Advocating for Native Women in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights


Native Women and Tribes File an Amicus Brief in Gonzales v. United States

      Jessica Gonzales v. United States, a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, challenges the failure of law enforcement in the United States to enforce protective orders against domestic violence perpetrators. The petitioner, Jessica Gonzales Lenahan, alleges that the United States violates the human rights of women by not enforcing domestic violence protection orders. Ms. Lenahan has challenged the United States Supreme Court's decision to dismiss the case she brought against the local government when her estranged husband abducted and killed her three daughters after police refused to enforce a restraining order against him. The Supreme Court held that despite mandatory state laws requiring the enforcement of domestic violence protection orders, individuals do not have a constitutional right to have these protection orders enforced. 

 Jessica Lenahan at the Inter-American
 Commission in 2007. 
From Columbia
Law School Human Rights Clinic website.

     While the case neither occurred in Indian Country nor involved a tribal protection order, it challenges a Supreme Court decision that has an especially pernicious impact on Native women.  Often tribal protection orders are the primary recourse that Native women have against domestic violence perpetrators.  These protection orders, however, are only good as long as they are enforced.  Under current laws, Native women must rely on state law enforcement to enforce these protection orders once they leave tribal land.  Unfortunately, state law enforcement officials regularly refuse to enforce tribal protection orders.  The Supreme Court's decision condones this refusal to enforce tribal protection orders and enables state law enforcement to ignore these orders.  In effect, this decision leaves Native women, who rely on these protection orders as their primary recourse against their attackers, vulnerable to continuing violence.
     Ms. Lenahan's case is the first individual complaint brought by a victim of domestic violence against the United States for international human rights violations. Because of its special implications for Native women, the Indian Law Resource Center, Sacred Circle National Resource Center to End Violence Against Native Women, and nineteen other organizations and tribes filed an amicus brief to inform the Inter-American Commission about the epidemic of domestic violence and sexual assault against Native women in the United States and the particularly devastating effect of the Gonzales decision on Native women. The brief argues that the failure of the United States to protect Native women violates their rights under the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man. A decision in the Gonzales case is pending.  

Read the amicus brief submitted to the Inter-American Commission.