James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, made a historic visit to American Indian Movement member Leonard Peltier in prison on Friday – an event expected to boost the growing movement to free the American Indian activist who is believed by Amnesty International and other organizations to be a political prisoner.
Peltier, Turtle Mountain Ojibway, is in United States Federal Penitentiary in Coleman, Florida, now serving his 37th year in prison in what is widely believed to be a wrongful conviction.
Anaya made an official visit to the U.S. in the spring of 2012 to examine the human rights situation of Indigenous Peoples here. After visiting and hearing testimony from Indigenous Nations, Peoples, organizations and communities around the U.S. he issued a report, called “The situation of Indigenous Peoples in the United States of America,” in which he talked about Peltier’s case:
“A more recent incident that continues to spark feelings of injustice among Indigenous Peoples around the United States is the well-known case of Leonard Peltier,” Anaya wrote. “After a trial that has been criticized by many as involving numerous due process problems, Mr. Peltier was sentenced to two life sentences for murder, and has been denied parole on various occasions. Pleas for presidential consideration of clemency by notable individuals and institutions have not borne fruit. This further depletes the already diminished faith in the criminal justice system felt by many Indigenous Peoples throughout the country.”
Anaya was accompanied on the visit to Peltier by Leonard “Lenny" Foster, a representative of the National Native American Prisoners Rights Coalition, member of the board of directors of the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC) and Peltier’s spiritual adviser for three decades, according to a statement released by Who Is Leonard Peltier, Peltier’s defense committee.
The IITC council is a nonprofit organization advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ rights that was founded in 1974 at a gathering of the American Indian Movement in Standing Rock, South Dakota, that was attended by more that 5,000 representatives of 98 Indigenous Nations. In 1977, IITC was the first Indigenous organization to receive Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). In July 2011, IITC became the first Indigenous organization to be upgraded to “General Consultative Status” by ECOSOC.
“The visit today by Special Rapporteur James Anaya to Leonard Peltier in prison is very significant and historic for us and we thank him for working with IITC to make this possible,” Foster said in an IITC statement. “This will support efforts for Executive Clemency for Leonard Peltier and promote reconciliation and justice in this case.”
Leonard Peltier was convicted of the murders of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents during a confrontation involving AIM members on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in June 1975. He was sentenced to two consecutive life sentences in 1977. While Peltier admits having been present during the incident, he has always denied shooting the agents as alleged by the prosecution at his trial.
Two other defendants were acquitted based on self-defense. During post-trial investigations, the defense team found forensic evidence to exonerate Peltier but the government contested the evidence at a hearing, according to Amnesty International and other sources. On appeal, the government also argued that sufficient evidence had been presented to the jury at trial to show that Peltier had “aided and abetted” the killings even if he had not been the actual killer.
Although the U.S. courts have acknowledged government misconduct, including forcing witnesses to lie and hiding ballistics evidence indicating his innocence, Peltier was denied a new trial on a legal technicality and all legal appeals against his conviction have been exhausted. That’s why it’s imperative to seek presidential clemency, said IITC Executive Director Andrea Carmen. And there’s broad support in the international community for Peltier’s release, she said.
“The late Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa, former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, 55 Members of the U.S. Congress, the National Congress of American Indians, Assembly of First Nations, the U.S. Human Rights Network and many others – including a judge who sat as a member of the Court in two of Peltier’s appeals – have called for his release,” Carmen said.
Peltier, now 69, continues to advocate for justice. “If the constitutional violations that took place in my trial are allowed to stand, it will set precedence for future trials, and jeopardize the freedom and constitutional rights of all Americans," he said Friday, according to Who is Leonard Peltier.
Also in attendance of the meeting Friday were David Hill, director of the newly formed International Leonard Peltier Defense Committee and Peter Clark, its Chapter Coordinator. "Americans can no longer afford to tolerate this miscarriage of justice and we shall make every effort to bring these judicial violations to the attention of all Americans, as well as internationally."
RELATED: ‘Free Peltier’
RELATED: Peltier denied parole