Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Indians Win Big

(The actual decision posted separately in next blog heading)

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 Periodic Report - past due since 2003. The Committee informed the U.S. that "[a]lthough these are indeed long-standing
issue 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 and calls upon the United States to immediately:
* Respect and protect the human rights of the Western Shoshone peoples;
* Initiate a dialogue with the representatives of the Western Shoshone peoples in order to find a solution acceptable to them, and which 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; o Freeze all efforts to privatize Western Shoshone ancestral lands for transfer to multinational extractive
industries and energy developers; o 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 made.

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. Whereas 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 destructive 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 and the 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, Western Shoshone.

"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 springs and exploding sacred mountains-our burials along with them--attempting to erase our signature on the land. We are coerced and threatened by 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.


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