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For Immediate Release: April 15, 1998

Contact: Steve Tullberg - 202/547-2800 or Tim Coulter - 406/449-2006 

Today the Indian Law Resource Center made a statement to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, calling upon the United States to adhere to its obligations under international human rights law and halt pending action to remove Western Shoshone Indian people and their property from Western Sho-shone ancestral land. On March 6, 1998, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- a separate international human rights body -- formally communicated to the United States a request that it stay its action against the Western Shoshone while that Commission investigates the underlying land rights dispute. The US thus far has failed to honor the request of the Inter-American Commission.

In 1993, Western Shoshone ranchers Mary and Carrie Dann filed a case at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to stop the United States from infringing on Western Shoshone aboriginal land rights. The Danns have been living, working, raising families, hunting and grazing livestock on their ancestral land in Nevada for generations -- lands that are inseparable from their identity as Western Shoshone people. Their economic and cultural survival is entirely dependent upon the land and its resources. The lands were guaranteed to the Western Shoshone in the Treaty of Ruby Valley, and although they were never ceded, sold or conquered, the United States claims the land as "public land".

The Inter-American Commission is a body of the Organization of American States (OAS) that was created to promote the observance and defense of human rights by member states. As a member of the OAS -- a regional agency affiliated with the United Nations that governs the relationship among the nations of North, Central and South America-- the United States is bound by the human rights principles that are outlined in the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. The Western Shoshone have now taken their case to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, a fifty-three member body of UN member-states which is currently meeting in Geneva.

On April 6, 1998, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued notices and orders to the Danns and the Western Shoshone National Council in which the BLM declares the Danns and other Western Shoshone people to be in trespass of lands; orders them to remove their livestock and property from the lands; and threatens them with fines, imprisonment, impoundment of cattle and confiscation of property if they fail to comply with the order. The Danns face further enforcement of the order unless their livestock is removed by April 21st. The fines demanded by the BLM total more than $500,000 - $494,000 from the Western Shoshone National Council and nearly $70,O00 from the Danns. In the last several years the BLM has opened up the Western Shoshone homelands to gold-mining companies -- activities that the Danns and other Western Shoshone strongly oppose.

After being notified of the US government's recent aggressive action against the Western Shoshone, The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a request to the United States to stay its action pending an investigation by the Commis-sion of the case. Jim Anaya, one of the lawyers with the Indian Law Resource Center who is representing Mary and Carrie Dann, is deeply concerned that the U.S. would refuse to comply with the Commission's request. Anaya said, "The refusal of the U.S. to honor a reasonable request by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights calls into question this government's professed commitment to human rights generally and to indigenous peoples in particular. The United States should not repeat its failure to accord respect for international law and institutions, a failure so blatantly manifested yesterday in the execution of a Paraguayan national in defiance of an order by the International Court of Justice." The Center has years of experience handling human rights cases for indigenous peoples before the Commission, but this is the first of its kind filed on behalf of Native Americans in the United States.

The United States denies the continuing existence of Western Shoshone legal rights to ancestral lands, and it bases that denial on an interpretation of a statute that was unilaterally emitted by the US Congress to address indigenous lands claims. The US persists in taking the position that it can unilaterally extinguish indigenous peoples' rights to ancestral lands This position is at odds with standards that have been articu-lated in various international forums and that appear in the UN Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is currently being considered by the United Nations.


return to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States  Inter-American Commission Hears Dann Case 

 OAS Case Summary