UN Investigates US Human Rights

Earth Island Journal, Summer 1998


For the first time in history, a United Nations delegation conducted an investigation of alleged human rights violations inside the US. In February, Abdelfattah Amor of the UN Commission on Human Rights arrived in the Black Mesa/Big Mountain region to investigate charges of forced relocation, religious persecution and environmental degradation of native lands.

The hearings were the result of a 1997 complaint filed by the Dineh (Navajo) accusing the US Federal Government of violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Dineh hoped that the hearings would pressure the US to repeal Public Laws 93-531 and 104-301, which have allowed authorities to deny the Dineh access to water and firewood. Dineh families are not allowed to make improvements to their homes and their livestock has been confiscated. The US has consistently blocked attempts to address these grievances in US courts. The Dineh hope the UN will formally charge the US with human rights violations.

British-owned Peabody Coal Company (PCC), the world's largest privately-held coal company, operates the Black Mesa/Kayenta strip mine in the heart of the Black Mesa region of the Dineh reservation. Over 4,000 burial and sacred sites have been destroyed as a result of strip mining. The Dineh state that Public Laws 93-531 and 104-301 were written specifically to promote PCC's interests in the region.

The Dineh and Hopi reservations sit atop one of the largest aquifers in the Southwest. PCC has been operating coal slurry pipelines that transport coal to Las Vegas and Southern California without replacing the massive amounts of water the pipelines draw from the aquifer, as required by US mining regulations. The result is that wells are rapidly running dry across the Dineh and Hopi reservations.

Mr. Amor listened as Dineh elders told of evictions, demolition of homes. and harassment by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs. Elders from the neighboring Hopi reservation verified many of the Dineh's statements, especially accounts of the increasing scarcity of water in the region.

Hopi elders came to dispel the myth of a Dineh/Hopi land dispute, which traditional Dineh and Hopi say has been manufactured by the Hopi and Dineh tribal councils (which traditional Dineh and Hopi regard as puppets of the US government).

Microbroadcasting activists from California's Free Radio Berkeley and Radio Clandestina in Los Angeles set up a temporary micro- power radio station- Free Radio Dineh - for the UN visit. For three days these stations broadcast interviews and commentary from Dineh resisters as well as testimony from the hearings to residents of the Black Mesa/Big Mountain region. The audio-activists hope to set up a permanent micropower station for the Dineh in the near future.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Amor told his audience, "I will listen with an open mind and an open heart." The Dineh are hopeful that they will see a positive result from the hearings.

For more information, contact www theofficenet. com/~redorman


Rights Hearing Faults US

Earth Island Journal, Summer 1998

US - The number of US children living in poverty has grown from 14 percent in 1969 to 20.5 percent - nearly 14.5 million kids. The Children's Defense Fund estimates that 2.6 million kids in the eastern US live in extreme poverty ($120 a week for a family of three).

A hearing in Oakland, California, held on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights condemned the US for having the largest income disparity of any industrialized country. Since 1979, incomes for the wealthiest citizens have grown 24 percent while the income for the poorest fifth of US households dropped 11 percent. Despite the longest economic boom in US history, 30 million citizens still to go bed hungry - a 50 percent increase since 1985.

The Institute for Food and Development Policy [398 60th Street, Oakland, CA 94618, (510) 654-4400, fax: -4551] hosted the conference in hopes of persuading the US to ratify the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. This global treaty has been ratified by 136 countries. The US is the only industrial nation that has not ratified the agreement. Senate conservatives oppose the treaty because it would commit the US to provide adequate food, shelter and employment to all US citizens as a basic universal human right.

Meanwhile, the latest UN report on The State of the World's Children ranks the US 29th - behind the Czech Republic and the Republic of Korea - in the rate of mortality for children under 5 years of age.

Human Rights, Justice, Reform