United Nations Called Upon to Address America’s Violation of Indigenous Prisoners’ Religious Freedoms

Jul 28th, 2014

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On Friday, Huy and a coalition anchored by the National Congress of American Indians, Native American Rights Fund and American Civil Liberties Union, decried the United States’ violations of American indigenous prisoners’ religious freedoms, to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

The coalition submitted a report to CERD “Concerning Freedoms of Indigenous Persons Deprived of Their Liberty in the United States of America.”  The coalition complains that “[i]ndigenous prisoners’ freedoms to possess religious items, to participate in religious ceremonies, and to otherwise engage in traditional religious practices are subject to an increasingly pervasive pattern of illegal restriction throughout the United States,” citing violations in California, Montana, Hawaii, Arizona, South Dakota, Indiana, Texas, Wyoming and Missouri.

The coalition recommended the United Nations urge that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder “undertake a comprehensive investigation of state laws and policies regarding indigenous exercise of religion.” The U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for oversight of the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

CERD is slated to review the United States’ efforts to reduce racial discrimination in America in Geneva, Switzerland on August 13-14, 2014.

The coalition’s complaint is the latest of a growing number of NGO grievances and diplomatic inquiries concerning the United States’ violation of American indigenous prisoners’ religious freedoms.  Last year, the coalition submitted a similar report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.

In June 2013, two United Nations special rapporteurs inquired of the U.S. State Department regarding the “increasing number of state-level regulations that restrict the religious freedoms of Native American prisoners, including their participation in religious ceremonies and possession of religious items.”

National Congress of American Indians President Brian Cladoosby wrote Secretary of State John Kerry in April 2014, citing the United States’ failure to acknowledge the United Nations special rapporteurs’ inquiry and “urg[ing] the United States’ earliest possible response to the Special Rapporteurs.”  (See “Cladoosby Calls Out John Kerry: Indigenous Prisoners’ Rights Inquiry,” Indian Country Today Media Network)

The United States has yet to respond to or even acknowledge receipt of either diplomatic inquiry.

“Our coalition intends to get answers regarding the pervasive violation of our imprisoned relatives’ religious freedoms by American states,” said Huy Board of Advisors Chairman and tribal lawyer Gabriel S. Galanda. “We hope the United States will honor these diplomatic human rights inquiries and help correct its sibling states’ behavior.”

The coalition’s reports have been principally authored and submitted by Huy, a tribal NGO headquartered in Seattle, Washington that provides economic, educational, rehabilitative, and religious support for American indigenous prisoners in the United States.  In Coast Salish language, Huy (pronounced “hoyt”) means: “See you again/we never say goodbye.”