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United Nations Commission on Human Rights
61st session, March 14 – April 22, 2005
Agenda item 11, Civil and Political Rights: (a) detention, and (e) religious intolerance
Written intervention submitted by the International Indian Treaty Council

a) Detention

In the United States, Leonard Peltier, a Lakota-Anishnabe member of the American Indian Movement, has been unjustly incarcerated for 29 year. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that evidence used to convict Peltier for killing two Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agents in a 1975 shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota was manufactured, coerced and falsified. The Government has admitted it cannot prove who shot the agents. In 1986, the US 8th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that had the prosecution not wrongfully withheld evidence from the defense during the trial, the outcome might have been different. In November, 2003, the US 10th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that “Much of the government’s behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation and its prosecution of Mr. Peltier are to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed.”

Despite these findings various appeals, and requests for a new trial, parole and clemency for Peltier have been denied.

In a lawsuit filed on September 2, 2004, Peltier’s attorneys assert that US Department of Justice officials knowingly violated the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, illegally extending Peltier's prison term by 12 years or more. On December 15, 2004, attorneys for Mr. Peltier filed a Motion to Correct an Illegal Sentence, calling into question the jurisdiction of the U.S. District Court, and asserting that sentencing guidelines were violated by the trial judge. These cases add to the long list of documented legal improprieties in the extradition and conviction of Leonard Peltier.

On October 7th, 2004, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention acknowledged the receipt of a complaint by the International Indian Treat Council in September addressing the case of Leonard Peltier, stating that it had “sent to the Government of the United States of America a formal letter with the allegations concerning Mr. Peltier's detention” and were awaiting an official reply. We thank the Working Group and look forward to its investigation of this Arbitrary Detention, including an official visit with Leonard Peltier in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary.

e) Religious Intolerance

The United States government has a legally-binding trust responsibility to protect traditional Native religious, spiritual and cultural practices and to fully apply international human rights standards to this vulnerable population.

However, US Federal Bureau of Prisons policies, which went into effect in January 2005 severely restrict religious practices by Native American inmates under the pretense of “homeland security”. These policies mandate that all Native American religious programs must be directly supervised by Federal Bureau of Prisons chaplains, and enforce a 4-hour time limit for sweat lodge ceremonies, including time needed for heating the rocks and other preparations. Prisoners are also required to purchase sacred herbs used in these ceremonies as well as the wood to heat rocks from the prison commissary, placing undue economic burdens and effectively limiting their ability to carry out this ceremony according to traditional religious teachings. These policies have already been implemented in state prisons with high Indian populations in Montana, Arizona, California and South Dakota under state regulations. To be forced to rush through ceremonies, and to ration items needed for their implementation is sacrilegious and demeaning, undermining the healing of mind, body and spirit required for full rehabilitation and spiritual healing of Native prisoners.

Forced hair cutting, reported by the IITC in past years, continues to be practiced in prisons in the State of California, and is a another direct assault on the freedom of religion and cultural identity of the prisoners who are subjected to it.

In his report to the Commission on Human Rights on the situation in the United States, E/CN.4/1999/58/Add.1, the Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance Mr. Abdelfattah Amor presented the detrimental impacts to the Indigenous Peoples of “damage to [sacred] sites due to the execution or attempted execution of economic projects”, noting “a real lack of understanding and consideration and an indifference and even hostility on the part of the various officials and other parties involved” (para. 62).

The continued unbridled influence of corporate economic interests on the current US administration has resulted in a growing number of threats to Indigenous Peoples’ sacred sites upon which there religions freedom and spiritual survival depend.

In Arizona, United States, the Big Mountain Sovereign Dineh Communities report that the US Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) is continuing its full-scale pressure to uproot the last remaining families within the boundaries of the 1977 federal land partitions. The BIA Regional agencies are indirectly implementing federally-designed, tribal court proceedings targeting traditional and sovereign members of the resistance. The ultimate goal of the U.S. government is to discredit allegations by the traditional tribal resistance of both Dineh and Hopis that the 1974 Relocation and Land-Partition Act were enacted for the purpose of expanding mining leases for Peabody Western Coal Company, rather than as a means settle a purported land dispute between these tribes as the US presented to Congress and to the American public.

Traditional Dineh that reside within or adjacent to the partition boundaries face continual surveillance and threats of arrest affecting their traditional farming, ranching, wood fuel gathering, herbal medicine gathering, and social and ceremonial activities. Two traditional families are facing BIA-Hopi court hearings and possible trials regarding “trespassing” and “illegally” cutting firewood on their own ancestral lands.

Peabody Western Coal Company is now proposing to expand its current mining lease boundary on sacred Black Mesa in violation of the Freedom of Religion of the traditional Dineh who hold this place to be sacred, despite independent environmental studies that state irreversible impacts to aquifers, human cultures, ecological balance, and to air and water quality. These proposals are presented to the public through the Office of Surface Mining, while communities who will be affected by the coal mining and aquifer depletions are not allowed to have their views included.

“We, the Sovereign Dineh Communities of Big Mountain and Black Mesa, urge the U.N. Commission to intervene in these gross Human Rights violations being committed by the U.S. We reiterate that these gross and elaborately-designed injustices endanger historical and unique traditional cultures that have existed intimately with nature before the enactment of the Relocation and Partitioning programs.”

The Black Hills (Paha Sapa), in the center of the North American continent, are sacred to more than sixty Indigenous nations. The traditional Tetuwan (Lakota Sioux) have carried a sacred mandate to be the caretakers of these oldest mountains in the world.

Western archeologists document 11,000 years of Indigenous presence in the Black Hills, which the Tetuwan verify through their astronomy correlated with ceremonial practices. This area, according to legally binding international treaties between the Sioux Nation and the United States, was for the exclusive use and occupancy of the Tetuwan. The US violated these treaties to mine gold in these sacred mountains. Today, the Black Hills are almost totally destroyed by mining, logging, grazing, housing and commercial development. Sacred sites and burial sites have been rampantly and randomly desecrated and obliterated.

The remainder of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty territory contains many healing hot springs, innumerable sacred caves, petroglyphs, archeoforms, and burial sites. The Defenders of the Black Hills reports that currently a site in the northern portion of their aboriginal and treaty territory contains more than 1700 burial and sacred sites is under threat from coal strip mining. Bulldozers and earthmovers will be allowed to destroy these places in the near future, in violation of US Treaty obligations as well as its obligations under international human rights norms.

Since the 1980s the Pit River Nation, United States, along with other Indian nations, has called upon each US Administration to eliminate governmental support for proposals by energy developers including most recently the Calpine Energy Corporation, to mine geothermal energy in the sacred Medicine Lake Highlands in Northeastern California. This would irreparably desecrate this highly spiritual and unique cultural region and which is essential to the traditional religious practices of Indian Nations in this region.

The Clinton administration, after reviewing numerous environmental, cultural and financial reports, decided to support Pit River in the protection of the Highlands against Calpine. The Bush Administration has failed to honor this commitment and has given Calpine the green light to begin its projects, citing Vice President Dick Cheney's energy policy, developed with extensive input from energy developers, in making its decisions. In November 2002, Rebecca Watson, assistant US Interior Secretary, said geothermal development in the Medicine Lake Highlands would “help the nation take steps toward increasing domestic energy supplies, particularly from renewable sources.”

The Pit River Nation responds that there is too long a history in the U.S. of indigenous peoples sacrificing their rights and cultural traditions for the short-term gains of extractive industries. The Pit River Nation has filed federal lawsuits and instituted an advocacy campaign, and call upon the support of the American public as well as the international community, including this Commission, to help them permanently stop these projects and defend their human rights and spiritual survival.


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posted 15 march 2005, by louve14