FWD: US violating W Shoshone human rights, final report says

Christopher Carrico ccarrico at nimbus.ocis.temple.edu
Mon Jan 27 04:12:21 MST 2003

Received January 24, 2003 from Denise Mc Vea, Indian Law Resource Center:

International human rights body issues final decision finding the US in
violation of Western Shoshone human rights.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights affirmed in an exhaustive review
that the United States has been violating international human rights laws in
its handling of the longtime land dispute between the government and the
Western Shoshone Indians of Nevada.  The Commission ruled in favor of two
Western Shoshone sisters, Mary and Carrie Dann, the petitioners in the case.
The Commission
concluded that US claims to Western Shoshone ancestral lands are illegal
according to international human rights law.  The US used illegitimate means
to assert ownership of the lands.

The Commission concluded that the US must:

    1. Make available a fair legal process to determine  the Danns' (and other
Western Shoshone) land rights, which includes adopting the legislative or
other measures necessary to ensure respect for the Danns' right to property.

    2. Review its laws, procedures and practices to ensure that the property
rights of indigenous [persons] people are determined in
    accordance with the rights established in the American Declaration on the
Rights and Duties of Man.

It is the first time that the United States has been found in violation of
international human rights laws in its treatment of American Indians.

The Commission's decision is the latest development in a land battle that has
been going on for years.  Mary and Carrie Dann,
two elderly Western Shoshone sisters, brought the case before the Commission
in 1993 after many attempts to be heard in the
[U.S.] US courts. The dispute ultimately involves millions of acres of land in
and around Nevada. The Western Shoshone have long insisted that they never
relinquished their ancestral lands to the US and that US claims to the land
are based on discriminatory and illegitimate processes.  The Commission

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an autonomous body of the
Organization of American States, investigates human rights complaints against
states, prepares reports on the status of human rights in member countries and
guides member governments in the adoption of measures that would contribute to
human rights protections. The US is a member of the OAS and has often been
as a frontrunner on human rights protections in the hemisphere's community of

The US State Department has not yet issued an official statement about whether
it will comply with the Commission's decision.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights released the report to the
public in January after the US failed to take any measures to follow the
Commission's recommendations.  The government, through the Bureau of Land
Management, continues to charge the Danns and other Western Shoshone for
grazing cows and horses on the disputed lands.  In September, armed BLM
cowboys seized over 200 of the Danns' cattle and sold them at public auction,
and in December the Danns were served with yet another notice in regard to
their "unauthorized use of federal lands" and ordered [them] to remove
remaining livestock or face another impoundment action.

The Commission's ruling criticizes the unfair procedures used by the Indian
Claims Commission (ICC), a controversial administrative [agency] body set up
by Congress in 1946 to compensate Indian tribes for claims against the United
States. The ICC ultimately declared that the Western Shoshone had lost their
land to "white encroachment", despite protests from the Indians that they
still lived on, used and
controlled the land the agency said they had lost. In 1962, the ICC awarded
the Western Shoshone around 15 cents an acre " 1872 land values " for more
than 23 million acres of land. When the Western Shoshone tribes refused to
accept the money, the funds were
deposited in [the] a US Treasury trust account. Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has
encountered stiff resistance to his efforts to distribute the money to
Shoshone individuals without first addressing the land rights issues.  Many
Western Shoshone fear that distribution of the money would further hamper
their efforts to legally resolve their claims to their ancestral land.

 The report concluded that the US ran afoul of its human rights obligations
because the Indian Claims Commission:

    1. Did not respect the Danns' right to property;
    2. Did not comply with international human rights norms;
    3. Did not fully and accurately inform the Indians about its processes;
    4. Did not allow the Indians to participate in the process as nations and
    5. Did not afford the Danns and other Western Shoshone equal treatment
under the law; and
    6. Did not afford the Danns and other Western Shoshone due process.

In response to a preliminary report outlining these human rights violations,
the [U.S.] US informed the panel that the Danns' claims had been "fully and
fairly" litigated in domestic courts.  But the final report disagreed with
that contention and reissued its call for the United States to give the Danns
a full and fair hearing on the legal merits of Western Shoshone land claims.

For a full copy of the report, please go to www.indianlaw.org.   On the
homepage, you will find "See Final Report" under "Current Topics". You can
also access a summary of the report and a press release regarding current BLM
activities against the Danns.
For more background information, contact:

Background Source
Denise McVea, Communications Fellow: dmcvea at indianlaw.org, 406/449-2006.
Deborah Schaaf, Attorney, Indian Law Resource Center:   406/449-2006.

Contact Sources for the United States Government
Lorne Craner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human
Rights, and Labor: 202/647-2126.
Roger Noriega, Ambassador, US Permanent Mission to the
OAS, State Department: 202/647-9377.

Denise McVea
Communications Fellow
Indian Law Resource Center
602 N. Ewing Street
Helena, Montana 59601
(406)449-2031 fax

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