Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

February 18, 2009

UN Action: Indigenous Peoples and Children in Prison

Greetings My Relations,

My name is Tony Gonzales, Director for AIM-WEST based in San Francisco, an affiliate of the American Indian Movement, North America. I am pleased to know the community of Berkeley voted recently to condemn Efren Paredes Jr.'s sentence as a human rights violation. This is a major development in the campaign to abolish juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences in the USA.

I am currently planning a round table discussion at the United Nations in NYC during the 8th Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII-8), May 18-29, 2009 regarding Indigenous Peoples held in prisons throughout the world in an effort to bring these injustices before the appropriate bodies of the United Nations. I will cite certain cases such as Leonard Peltier, in prison for over 33 years, and other forms of injustices such as severe sentencing of minors in the USA, and of their failure to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

I would like to communicate with you and your family about how the American Indian community can also support Efren's release after twenty years of incarceration, and restore justice and hope to America. The passage of the Berkeley resolution will serve as a model to further coordinate with other municipalities across the nation and inspire them to choose promoting human rights over discarding the lives of children. Change is urgent, sign us up now!

Accordingly, I will impress upon our membership to learn more about the situation of Efren Paredes, international standards related to children's rights, and to consider developing local strategies to bring similar resolutions to the attention of elected officials in their districts, on Efren's behalf. Perhaps with the optimism of the Obama Administration, change is possible. There are many international laws and standards the USA have yet to sign. Together we can help take this to the table.

Thank you and I hope to hear from you soon.

Tony Gonzales
From Efren Paredes, Jr.

Dear Friends,

Yesterday, Tuesday, February 10, 2009, the Berkeley City Council in California voted to condemn my sentence as a human rights violation. This is a major development in the campaign to abolish juvenile life without parole (JLWOP) sentences in the USA.
In a letter that will be mailed to the Governor of the State of Michigan the Berkeley City Council states:
"The United States should be at the forefront of promotion and protection of human rights. For this country to be the lone holdout on the issue of JLWOP weakens our moral and legal standing in the international community. The Berkeley City Council supports the call for the United States to align itself with international law by ratifying banning JLWOP.
Given Paredes' history as an honor student with no prior criminal record, the questionable circumstances that led to his conviction, and his inspirational leadership as a positive, productive member of society despite his location, his release after 20 years of incarceration would demonstrate to U.S. citizens that the State of Michigan courageously took appropriate action to restore justice and hope to America.
Mr. Paredes' release should be a pivotal step toward ending JLWOP sentences in the United States."
The decision underscores the need to respect the inherent dignity in children and our commitment to the protection of children's rights. The resolution will serve as a model to other municipalities across the nation and inspire them to choose promoting human rights over discarding the lives of children.
Although children should be held accountable for their actions — including crimes they commit — the U.S. criminal justice system should never make them disposable. It is my hope that the decision of the Berkeley City Council will be a catalyst for change with regard to the treatment of its children in the current legal landscape.
The resolution is an acknowledgment that:
"[T]he treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system is, at best, a noble failure and at worst, a great catastrophe. It is obvious that a change is urgent. Now is the time for the United States to leave the lonely island of juvenile injustice amidst a vast ocean of global concurrence. This shameful sentencing practice diminishes us as a society and it, not the children, must be sentenced to death." (Adepoju, Akin, Juvenile Death Sentence Lives On ... Even After Roper v. Simmons, 2 Trends and Issues in Constitutional Law 259 (2007))
I would like to extend a special thanks to Wendy Kenin, Commissioner, Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission, for spearheading this effort, and to the other members of the public who attended and/or spoke at the meeting in support of the resolution. Wendy worked closely with us to help advance this issue and devoted considerable time and energy to helping compose the language in the resolution.
I would like to also thank Jesse Arreguín, Council member, Berkeley City Council, for introducing the resolution. Jesse is the first Latino Berkeley City Council member and I am proud to have his support. I commend him for having the courage and vision to propose this resolution and garner support for it.
Wendy and Jesse made history with this resolution and their actions will be forever remembered for being leaders in the struggle for human rights and equality, and for helping end the deplorable sentencing of children to LWOP.
Thanks to everyone for your continued support. I look forward to working with you to help introduce similar resolutions in your respective cities as well. I am optimistic we can produce similar results across the nation as we collectively work to abolish JLWOP sentences in the USA. Please circulate the attached press release to any members of the press you know and ask others to do the same.
In Solidarity,
Efrén Paredes, Jr.

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