U.S. Statement at Panel on Indigenous Peoples and Access to Justice
Panel: Half-Day Discussion on Indigenous Peoples and Access to Justice (A/HRC/RES/18/8)
Statement by the Delegation of the United States of America
Delivered by Sarah M. Brooks
Human Rights Council 21st Session
Geneva, September 18, 2012
The United States appreciates the opportunity to discuss access to justice, which we agree is an important topic. Under the U.S. Constitution, indigenous individuals enjoy the same rights to due process and equal protection under the laws as other individuals against actions of the federal, state, and local governments. Pursuant to the Indian Civil Rights Act, they also enjoy nearly identical statutory protections against actions of tribal governments to those they enjoy against actions of federal, state, and local governments.
The United States has pursued initiatives concerning access to justice. We hope the concrete details we will provide today about the U.S. experience will be of interest, including with regard to the ability and authority of tribes to enforce the law.
First, President Obama signed the Tribal Law and Order Act into law in July 2010. The Act gives tribes greater sentencing authority in criminal trials; strengthens defendants’ rights; establishes new guidelines and training for officers handling domestic violence and sex crimes; improves services to victims. It also helps combat alcohol and drug abuse; assists at-risk youth; expands recruitment and retention of Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal officers; and gives tribes improved access to criminal databases. The scope of interagency coordination in implementing this Act is quite broad.
Second, the U.S. government has settled many significant and longstanding Native American legal claims against the United States. These include cases involving access to U.S. Department of Agriculture loan programs; the government’s trust management and accounting of individual American Indian trust accounts; and four water settlements benefitting seven tribes in Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico.
Third, we work to obtain justice for Native American women and girls who have survived violence, which we agree is a pressing issue. First, we ensure that the federal government enforces the law and promotes public safety where there is federal criminal jurisdiction. Second, we support the efforts of tribal governments and communities to prevent and respond to violence against women. To build on the Tribal Law and Order Act, in July 2011 the Department of Justice proposed legislation to the United States Congress that would recognize certain tribes’ power to exercise concurrent criminal authority over domestic-violence cases, whether or not the defendant is Indian.
Thank you for your attention.