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US government’s human rights record under UN review

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Indian tribal governments, Native organizations and community members have the opportunity to provide input into the first ever review of the United States’ human rights record under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The process is called the Universal Periodic Review and it was created by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 as a mechanism by which the human rights records of all 192 U.N. member states are reviewed every four years.

The U.S. became a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2009 and the first review of its human rights record will take place this December.

The U.S. State Department will hear input from American Indians on the federal government’s efforts to meet its human rights obligations March 16 at the University of New Mexico School of Law in Albuquerque and on March 17 at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz. Tribal officials and members are encouraged to participate, according to a Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission press release.

Tribal governments, community members and organizations can also submit five-page written statements or a 10-page collaborative statement directly to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights presenting their concerns, questions, or recommendations about the U.S. government’s activities that impact human rights. Submissions can be e-mailed to or mailed to Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Palais Wilson, 52 rue des Pâquis, CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland. Submissions must be received by April 19 at midnight, Geneva time.

The UPR review involves a year-long process of information gathering that includes information prepared by the State Department and presented in a national report of up to 20 pages; information compiled from records within the U.N. systems, including any cases of decisions by human rights bodies; and a summary of information submitted by other stakeholders, including indigenous nations, peoples, non-governmental organizations and other entities.

The UPR reviews are conducted by the UPR Working Group, which consists of 47 members of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The U.N. Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights treaties ratified by a state, a state’s voluntary commitments, and international human rights law are the yardsticks by which the UPR assesses each state’s adherence to its human rights obligations.

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The International Indian Treaty Council has distributed a memo urging tribal nations and organizations to participate in the review process and to advocate for the inclusion of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a benchmark for fulfilling human rights obligations.

The Declaration was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly Sept. 13, 2007 with 143 states voting in favor, 11 abstaining, and four – Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the U.S. – voting against it. Australia has since adopted the Declaration.

“Indigenous peoples have consistently called for the UPR process to also include implementation by states of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This has not yet been agreed to by the Human Rights Council. However, in 2008, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommended the U.S. use the Declaration “as a guide to interpret the state party’s obligation under the Convention (on human rights) relating to indigenous peoples.”

“Therefore, violations of or failure to implement the rights recognized in the Declaration can and should be included in submissions by indigenous peoples,” said Andrea Carmen, IITC executive director.

The IITC was founded in 1974 and in 1977 it became the first organization of indigenous peoples to be reorganized as a Non-Governmental Organization with Consultative Status to the U.N. Economic and Social Council, the body just below the General Assembly in the U.N. hierarchy.

Carmen is serving on a UPR planning committee established by the U.S. Human Rights Network, a coalition of leading human rights activists and organizations dedicated to strengthening human rights awareness and activism in the U.S. and adherence by the U.S. government.

The Network’s Planning Committee aims to help guide and coordinate the UPR initiative and its Web site has information about upcoming UPR education, training and action opportunities, as well as key dates and events.

The State Department also has a new Web site in connection with the UPR process and information on how to submit statements or reports.

The Universal Periodic Review “has great potential to promote and protect human rights in the darkest corners of the world,” U.N. General Secretary Ban Ki-moon said on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Web page where more information about the UPR process, background and documentation is available.