FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 13, 2023
Nizhoni Begay, Communications Coordinator
Human rights organizations and human rights advocates at the U.N. 139th Session of the Human Rights Committee Call for Release of Indigenous Elder
and Political Prisoner, Leonard Peltier
Palais des Nations, Geneva, Switzerland – On October 17, 2023, the first day of the U.S. ICCPR review, Vice Chair of the Human Rights Committee, Dr. Changrok Soh, asked the US delegation, “Civil society shadow reports have noted that Death by Incarceration continues to disproportionately impact Black and Indigenous Peoples in the US. Can the state party describe what it is doing regarding life sentences for political prisoners, in particular, the case of Indigenous political prisoner Leonard Peltier, who is now–at 79 years old–the longest serving US political prisoner and has served 48 years in prison?”
The next day, on behalf of U.S. Civil Society NGOs and human rights advocates present in Geneva, the Water Protector Legal Collective (WPLC) authored and submitted a Joint Statement regarding the Release and Freedom of Political Prisoner, Leonard Peltier to the U.S. government. The letter – signed by Water Protector Legal Collective, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Abolitionist Law Center, among others – calls for the United States to definitively and concretely recognize the need to right a historical wrong.
The statement is powerful and unequivocal in its call for justice:
“Former U.S. Attorney James Reynold, who supervised the prosecution of Leonard Peltier for the alleged killing of 2 FBI agents on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1975, has asked for clemency: “the prosecution and continued incarceration of Mr. Peltier was and is unjust... [we] cannot prove that he committed any offense.” He has further called Leonard’s conviction a product of racial bias and prejudice prevalent in the criminal justice system and a product of the times.
Leonard is now 79 years old. He has now spent more time in prison during his lifetime than as a free man. An inordinate amount of that time has been spent on lockdown and in solitary confinement in an enclosed cell without sunlight, barely the size of an elevator box, which Leonard once described as a “cement steel hotbox.” Leonard has repeatedly been denied Parole… Leonard’s continued incarceration is an open wound for Indigenous Peoples and a visible blemish on the United States’ human rights record.”
In 2022, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention issued decision A/HRC/WGAD/2022/7 calling for Leonard’s release. Despite widespread calls for clemency, the Biden administration has remained silent on the issue of clemency for Leonard.
In the statement human rights organizations and advocates collectively call upon the United States to make a formal commitment to ending life sentences that amount to death by incarceration disproportionately for Black, Brown and Indigenous communities, invite the UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous Peoples to visit the United States to study the dire situation facing Leonard Peltier and Indigenous Peoples across the country, and grant Leonard Peltier clemency and act immediately to ensure his release.
A representative of the Department of Justice on October 18, 2023 addressed the question by Vice Chair Soh and said only that the US government could not answer the question given the pending clemency petition for Peltier.
WPLC Executive Director, Natali Segovia, reflected on the importance of this momentum: “The injustice Mr. Peltier has been subjected to since day one of his incarceration serving time for a crime he did not commit must end. The international human rights community recognizes Mr. Peltier’s continued imprisonment as an ongoing injustice. While this is not new, there is an urgency and momentum now that we need to keep alive. This statement is a call to the U.S. to remember the fundamental notions of fairness, of due process, of human rights, and an opportunity to remember our own humanity. There are many relatives, community organizers, and attorneys working to ensure his freedom–at WPLC, as attorneys also representing Mr. Peltier, we are committed to continuing that work. The time for Leonard’s freedom is now.”
Read the statement in full: www.waterprotectorlegal.org/peltier-civil-society-joint-statement
Born out of the #NoDAPL Movement, the Water Protector Legal Collective is an Indigenous-led legal nonprofit that provides support and advocacy for Indigenous peoples and Original Nations, the Earth, and climate justice movements. For more information about WPLC and to learn how to contribute to WPLC please visit: www.waterprotectorlegal.org.