Human Rights Council
at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland
28 February - 25 March 2011
Agenda Item 6. Consideration of UPR-reports, United States of America, 18 March 2011
Oral Statement by the Society for Threatened Peoples [Special]
Confronted with the realities of an absence of protection to Indigenous Peoples and political dissidents in the U.S., the Society for Threatened Peoples International wishes to bring the case of Leonard Peltier to the attention of this Council as a well documented example of consistent patterns of gross violations of human rights: abuse of criminal process, exclusion or withholding of evidence, prosecutorial misconduct, prejudicial publicity, and systematic brutality including but not limited to medical maltreatment.
Native American activist Leonard Peltier was wrongfully convicted in connection with the deaths of two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Despite the courts' acknowledgment of FBI and prosecutorial misconduct in the case, Peltier has been imprisoned since 1976, currently at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lewisburg, Pennsylvania.
On September 23, 2010, before the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Barack Obama stated that part of the price of our own freedom is standing up and speaking out for the freedom of others.
Millions of people worldwide—all profoundly disturbed by his continuing unlawful imprisonment and ill treatment—have stood up and spoken out for Leonard Peltier. In 2010, seven persons—myself included—advocated for Mr. Peltier during five of the listening sessions hosted by the U.S. State Department in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Concerned peoples of the world—Native Americans, in particular—have noted the failure of the U.S. government to mention our concerns in its submission to the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in conjunction with the UPR, and its presentation to the UPR Working Group in November.
The evidence shows that the FBI was the aggressor in the firefight that occurred on June 26, 1975. From 1973 to 1976, Indigenous People on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota were victims of beatings, drive-by shootings, and stabbings carried out by local vigilantes who collaborated with the FBI. Peltier and other Indigenous activists were forced into a defensive posture to protect not only their lives, but the lives of others who were present—elders, women, and children. Indeed, Mr. Peltier’s co-defendants, tried separately, were acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
The evidence clearly shows that the U.S. government's goal was to orchestrate Mr. Peltier's conviction by any means—including falsifying extradition documents and intentionally committing fraud on a Canadian court, as well as suppressing evidence of Mr. Peltier's innocence during his trial. By the government's own admission, the critical part of the prosecution’s case against Mr. Peltier was the ballistics testimony which, years after his conviction, was discovered to be false. Simply, the jury verdict in Mr. Peltier's case was obtained illegally.
Despite the U.S. government's own admission that it did not and cannot prove his guilt, Mr. Peltier has been denied a new trial. According to the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, Mr. Peltier was to have served a sentence of 200+ months. Mr. Peltier has now served more than 400 months in a federal penitentiary—over 35 years. In 2009, although Mr. Peltier has met all eligibility requirements, he was again denied parole. Mr. Peltier won't be given another full parole review until 2024.
On 05 November, the world heard the U.S. government claim that it is "unequivocally committed to the humane treatment of all individuals in detention, including criminal detention". Yet, Leonard Peltier has suffered numerous beatings while in U.S. custody—most recently sustaining injuries from an attack in 2009 at Canaan Penitentiary. A physician who conducted an independent review of Mr. Peltier’s medical records in 2000 concluded that Mr. Peltier’s overall medical treatment also is below a reasonable standard of care. Nearly 67 years of age, Mr. Peltier continues to suffer from severe diabetes, high blood pressure, and a heart condition. According to an affiliate of Physicians for Human Rights, he risks blindness, kidney failure, and stroke due to his inadequate diet, living conditions, and health care.
In recent years, Mr. Peltier has presented with symptoms commonly attributed to prostate cancer. In the U.S., a man dies from prostate cancer every 16 minutes. The cure rate for prostate cancer is high, but only if detected early. In November 2010, to make a proper diagnosis, a prison physician ordered that a biopsy be performed. The biopsy was performed on 23 February, over four months later.
But strategies to only ameliorate his conditions of confinement will not remedy the many years of human rights violations suffered by Mr. Peltier. The U.S. government's case against Leonard Peltier collapsed years ago. His continued imprisonment only serves to prolong a grave injustice. The U.S. claims to support universal principles of freedom and justice because, as it says, it is the right thing to do. It is time for the U.S. government to free Leonard Peltier because it's the right thing to do.
Before the General Assembly, President Obama rightly acknowledged that "Human rights have never gone unchallenged—not in any of our nations." Freedom and justice for all, he said, must begin with freedom and justice in the lives of individual human beings. For this very reason, Amnesty International has designated Mr. Peltier a political prisoner who should be immediately and unconditionally released. Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, 55 Members of the U.S. Congress and many others—including a judge who sat as a member of the court in two of Mr. Peltier’s appeals—have all called for his immediate release. Repeated appeals also have been brought to the U.N. on his behalf since Mr. Peltier's imprisonment.
We strongly urge the Council to adopt and the U.S. to implement UPR Working Group Recommendation Numbers 92-153 and 92-154. According to the principles of justice, democracy, and respect for human rights, we ask that this Council use every mechanism at its disposal and within its mandate to demand that the U.S. comply with its human rights obligations and that Leonard Peltier and other political prisoners be released.
Society for Threatened Peoples International
Indigenous Peoples and Nations Coalition
On March 18, 2011, an abbreviated oral statement was presented to the UN Human Rights Council by Len Foster on behalf of the signatories of the above statement (submitted earlier):
If the Universal Periodic Review is to be an effective mechanism for human rights accountability, civil society consultations should promote dialogue. However, when [Indians] called for the release of Mr. Leonard Peltier, a recognized political prisoner, the United States did not mention this concern and rejected the recommendation that he be released. Mr. Peltier had been imprisoned for more than 35 years and has suffered numerous beatings while in prison, most recently sustaining injuries from an attack in 2009 at Canaan Federal Penitentiary. [We] urge that Mr. Peltier be released immediately.