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Statement to UN on Peltier & Violations of Human Rights & Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples

Statement of Bobby Castillo

U.N. COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS: Sub-Commission on the Promotion & Protection of Human Rights
Working Group on Indigenous Peoples
Twenty second session
20 July 2004

Item 4. Review of developments pertaining to the promotion & protection of human rights & fundamental freedoms of Indigenous peoples

(a) General debate & (b) Principal theme: "Indigenous peoples & conflict resolution"

Mr. Chairperson,

On February 27, 1973, members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) began their seventy-one day occupation of the village of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation in South Dakota. Their goal was to protest injustices against their Indigenous Nations, violations of the many treaties, the forced sterilization of 40 percent of the Indigenous female population, & current abuses & repression against their people. The United States government responded with a military style assault against the protesters. In the end, after the tragic death of two AIM members killed by U.S. government snipers, the various officials promised hearings on local conditions & treaty violations. These hearings were never convened. The use of military force by the U.S. government was later ruled unlawful.

Throughout the next three years, long referred to by local Indigenous Peoples & by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as the "Reign of Terror," the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) carried out intensive local surveillance, as well as repeated arrests, harassment & bad faith legal proceedings against AIM leaders & supporters. During this "Reign of Terror," some sixty-four local Native Americans were murdered. Three hundred were harassed, beaten or otherwise abused. Virtually all of the victims were either affiliated with AIM or their allies from the Lakota Nation. The FBI had jurisdiction to investigate major crimes, yet these deaths were never adequately investigated or resolved.

The strife between the FBI & AIM culminated in a shootout on June 26, 1975, in the small community of Oglala. When the shootout ended, AIM member Joseph Killsright Stuntz lay dead, shot in the head by a U.S. Government sniper. His death has never been investigated. Two FBI agents also found death that day.

Leonard Peltier, a Lakota-Anishinabe & member of AIM, who still maintains his innocence, was convicted in 1977 of the killings of the two agents & sentenced to two consecutive life terms. Incarcerated for the past 28 years, he is currently imprisoned at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.

As you well know, Mr. Chair, Mr. Peltier is not & has never been in prison to pay restitution for a crime. Rather, he has been held in prison for vindictive & political reasons. His incarceration & the "Reign of Terror" conducted by the FBI on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation from 1973 to 1976 have functioned as an overall method to silence & inhibit Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. So far, all domestic remedies to bring justice to Mr. Peltier & to the Lakota People who were victims of the "Reign of Terror" have been obstructed by U.S. prosecutors & the FBI.

After 29 years, the U.S. Courts still won't correct the wrongs of the past. In November 2003, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals acknowledged that:

"Much of the government's behavior at the Pine Ridge Reservation & its prosecution of Mr. Peltier is to be condemned. The government withheld evidence. It intimidated witnesses. These facts are not disputed."

Yet, the court claimed it lacked power to address this issue. Therefore, last March, our organization submitted a formal request to the U.S. Congress for an investigation into the U.S. Justice Department's actions against Peltier & the American Indian Movement during the 1970s.

Despite repeated calls for congressional hearings by the U.S. Civil Rights Commission; several Human Rights & Indigenous NGOs; the European Parliament; Nobel Peace laureate & UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for a Culture of Peace, Mrs. Rigoberta Menchu Tum; & individual members of the U.S. Congress, no congressional committee has yet had the courage to investigate the FBI's role in the politically motivated violence on the Pine Ridge Indian reservation, & the now documented official misconduct against members of AIM during that period or the misconduct in the Peltier case.

Mr. Chairperson,

The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee would like to thank Mr. Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur on the Violation of the Human Rights & Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, for raising the issue of Mr. Peltier in his last report to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (E/CN.4/2004/80) & we fully support the statements he made in the paragraphs 52 & 53 of his report.

All over the world the Peltier case is seen as an example of how the justice system deals with Indigenous Peoples - we have been subjected to an unjust justice. We are at the end of the U.N. International Decade of Indigenous Peoples & we should all together be able to heal the transgressions of the past & to find a way to put an end to the injustices historically perpetrated on Indigenous Peoples.

Past errors by the U.S. Government against Indigenous Peoples are difficult to redress & much suffering has occurred. Our brother Leonard Peltier continues to be incarcerated & remains a symbol for all of us who are fighting for the respect of our Indigenous rights. Truth, justice & reconciliation are needed between Indigenous Peoples & Nation States around the world. Freedom for Leonard Peltier, considered as the "Indigenous Peoples' Nelson Mandela" & an investigation on the "Reign of Terror" on the Pine Ridge Reservation would be important steps in this direction.

The U.S. Government has called for human rights investigations in other countries, but ignored its own human rights violations. For years the United States has advocated for the respect of human rights elsewhere, & can now demonstrate its full commitment by speedily resolving a glaring instance of internal injustice.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

Submitted by Bobby Castillo

(Apache/Xicano Nations)

International Spokesperson

Leonard Peltier Defense Committee

1. Mr. Peltier's personal testimony of the case is recorded on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights' document E/CN.4/1997/NGO/80.

2. In 1977, Mr. Peltier stood trial in the United States where he was denied due process in violation of the U.S. Constitution & international human rights standards. The trial judge made rulings that made a proper defense impossible. Furthermore, this judge consistently refused to hear new evidence supporting Mr. Peltier's innocence, thus skewing his avenues for redress in a severely unfair manner.

We note that the U.S. government has consistently conceded that they cannot prove who is guilty for the crime of which Mr. Peltier was originally convicted (see Peltier v. Henman, 997 F.2 at 469). Moreover, the Appellate Court has found that Mr. Peltier might have been acquitted had the FBI not improperly withheld evidence. Yet, a new trial was never granted.

LPDC - International Office, PO Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044 USA

Tel 785-842-5774, Fax 785-842-5796

E-mail:  info@leonardpeltier.org