INDIAN LAW RESOURCE CENTER

United Nations Commission on Human Rights



Agenda Item 10:
Question of the Violations of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms

April, 1998
United States Violates Human Rights of the Western Shoshone People; Fails to Comply with Request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Mr. Chairman,

The Indian Law Resource Center would like to draw the attention of this body to an urgent human rights situation being faced at this very moment by Western Shoshone people in the United States of America. The United States government is threatening to force Western Shoshone indigenous people and their property off ancestral lands.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has requested that the United States stay its action against the Western Shoshone, but the United States has not yet committed to honor this request.

Since time immemorial Western Shoshone people have used and occupied a certain territory within the Great Basin region of the United States. The Western Shoshone never have consented to the taking of their ancestral territory, the boundaries of which are described in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley between the Western Bands of Shoshone and the United States.

Today, Western Shoshone sisters Mary and Carrie Dann and other Western Shoshone people continue to occupy, graze livestock and hunt on, and otherwise use their aboriginal lands in accordance with historical custom. Their economic and cultural survival is entirely dependent upon the land and its resources.

But for several years the United States has taken actions to prevent or impede the Danns and other Western Shoshone groups from using and occupying lands that are within their ancestral territory. 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 enacted by the United States Congress to address indigenous land claims. The United States persists in taking the position that it can unilaterally extinguish indigenous peoples' rights to ancestral lands. This position is of course at odds with standards that have been articulated in various international forums and that appear in the U.N. Draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is currently being considered by the Commission.

The threat to the economic and cultural survival of the Danns and other Western Shoshone people has become particularly acute in recent days. On February 19, 1998 the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issued a series of notices and orders to the Danns and to the Western Shoshone National Council. By these notices and orders, 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 their cattle, and confiscation of property if they fail to comply with the order.

After being notified of this aggressive government 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 Commission of the matter.

However, the United States government has thus far failed to comply with the request of the Inter-American Commission. Instead, on the 6th of this month the BLM issued another notice to the Danns and the Western Shoshone National Council, threatening to take enforcement action against them if they do not remove their livestock and property from the disputed land within fifteen days.

United States BLM officials have communicated to the Indian Law Resource Center that they do not consider the United States to be bound by decisions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and therefore are free to ignore its request

This posture on the part of the United Stales Bureau of Land Management is highly disturbing. It goes against the spirit of international cooperation in the field of human rights advocated by U.S. Ambassador Richardson earlier in the current session of this U.N body. 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 Indian Law Resource Center urges members of this body to call upon the United States to comply with the request of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and to stay its action against the Western Shoshone. The United States should also move quickly and in good faith to resolve the underlying indigenous land rights issue in a manner fully consistent with its international obligation to uphold and promote the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Thank you. 

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