Case of Maya Kaqchikel Indigenous Community of Sumpango v. Guatemala

From Nicole Friederichs:

Suffolk Law’s Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic secures victory for indigenous communities in Guatemala.

On Friday, December 17, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of indigenous communities in Guatemala in the Case of Maya Kaqchikel indigenous community of Sumpango, et al. v. Guatemala. Suffolk University Law School’s Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic has been the legal representative of the four named indigenous communities in this case since 2012.

The Court ruled that the State of Guatemala violated the indigenous communities’ rights to freedom of expression and thought, culture, and non-discrimination by promoting a regulatory framework which prevented indigenous peoples from accessing radio frequencies to develop and operate community radio stations. The Inter-American Court ordered Guatemala to (1) adopt legislative and regulatory measures to ensure for the recognition of community radio, (2) reserve indigenous community radio as part of the radio spectrum and (3) to halt all government raids of existing indigenous community radio. This court victory culminates decades of advocacy by indigenous communities in Guatemala and indigenous organizations such as Cultural Survival, one of the petitioners in the case.  

What is of particular significance is the Court’s recognition of indigenous peoples’ right to operate their own media, and the relationship of this right to freedom of expression, culture, self-determination, and non-discrimination. This is the first known international case to recognize this right and its recognition by the Inter-American Court should influence how other judicial and human rights bodies interpret and promote this right to media under the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

The legal team was led by Nicole Friederichs, Director of Suffolk’s Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples Clinic, along with Suffolk Law Adjunct Prof. Amy Van Zyl-Chavarro. Suffolk Law Prof. Lorie Graham submitted expert testimony, on which the Court relied in its analysis of indigenous peoples’ right to media. Nicole Friederichs noted, “This decision is a victory not only for indigenous communities in Guatemala, but also for indigenous peoples throughout this hemisphere in protecting their rights to freedom of expression and culture and promoting pluralism in media.”



Sioux Tribes Request Precautionary Measures to Protect Against DAPL


Filed on behalf of Standing Rock, Cheyenne River, and Yankton Sioux Tribes by the American Indian Law Clinic at Colorado Law, Earthjustice, and Fredericks, Peebles and Morgan LLP.

Measures requested:

  1. Deny the easement allowing construction of the pipeline under the Missouri River at
    Lake Oahe as soon as possible;
  2. Complete a full environmental impact statement in formal consultation with the Tribes;
  3. Establish clear rules requiring that indigenous peoples who may be affected by
    government decisions have the opportunity for full and meaningful prior informed
    consent within the meanings established in the UN Declaration on the Rights of
    Indigenous Peoples and the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court and this
  4. Establish clear rules ensuring full environmental and social assessment of activities that may affect indigenous peoples, with the full participation of the affected indigenous peoples;
  5. Immediately take all actions necessary to guarantee the safety of those engaging in
    peaceful prayer and protest concerning DAPL, and to ensure the full enjoyment of their rights to expression and assembly;
  6. Any other action this Commission deems appropriate.

Onondaga Nation Files Petition with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

The Onondaga Nation Files Petition Against United States with Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Sovereign Nation in Upstate New York Seeks International Support After U.S. Courts Fail to Address Violations


Washington, DC – Today, the Onondaga Nation, a treaty-recognized sovereign Indian nation with its homelands in upstate New York, filed a petition against the United States with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Since 1788, 2.5 million acres of land have been stolen from the Onondaga Nation by New York State, and the failure of the U.S. court system has left the Nation with no choice but to seek assistance for human rights violations from the international community.

To bring attention to the filing, chiefs from the Onondaga Nation and supporters gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Washington, DC wearing traditional dress and with a historic wampum belt commissioned for the Nation by President George Washington to signify peace and friendship while ratifying the 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua.

Click here to view photos of the Onondaga Nation’s demonstration outside the White House and the George Washington belt.

Click here to view the Onondaga Nation’s petition and annex to the petition as filed with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“Our access to basic equality and justice was fundamentally denied by the United States’ courts,” said Tadodaho Sid Hill of the Onondaga Nation. “Now, we’re calling on the international community to help us reach a healing process following centuries of violations and broken promises.”

On March 11, 2005, the Nation filed a Land Rights Action in the United States District Court, which the federal court dismissed. The Nation then appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which affirmed that dismissal. Finally, the Nation filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court seeking review of the dismissal and its affirmance. On October 15, 2013, the Supreme Court denied that petition. No further remedy is available in the United States court system.

“Where the U.S courts failed, the international community can help us preserve our role as an environmental steward of the land,” added Hill. “That means greater access to our surrounding lands and to cleansing the industrial pollution in Onondaga Lake, which remains a vital location to our nation’s spiritual life.”

The response from the U.S. courts bars the Nation from any domestic remedy and refuses it the chance to articulate the violations of New York State dating back to the late 18th Century. The federal courts’ inherently discriminatory ruling refused to consider the merits of the Nation’s case, holding that indigenous peoples’ claims for relief arising from violations of their land rights are “inherently disruptive” and, therefore, cannot be considered.

The Nation’s petition at the IACHR outlines the United States’ responsibility for violations of the Nation’s property rights, equality, judicial protection and due process – outlined in multiple domestic and international agreements, including multiple treaties, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

A positive result for the Onondaga Nation at the OAS could establish a framework to resolve the ongoing dispute and offer a case study for indigenous peoples barred access to justice by the U.S. court system.

The Onondaga Nation has never sold or otherwise relinquished its lands or its rights as a sovereign nation. Between 1788 and 1822 the State of New York took approximately 2.5 million acres of Onondaga Nation land, violating federal law, the Constitution and various treaties. Major land “acquisitions” by New York State in the 18th century were conducted with unauthorized individuals without the knowledge or consent of the authorized Onondaga chiefs. On multiple occasions, the State deceived the Onondagas into thinking the State was only leasing the land.

About The Onondaga Nation: The Onondaga Nation is one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. Onondaga Nation survives as a sovereign, independent nation, living on a portion of its ancestral territory and maintaining its own distinct government, laws, language, customs, and culture. Today, the Onondaga Nation consists of a 7,300-acre territory just south of Syracuse, NY. For more information visit

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International Commission Holds Historic Hearing on Violence Against Native Women in the U.S. – U.S. Officials and Native Advocates Agree Violence Must End

Terri Henry, Co-Chair, National Congress of American Indians Task Force on Violence Against Native Women, and Tribal Council Representative, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, encouraged the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to visit Native communities to learn more about the epidemic of violence against Native women. An ILRC photo by Leonardo Crippa.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — During an historic hearing dedicated to their missing and murdered Native sisters throughout the Americas, Native women and tribal advocates resorted to an international human rights body to raise global awareness on the epidemic of violence against Native women in the United States.   Representatives of the United States appearing at the hearing admitted that this level of violence against Native women is “an assault on the national conscience.” Continue reading

ICT Coverage of Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group Land Claim Presentation at IACHR

Here. An excerpt:

WASHINGTON—Six First Nations of British Columbia have taken to the international legal sphere in an effort to shame the Canadian government into recognizing long-standing land claims. Their rationale is simple: We never gave you the land, you took it, so either give us back the land, or give us some other form of remuneration, for stealing and profiting from the plunder.

The First Nations’ efforts were showcased in the capital of the United States on October 28 at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS is billed as the world’s oldest regional organization, dating back to 1889, and the IACHR was established in 1960 as a vehicle for the organization to promote and protect human rights.

The unprecedented hearing was granted to the Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG), which is made up of the Cowichan Tribes, Lake Cowichan First Nation, Halalt First Nation, Penelakut Tribe, Lyackson First Nation and Stz’uminus First Nation. The group accuses the Canadian government of violating the human rights of its 6,400 members by failing to recognize and protect their rights to property, culture and religion as recognized under the OAS’s principal human rights instrument, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man. Canada has been a member of the OAS since 1989.

Hul'qumi'num Treaty Group, Canada
Robert A. Williams, Professor of Law and American Indian Studies and Director of the Indigenous Peoples at the University of Arizona, presents evidence at the hearing. He is flanked by Heather Neun of Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and HTG president Richard Thomas, chief of Lyackson First Nation.


Update in Hul’qumi’num Land Claim: Press Release and Link to IACHR Presentation this Weekend

The Hul’qumi’num Land Claim presentation before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights WILL BE WEBCAST LIVE ON THE IACHR WEBSITE on Friday, October 28 and 9am ET, from the Padilha Vidal Room of the Commission, and will also be available for taped viewing after that on the Commission’s website.

Here are additional details, and news about a post-hearing press conference:

Canadian First Nations Secure Hearing before

International Rights Commission in Washington, D.C.

 Press release (PDF)

Ladysmith BC – The Hul’qumi’num Treaty Group (HTG) will hold a media briefing conference call on Friday, October 28, 2011, following the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) hearing on the merits of their land rights claims.  This case is significant because it is the first time that IACHR is considering a Canadian indigenous land rights issue.

“This represents a historic opportunity to address a human rights issue in Canada that could have far-reaching implications for the indigenous movement worldwide,” saidRobert Morales, Chief Negotiator for the HTG.

HTG has had a longstanding petition against Government of Canada for failing to secure, recognize and safeguard the property rights of the Hul’qumi’num indigenous peoples in their ancestral lands.

Morales added: “We are not asking to turn back the clock and investigate historic wrongs; rather urging effective resolution of land rights and consultations with the Hul’qumi’num indigenous peoples regarding the on-going deforestation and development activities by private corporations.”

WHAT: Press briefing conference call following IACHR hearing on Hul’qumi’num land rights case.

WHEN: Friday, October 28, 2011 at 12:00 noon U.S. EDT/ 9 a.m. BC time.

WHERE: Dial in to the following conference numbers:

U.S. Toll free: 1-888-529-0347

Canada/International: +1-719-234-7500

Pass code: 283634

WHO:  Chief Richard Thomas, Chief Lydia Hwitsum, Robert A. Williams, Robert Morales HTG Spokespersons; Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International; Heather Neun, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada; and, Jody Wilson Raybould, Assembly of First Nations.

For additional details and to RSVP, please contact:

Rosanne Daniels


Kelly Cross


Elizabeth Berton-Hunter

416-363-9933 ext. 332


Here is an additional press release from supporting organizations: Continue reading

Violence Against Native Women gaining global attention

Native women face greater rates of violence than any other group in the United States.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The epidemic proportions of violence against Native women in the United States continues to gain global attention.   The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will hold a hearing on Oct. 25, 2011 at 10:15 a.m. at the General Secretariat Building of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C.  The Commission is an autonomous organ of the OAS, created by countries to protect human rights in the Americas.

Continue reading

Navajo Group Petition to Human Rights Commission

Here’s a copy of the Petition filed by ENDAUM (Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining) with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to challenge the NRC’s issuance of a uranium mining license to HRI.


Navajo Group Petitions Human Rights Commission in Effort to Halt Uranium Mining

This story was filed in May in the NYTimes (here’s the link), with televised news coverage on KRQE News (link here).

An excerpt from the NYTimes coverage:

In a last attempt to deep-six a controversial project to mine uranium near two Navajo communities in northwestern New Mexico, a Navajo environmental group is taking its fight to the global stage.

Tomorrow, Eastern Navajo Diné Against Uranium Mining, with the help of the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, will submit a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arguing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s decision to grant Hydro Resources Inc., a license to mine uranium ore near Churchrock and Crown Point, N.M., is a violation of international laws.

The groups contend the mines, first permitted by NRC in 1999, could contaminate drinking water for 15,000 Navajo residents in and around the two communities, which lie just outside the Navajo Nation. In 2005, the Navajo’s tribal government passed a law prohibiting uranium mining within its borders.

“By its acts and omissions that have contaminated and will continue to contaminate natural resources in the Dine communities of Crownpoint and Church Rock, the State has violated Petitioners’ human rights and breached its obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man,” the petition reads.

“We’re very hopeful,” said Eric Jantz, an attorney with the New Mexico Environmental Law Center who is filing the petition on behalf of ENDAUM. “I think we have very solid claims. It’s always been our client’s position that clean water is a human right.”

Indian Country Today: Seeking justice, Latin indigenous leaders come to testify

Originally printed at

WASHINGTON – Indigenous leaders from four Latin American countries came to Washington D.C. last month to assert that their respective governments are criminalizing their right to protest, preventing them from seeking justice.

In what they called an Indigenous Diplomatic Mission, representatives from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Chile presented testimony and documented evidence at the 134 period of sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. With the assistance of American co-petitioners Indian Law Resource Center, they met with members of Congress, representatives of the Obama administration and the United Nations.

The outreach is part of a related movement toward the passage of an American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

But the main focus for the members of the Andean Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organizations was getting their message to the IACHR and the international community. They say their protests are being criminalized and their people marginalized, even killed.

“We came here because we are defending our mother, Pachamama” said Miguel Palacin Quispe, chair of the CAOI and president of the National Confederation of Peruvian Communities Affected by Mining at hearings March 20.

“We are the victims of this criminalization and persecution. . for the thousands of instances of human rights violations in our territories we have requested this hearing,” Palacin Quispe said in his testimony before the IACHR, which acts as a consultative body to the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Peruvian leader told commissioners about problems with the “extractive model” of business in Peru that has oil and other large companies engaging in “irrational exploitation,” causing “enormous damage and pollution” to indigenous territories.

“These new neighbors, the multinationals, have located their battles in our territories, and they have put us in a position where we have to defend ourselves.”

One of the Peruvian cases he brought before the commission was that of 29 indigenous activists who, after requesting a dialogue with mining company and government representatives who came to their territory without their consultation, were seized, held hostage and then tortured by the Peruvian National Police for three days in July of 2005.

For the most part, his presentation focused on more recent events.

“It is now known,” Palacin Quispe stated, “that 18 Colombian ethnicities are in danger of extinction and for them we mobilize, for them we protest and there is no mechanism for dealing with this. . we have become the objects of assassination, torture and imprisonment.”

“In many areas, they are preventing us from our constitutional right to mobilize and protest; and the strategy of the state is now to change laws. . so they criminalize dissidence, and in Chile, against the Mapuche, they use the anti-terrorist law. They also seek to privatize public land and along with this they are increasing the military presence in our territories.”

For Juan Edgardo Pai, an Awa leader from Colombia and one of the presenters at the hearing, the issue of militarization is very important.

“The militarization of our territory has brought terrible problems,” Pai stated in a phone interview with Indian Country Today after his testimony at the commission. He referred to the recent massacre of 27 Awa by the FARC and to other similar situations. “When there are armed conflicts there are many people displaced and many Awa have been killed by their anti-personnel mines.

“Our people are still trapped by some of those mines. The fumigations have also caused death; many of our children have been killed by the poisoning.”

Pai said the Colombian government has done nothing to help the displaced and suffering members of his community. He pointed to the recent effort to find some of the victims of the latest massacre as an example of Awa frustration with the government.

“I came here not only because of the massacre,” Pai recounted, “but for the politics of [Colombian President] Uribe who doesn’t respond to our needs and we have seen so many violations of our rights. . we told them about the paramilitaries threatening us also and they have done nothing.

“We have been forgotten by the Colombian government.”

While testimony at the hearings was tragic, there were some positive results to the visit, according to ILRC attorney Leonardo Crippa. He asserted that IACHR Commissioner Victor Abramovich, special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, was “quite interested in following up on the testimony. … and for a visit by him to Colombia along with the UN Special Rapporteur.”

“Another request we felt would get follow up was on our request for the commission to do a comparative analysis of the 11 Peruvian decrees adopted by the Peruvian government in 2007, known as the Forest Laws, with the American Convention on Human Rights to determine if this domestic legislation is in accordance with the international standards concerning human rights.”

Crippa pointed out that these same laws are being used to imprison indigenous activists who have lead protests in Peru and that issue, along with one of the situations in Colombia, are reasons that there should be a separate American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People.

“This regional declaration is needed to reflect the regional particularities of the region, especially those ones that were not reflected in the UN Declaration.”

In his meeting with Department of State officials, Palacin Quispe addressed the same theme.

“In that meeting we stated that if it’s true that the Obama administration signifies a change in U.S. policy, their relevant officials should participate in the next OAS discussion of the Project on the American Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to unblock the process so that this international instrument be finally adopted,” he wrote in a CAOI statement.

In a statement summarizing the hearings, the IACHR urged passage of the American Declaration, as well as decrying the situations that compelled the indigenous leaders to leave their own countries to seek justice.

“The IACHR condemns the murders of indigenous people carried out by private and state agents, and reiterates its concern over the frequency of social conflicts and acts of violence associated with disputes over the lands, territories and natural resources of indigenous peoples. These situations of conflict normally arise because the states do not adequately guarantee the protection of indigenous territories; nor do they guarantee indigenous peoples the right to participate in decisions concerning the activities that affect their rights.”

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