UN Human Rights Committee Criticizes United States’ Indigenous Religious Rights Record

Mar 30th, 2014

On Thursday, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a report criticizing the United States’ record on American Indian sacred sites and religious freedoms.

The “Concluding Observations” from the committee, made up of 18 independent renowned experts, are the result of its periodic review of U.S. compliance with a major human rights treaty, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

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In connection with the Committee’s review of the United States human rights record, Huy, joined by NCAI, NARF, the ACLU and others, submitted a report titled, “Joint Submission to Human Rights Committee Concerning Indigenous Prisoners’ Religious Freedoms in the United States of America.”

Because the United States’ failure to protect the religious freedoms of incarcerated indigenous peoples violates ICCPR Articles 2, 10, 18, 26, and 27, as the report outlined, the Huy coalition asked that the Committee urge the United States to:

  • “Immediately halt violations of indigenous prisoners’ rights to freely exercise their religion;
  • Undertake a comprehensive investigation of state laws and policies regarding indigenous exercise of religion;
  • Engage indigenous communities in meaningful consultation to explore how federal, state, and indigenous governments may jointly develop and advance shared penological goals regarding incarcerated indigenous persons; and
  • Provide any other recommendations the Committee considers appropriate.”

In the Committee’s report, they addressed those concerns, relative to an overarching concern about American indigenous peoples’ religious freedoms:

Rights of indigenous people

25. The Committee is concerned about the insufficient measures being taken to protect the sacred areas of indigenous peoples against desecration, contamination and destruction as a result of urbanization, extractive industries, industrial development, tourism and toxic contamination. It is also concerned about restricted access of indigenous people to sacred areas essential for preservation of their religious, cultural and spiritual practices and the insufficiency of consultation conducted with indigenous peoples on matters of interest to their communities (art. 27).

See also “State Department Ignores UN Inquiry Re: Indigenous Prisoner Rights Violations.”

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