"[a]lthough these are indeed long-standing issues.they warrant
immediate and effective action. [and] should be dealt with as
a matter of priority." The United States was "urged to pay
particular attention to the right to health and cultural rights of
the Western Shoshone.which may be infringed upon by activities
threatening their environment and/or disregarding the spiritual and
cultural significance they give to their ancestral lands."
CERD presented its decision to the Western Shoshone this morning.
The decision details the U.S.' actions against the Western Shoshone
upon the United States to immediately:
* Respect and protect the human rights of the Western Shoshone
* Initiate a dialogue with the representatives of the Western
Shoshone peoples in order to find a solution acceptable to them, and
complies with their rights;
* Adopt the following measures until a final decision or settlement
is reached on the status, use and occupation of Western Shoshone
ancestral lands in accordance with due process of law and
the U.S.' obligations under the Convention;
* Freeze all efforts to privatize Western Shoshone ancestral lands
for transfer to multinational extractive industries and energy
* Desist from all activities planned and/or conducted on Western
Shoshone ancestral lands;
* Stop imposing grazing fees, livestock impoundments, hunting,
fishing and gathering restrictions and rescind all notices already
The decision is historic in that it is the first time a United
Nations Committee has issued a full decision against the U.S. in
respect to its highly controversial Federal Indian law and policy.
The decision expressed particular concern that the U.S.' basis for
claiming federal title to Western Shoshone land rests on a theory of
"gradual encroachment" through a "compensation" process in the
Indian Claims Commission. The decision highlights that this same
process was found by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
to violate "international human rights norms, principles and
standards that govern determination of indigenous property
interests." When the U.S. last appeared before the Committee in
2001, Committee members expressed alarm and concern that U.S. laws
regarding indigenous peoples continue to be based on the outdated,
colonial era "doctrine of discovery."
The Committee gave the U.S. a July 15, 2006 deadline to provide it
with information on the action it had taken. The decision issued
today demonstrates a solid commitment by the United Nations human
rights system to make the Western Shoshone's struggle a priority.
indigenous peoples have been active at the United Nations for
several decades, the decision today also brings a breath of hope to
indigenous communities across the U.S. and globally where the
negative effects of U.S. policy and influence reach. In its
decision, the Committee drew particular attention to its General
recommendation 23 (1997) on the rights of indigenous peoples, in
particular their right to own, develop, control and use their
communal lands, territories and resources.
Comments from Western Shoshone Delegation to United Nations (March
10, 2006): "We have rights to protect our homelands and stop the
destruction of our land, water, and air by the abuses of the United
States government and the multinational corporations. The situation
is outrageous and we're glad the United Nations Committee agrees
with us. Our people have suffered more nuclear testing than
anywhere else in the world and they're continuing underground
testing despite our protests. Yucca Mountain is being hollowed out
in order to store nuclear waste. We cannot stand for it - this
earth, the air, the water are sacred. People of all races must stop
this insanity now in order to secure a safe future for all." Joe
Kennedy, Western Shoshone.
"The Western Shoshone Nation is very thankful to the Committee
members for their decision affirming U.S. discrimination and
policies do not go on unaccounted for. Truth is what it is - that
can never change. We pray for the healing of our peoples, the land
harassment and destruction to stop. While others are allowed the
freedom of religion, we are kept from the very same right. The Newe
(people) use this ancestral land for sacred ceremonies. The federal
agencies prevent our access to some of these important areas. Our
ancestors' burials are being dug up and placed into local museums'
basement storage areas because of surge of gold mines and nuclear
developments. This is an outrage to our people!" Judy Rojo,
"This battle has been going on for quite some time, but we've seen a
dramatic increase in the federal government and the companies'
rush to finalize what they consider a settlement in order to get a
hold of our lands for activities that are contaminating our water
and our air.
Again, we are very pleased that our rights are finally being taken
seriously and we look forward to positive actions being taken by the
U.S." Steven Brady, Western Shoshone.
"We are Shoshone delegates speaking for a Nation threatened by
extinction. The mines are polluting our waters, destroying hot
exploding sacred mountains-our burials along with them--attempting
to erase our signature on the land. We are coerced and threatened
mining and Federal agencies when we seek to continue spiritual
prayers for traditional food or medicine on Shoshone land. We have
endured murder of our Newe people for centuries, as chronicled in
military records, but now we are asked to endure a more painful
death from the U.S. governmental agencies -a separation from land
and spiritual renewal. We thank our past leaders for their
persistence and courage and the CERD for this monumental step"
Bernice Lalo, Western Shoshone.
CERD - Decision 1 (68)
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
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