International Advocacy Update
Positive Signs in Efforts to Increase Global Awareness of Violence Against Indigenous Women in the U.S.
International human rights advocacy can raise global awareness about the crisis of violence against Indigenous women in the United States. “Besides offering new spaces for grassroots efforts to restore safety to Indigenous women and to gain strong federal responses, international advocacy helps Indigenous women and Indigenous organizations in the United States build global relationships,” states Chris Foley, senior attorney at the Indian Law Resource Center, “including with other Indigenous women and peoples, with other advocacy organizations, and with human rights bodies and experts that can monitor and pressure the United States to meet its human rights obligations."
Concluding Observations and Recommendations on U.S. Compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
In August 2022, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) reviewed the United States’ Combined Tenth to Twelfth Periodic Reports concerning its compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Convention), an important international human rights treaty adopted by the UN in 1965 and ratified by the United States in 1994. The Convention offers protections for Indigenous women and all other persons against racial discrimination in all its forms. Racial discrimination continues to be a major barrier throughout the world to the complete realization of human rights.
CERD is a body of experts that monitors state parties’ compliance with the Convention.
“In conjunction with its compliance reviews, CERD encourages alternative reports from civil society organizations to help it gain a fuller picture of serious human rights matters, in this case, the situation of Indigenous women in the United States with respect to violence,” notes Jana Walker, a senior attorney with the Indian Law Resource Center. “The Indian Law Resource Center worked collaboratively with Indigenous women’s organizations on an alternative report, “Violence Against Indigenous Women in the United States, including the Crisis of Missing or Murdered Indigenous Women, and Lack of Safe and Adequate Housing for Indigenous Survivors.” The report was submitted to CERD by the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, the Indian Law Resource Center, the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center with its project STTARS Indigenous Safe Housing Center, and Pouhana O Nā Wāhine.
Our report pointed out that recent legislative findings show little improvement since CERD’s last Concluding Observations in 2014. Violence against Indigenous women remains at unprecedented levels, and a recent federal report found that no one even knows how many Indigenous women are missing or murdered. “In this case, our efforts are intended to inform CERD so that they can help us push to improve the U.S. discriminatory legal system that limits Indigenous peoples’ right to protect their women and girls and fails to prevent or respond to crimes and rights violations,” noted Walker. “Crucial among those failures is the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.”
Following the review, CERD published Concluding Observations and Recommendations regarding the United States’ compliance with the Convention. The document serves as another tool that we can use to monitor the United States’ implementation of CERD’s recommendations and help hold the government accountable.
In paragraph 47 of the Concluding Observations and Recommendations, CERD expressed concern at the persistently disproportionate number of Indigenous women who are victims of violence, stating that:
“In the light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Oklahoma v. Castro-Huerta, of 29 June 2022, the Committee reiterates its concern that Indigenous women are denied the right of access to justice and reparation, as a result of factors such as the failure to prosecute perpetrators at the state and federal levels because tribes lack full jurisdiction, in particular over non-Indigenous perpetrators. The Committee is further concerned at reports of a lack of adequate shelters and services for victims, including a lack of availability of post-rape care kits and trained staff at Indian Health Service facilities."
CERD used strong language based on its prior 2000 recommendations:
“[T]he Committee reiterates its recommendation that the State party redouble its efforts to prevent and combat violence against women, particularly Indigenous women, migrant women and women of African descent, and ensure that all cases of violence against women are effectively investigated, perpetrators are prosecuted and sanctioned, and victims are provided with appropriate remedies. It also recommends that the State party ensure effective access to justice for all Indigenous women who are victims of violence, and access to adequate services and care, including shelters, health care and post-rape care kits. It further recommends that the State party recognize tribal jurisdiction over all offenders who commit crimes on tribal lands and increase funding and specific training for those working within the criminal justice system” (paragraph 48).
CERD was also troubled by a lack of adequate measures and funding to address the missing and murdered Indigenous peoples’ crisis (paragraph 49(e)) and recommended that the United States “[t]ake additional measures and provide funding to implement statutes and policies that address the crisis concerning missing and murdered Indigenous peoples” (paragraph 50(e)).
As a follow-up, CERD requests that the United States: provide, within one year, information on its implementation of recommendations in paragraph 50(e) that calls for additional measures and funding to address the missing and murdered Indigenous persons crisis (see paragraph 66); provide in its next periodic report detailed information on concrete measures implementing the recommendations on Indigenous peoples in paragraph 50 (see paragraph 67); and submit its next report by 20 November 2025.
Our Alternative Report and CERD’s Concluding Observations and Recommendations are posted on the UN Treaty Body Database for CERD’s 107th session, scroll down to the United States at n8ve.net/slb33Suz.
Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – Adoption of General Recommendation on Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls
The UN General Assembly adopted CEDAW in 1979 as a key human rights treaty regarding international gender equality. In 1981 after ratification by 20 member states, it took legal effect as the only binding treaty explicitly protecting women’s rights. Countries that ratify CEDAW agree to work toward ending discrimination and violence against women through concrete steps in three areas: civil rights, reproductive rights, and gender relations.
Global support for CEDAW is broad. Although 189 of the 193 UN member states have ratified CEDAW, about a third did so with reservations modifying their commitments to CEDAW. The UN member states that have not yet ratified CEDAW include the United States, Iran, Somalia, and Sudan. The United States is the only member state that signed CEDAW in 1980, but more than two decades later, it has never ratified it. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, responsible for ratifying treaties, has debated CEDAW five times since 1980, always failing to advance it.
The CEDAW Committee, a body of 23 independent experts on women’s rights worldwide, monitors CEDAW and makes recommendations on issues affecting women that state parties should devote more attention to. During its 83rd session in October 2022, CEDAW adopted General Recommendation No. 39 on the Rights of Indigenous Women and Girls, CEDAW/C/GC/39 (26 Oct. 2022). An unofficial, advance version of the Recommendation is currently available at n8ve.net/LtoDnd4U.
Because CEDAW fails to mention Indigenous women and girls and imposes no obligations on state parties to address issues affecting them, General Recommendation No. 39 stands as an important interpretation of how to implement the rights of Indigenous women and girls within the context of CEDAW.
Report of UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women and Climate Change
One outcome of our parallel event during the 66th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women was submitting a Joint Statement on Climate Change and Indigenous Women’s Rights: Brazil, Guatemala, and the United States to inform a report by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls about violence against women and girls in the context of climate change. The Report, A/77/136, was submitted to the General Assembly and is available at n8ve.net/N7L6e2HU.
Significantly, Section VI of the Report discusses at-risk groups of women, particularly Indigenous women. The report notes that: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognizes that: Indigenous, elderly, and minority women are among those most vulnerable to climate change (paragraph 49); women defending their communities, livelihoods, or scarce resources are experiencing severe violence (paragraph 50); 70% of 122 reported attacks on human rights defenders worldwide were aimed at women environmental human rights defenders with one-third of all fatal attacks lodged against Indigenous peoples (paragraph 50); and Indigenous women and girls are at high risk of violence, especially those defending their communities and territories (paragraph 51). The Special Rapporteur specifically references our joint statement submission with respect to the violent and sometimes deadly impacts on Maya Ch’orti women of activities by extractive industries, mining companies, illegal logging, and farmers encroaching on their Indigenous territories in the Dry Corridor of Guatemala.
Cosponsors of the joint statement include the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, Coordination of the Indigenous Organizations of the Brazilian Amazon, Indian Law Resource Center, International Mayan League, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, and Pouhana O Nā Wāhine.
Upcoming International Events
March 6-17, 2023
67th Session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)
The CSW, the principal intergovernmental UN body focusing exclusively on the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women globally, will meet in New York from March 6-17, 2023. Its priority theme is “innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls.” Its review theme is “challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls (agreed conclusions of the sixty-second session).” Paragraph 33 of those agreed conclusions recognizes that rural women and girls “are often disproportionately affected by the adverse impacts of climate change, extreme weather events and natural disasters and other environmental issues.”
To share information about violence against Indigenous women in the United States, the Indian Law Resource Center, in partnership with Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, and Pouhana O Nā Wāhine filed a written submission with the CSW in October.
The Center is organizing a parallel event, Violence Against Rural Indigenous Women: Guatemala, Peru, and the United States. Confirmed partners for this event include the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, NIWRC, the Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, the Pouhana O Nā Wāhine, and the International Mayan League. We anticipate that our event will feature a panel of Indigenous women from Guatemala, Peru, and the United States who will discuss how violations of Indigenous peoples’ land rights and right of self-government expose their women and girls to racial discrimination, gender-based violence, and other human rights violations and how living in rural communities intensifies these problems.
Further information about the session will be posted when available at n8ve.net/GEIVPSbR.
April 17-28, 2023
22nd Session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues
Established by the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in 2000, the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues is a high-level advisory body that deals solely with Indigenous issues. The Forum is mandated to discuss economic and social development, culture, the environment, education, health, and human rights. This year’s session will take place April 17–28, 2023, and address the theme “Indigenous peoples, human health, planetary and territorial health, and climate change: a rights-based approach.”
Official documents and other Session information will be available at n8ve.net/irH0scFd.