Sunday, April 20, 2014

US Tribe Looks to International Court for Justice

Michelle Tullo
April 20, 2014.

Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, 
of the Onondaga people.
Washington - An indigenous community in the United States has filed a petition against the federal government, alleging that officials have repeatedly broken treaties and that the court system has failed to offer remedy.

The petition was filed by the Onondaga Nation, a Native American tribe and one of more than 650 sovereign peoples recognised by the U.S. government. Onondaga representatives are calling on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR), the human rights arm of the pan-regional Organisation of American States (OAS), to intervene.
In 2005, the Onondaga Nation filed a case against New York State, stating the state government had repeatedly violated treaties signed with the Onondaga, resulting in lost land and severe environmental pollution. Yet advocates for the trips say antiquated legal precedents with racist roots have allowed the courts to consistently dismiss the Onondaga’s case.

They are now looking to the IACHR for justice.

“New York State broke the law and now the U.S. government has failed to protect our lands, which they promised to us in treaties,” Sid Hill, the Tadodaho, or spiritual leader, of the Onondaga people, told IPS.

Hill and others from the Onondaga Nation gathered outside the White House, located near the IACHR’s Washington headquarters, on Tuesday. Hill brought an heirloom belt commissioned for the Onondaga Nation by George Washington, the first U.S. president, to ratify the Treaty of Canandaigua, affirming land rights for the Onondaga and other tribes.

In their petition to the IACHR, the Onondaga quote sections from the Trade and Intercourse Act of 1790. Signed by George Washington, this law assured the Onondaga that their lands would be safe, and if threatened, that the federal courts would protect their rights.

Yet since then, tribal advocates say, their 2.5 million acres of land has shrunk to just 6,900 acres. And rather than helping the Onondaga, the courts have ignored their case.

“We filed the original case in 2005,” Joe Heath, the attorney for the Onondaga Nation, told IPS.
Read the rest here.
Comment:  There is precedent in international law for this case.

The Endorois people of Kenya took their to the African Union's court of human rights (ACHPR) and won a decision there (see my new co-edited book on the subject).

The problem is that even with a favorable decision compliance is very hard to institute.

State's act in their own interests all the time and where international law goes against their interests it is more likely that in the absence of a suitable and durable sanction most states will simply ignore the dictates of international law.

This of course does not mean that a decision supporting the Onondaga Nation at the IACHR should not be sought: compliance is more often a matter of a wider struggle towards justice.


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