Indigenous Peoples and Human Rights

March 16, 2012

Navajo Nation optimistic over UN response to protect San Francisco Peaks

News from the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission
March 16, 2012

NNHRC receives the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination’s request to the United States questioning the United States role

ST. MICHAELS, Ariz.— About Dook’o’osliid concerns, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Chairperson Alexei Avtonomov wrote to the United States of America through its Ambassador Betty E. King at Geneva, Switzerland on March 9, 2012. The Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission Chairperson Duane H. Yazzie filed an urgent action to the CERD body in 2011 about the situation at the San Francisco Peaks.

Yesterday, NNHRC Chairperson Duane H. Yazzie and Leonard Gorman, the executive director for NNHRC received a copy of Chairperson Avtonomov’s letter to U.S. Ambassador King. 

In 2011, NNHRC articulated reasons why Navajo human rights were violated by Arizona Snowbowl to CERD and how the United States through its governmental agency, the United States Forest Service, had allowed for desecration on Dook’o’osliid (the San Francisco Peaks).

 Not only did Avtonomov’s letter address the NNHRC urgent action and early warning complaint, but Avtonomov also addressed the situation of the Western Shoshone to the United States Ambassador.

Avtonomov in standard international formality addressed U.S Ambassador King as “Excellency,” and in his letter stated, “In light of the information at its disposal, the Committee remains concerned at the potential impact of the Ski Resort Project on indigenous peoples’ spiritual and cultural beliefs. The Committee requests information about the process by the State party to obtain the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples with regard to the project.”

“So in light of NNHRC’s urgent action and early warning complaint coupled with the situation at Western Shoshone, the CERD body is concerned about the impact of Arizona Snowbowl on Navajo people and other indigenous peoples spiritual and cultural beliefs,” said Gorman. “That is a significant concern, one that is being said by a treaty body in the international community. This CERD body is authorized to examine violations of human rights under binding international law.”

About Avtonomov’s concern about free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), Gorman said, “Another international body raising the same point about free prior and informed consent is absolutely nice.” He continued and said, “A pattern is developing against the United States, which is the United States is not receiving the consent of indigenous peoples in accordance to international human rights.”

Pertaining to the United States, Gorman said, “U.S. domestic laws are supposed to implement these international human rights laws for her citizens including indigenous peoples rights where the United States is a party to these international laws.”

Further about FPIC, in the first United Nations recognition of Navajo human rights in the situation of San Francisco Peaks, U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples S. James Anaya stated to the U.N. Human Rights Council that “[s]imply providing indigenous peoples with information about a proposed decision and gathering and taking into account their points of view is not sufficient in this context. Consultation must occur through procedures of dialogue aimed at arriving at a consensus,” according to the U.N. Special Rapporteur Anaya’s report to the U.N. Human Rights Council on August 22, 2011.

Therefore, the federal policy of tribal consultation is not free, prior and informed consent especially when the livelihood and belief of indigenous people will be permanently altered.

Avtonomov continued in his letter, “The Committee requests information on concrete measures taken to ensure that the sacred character of this site for indigenous peoples is respected, including the possibility of suspending the permit granted to the Arizona Snowbowl in order to further consult with indigenous peoples and take into account their concerns and religious traditions.”

Lastly, according to Avtonomov’s letter he reiterated the wish of the committee for the United States Ambassador to continue to promote the effective implementation of the [International] Convention [on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination], a binding treaty that the United States is a party to. A convention is an international reference for the word treaty or law.

Avtonomov has given the United States a deadline of July 31, 2012, or to provide their response to the March 11, 2011 letter requiring the United States to respond to the situation at Western Shoshone by November 20, 2011, now overdue. 

Why involve the international community?
According to Gorman, the Navajo Nation has exhausted its grievance process in the United States to protect Navajo human rights. It is clear the United States’ laws do not protect the human rights of Navajos, he explained.

With the continued effort to protect Navajo human rights the NNHRC, the Navajo Nation Council, the Navajo Nation Speaker’s Office, and the Navajo Nation’s President and Vice-President’s office have joined the collaborative effort.

“As any one of our clients who have faced alleged discrimination and have filed a complaint with the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission has learned—one must initiate the formal complaint process for a remedy,” said Gorman. “As the Navajo Nation’s human rights body, we have engaged the international human rights body and begun its formal process. We know that based on the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples the international community’s commitment to upholding indigenous human rights standards have been renewed at the turn of the century.”

“The international community sees what we see and now have heard us,” said Gorman about the NNHRC urgent action and early warning complaint to CERD.

Gorman explained the United Nations Special Rapporteur Anaya has assessed the situation in Flagstaff and has provided his report to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Now, the international treaty body has embraced and is protective of Navajo human rights explained Gorman.

“This a reassuring message from CERD that the Navajo Nation and her citizens are being heard and cuddled by an international treaty body,” said Gorman.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination convened for its 80th session on February 13, 2012 through March 9, 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland in closed meetings. Urgent actions and early warnings were addressed from March 6, 2012 to March 9, 2012.


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