Contact: Larson Bill, Western Shoshone Defense Project, 775-744-2565/775-397-6726 or Seánna Howard, University of Arizona Rogers College of Law, 520-626-8223/520-455-3438
Photo: Chris Sewall/WSDP
Western Shoshone Travel to United Nations for First Universal Periodic Review of U.S. Human Rights Record
November 1, 2010 Crescent Valley, NV and Geneva, Switzerland.
By Western Shoshone Defense Project
This week a delegation from the Western Shoshone Defense Project (WSDP) travels to the United Nations for the historic first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States. The UPR is a process by which the country’s entire human rights record is reviewed by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council. The Western Shoshone, with the assistance of the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy Program (IPLP), filed a joint stakeholder submission to the UN in April 2010 as part of the UPR process. Western Shoshone delegates Larson Bill and Rick Spilsbury will be joined in Geneva by IPLP Staff Attorney, Seánna Howard.
The delegates’ aim is to highlight the United States’ ongoing refusal to comply with the specific recommendations of UN monitoring bodies as well as its own domestic regulation guaranteeing equal protection to indigenous peoples. Despite rulings by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), the United States refuses to consult in good faith with the Western Shoshone while continuing to engage in activities that threaten irreparable harm to their lands and culture such as mining, plans for nuclear waste storage, and military weapons testing. Seánna Howard explains, “Both the United Nations and the Organization of American States have issued decisions declaring the United States in violation of the Western Shoshone’s human rights, yet the US has and continues to ignore the recommendations of these international bodies. We hope the UPR will provide a space for the Western Shoshone to be heard and that the US will begin to acknowledge its responsibilities and uphold its human rights obligations to the Shoshone peoples.”
The WSDP has requested that the Human Rights Council recommend the U.S. take serious steps toward addressing and implementing internationally recognized indigenous rights as well as redressing violations of the human rights of indigenous peoples. Among the WSDP’s recommendations is the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission with indigenous rights identified as one of its first priorities. The need for a comprehensive, national approach to indigenous rights is exemplified by local resource issues central to indigenous survival. For instance, as delegate Rick Spilsbury stated, “The United States has … committed life-sustaining water to the Western Shoshone (Newe) people. And then the United States delegated authority over water to the States. The State of Nevada has, however, not felt the same dedication to those commitments…. We have not gone extinct! We still need our water.” Delegate Larson Bill stated: “The United States needs to tell the truth to the Shoshone people on what’s happening to the land and resources. The distribution of money does not satisfy the land issue. The Shoshone people are saddened by the destruction of their homeland by the mining industry and private interest groups and politicians.”
The Western Shoshone case is emblematic of the widespread discrimination and denial of fundamental rights that indigenous peoples continue to face in the United States. The delegation looks forward to the opportunity to engage the US on these human rights issues and seeks to establish a dialogue that will lead to good faith consultations and full compliance with the CERD and IACHR decisions.