U.S. No Show at Human Rights Hearing Sets Ominous Precedent

On Tuesday, March 21, 2017, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a hearing in Washington, D.C. on the human rights impacts of several recent Executive Orders issued by President Trump, including the order calling for expedited environmental reviews of infrastructure projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline. In a striking break with practice, the United States did not attend this hearing. The Commission is a key part of the Organization of American States’ regional human rights system and has long played an important role in developing the legal framework of indigenous rights throughout the Americas.

“The United States’ decision not to appear before the Commission is very ominous,” said Armstrong Wiggins, Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Indian Law Resource Center. “This is one of the first concrete actions following up on earlier statements that suggested the United States does not intend to honor its treaty commitments to respect human rights. The United States may well find that such failure to honor its commitments will harm United States interests in many areas, especially where the United States expects and demands that other countries honor their commitments and respect human rights.”

“This action will encourage other countries to ignore and violate human rights and to ignore demands to improve their actions,” added Robert T. Coulter, Executive Director of the Center. “A strong and effective worldwide human rights system is particularly important to Indian nations and other indigenous peoples, because they generally lack political and economic power.  Undermining this system is a particularly grave threat to the future well-being of indigenous peoples. Direct advocacy by indigenous peoples and international pressure will be extremely important tools in the coming years as we seek to ensure that the United States and other countries live up to their international human rights obligations.”

The Commission will hold its next hearings on matters involving the United States from September 4-8, 2017.