United Nations Finds US in Violation of Human Rights of Western Shoshone

* United Nations Finds US in Violation of Human Rights of Western Shoshone

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination found that the US has violated the human rights of the Western Shoshone peoples. The Committee acted under its early warning and urgent action procedure. The US did not appear at the hearing to address the concerns the Committee raised last August.

Western Shoshone ancestral lands stretch south of the Snake River, Idaho, across central and east Nevada and west through the Death Valley in California.

The Committee was concerned about US activities on and uses of these lands, such as underground nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site, which continues with sub-critical tests, and the planned Yucca Mountain Project, a planned nuclear waste repository which is currently being built. The Committee was also concerned about the intimidation and harassment of Western Shoshone peoples when using their ancestral lands and the difficulties encountered by them in challenging all such actions in US courts. Carrie Dann, of the Western Shoshone Defense Project, said "We are very pleased by the decision. It is time that indigenous people are looked at as human beings."

The Committee urged the US to freeze all plans to privatize Western Shoshone lands and resources for multinational corporations, desist from all activities on ancestral lands about which the Western Shoshone have not been consulted, and stop all harassment of the people. In its decision, the Committee urged the US "to pay particular attention to the right to health and cultural rights of the Western Shoshone people, which may be infringed upon by activities threatening their environment and/or disregarding the spiritual and cultural significance they give to their ancestral lands." The US must provide the Committee with the responsive steps it has taken to address their concerns by July 15, 2006.

It is unclear what effect this decision will have. The future of both the Yucca Mountain project and the Nevada Test Site are currently being debated. Some members of the US Congress recently affirmed their desire to finish and utilize Yucca Mountain. Likewise, the US, in collaboration with Britain, recently performed a sub-critical nuclear experiment at the Nevada Test Site. This test was not a full-scale nuclear detonation. However, the Committee's decision specifically urged the US to desist from all such activities. If the US continues with these projects it will be disregarding the Committee's decision.

Joe Kennedy, member of the Western Shoshone delegation to the United Nations, said, "We have rights to protect our homelands and stop the destruction of our land, water, and air by the abuses of the United States government and the multinational corporations. The situation is outrageous and we're glad the United Nations Committee agrees with us. Our people have suffered more nuclear testing than anywhere else in the world and they're continuing underground testing despite our protests. Yucca Mountain is being hollowed out in order to store nuclear waste. We cannot stand for it - this earth, the air, the water are sacred. People of all races must stop this insanity now in order to secure a safe future for all."

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