Leaders in Field of Indigenous Law and Policy Submit Report to UN on Criminalization of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders Resisting DAPL


Dakota Access Pipeline
Photo courtesy of Rob Wilson Photography


For media inquiries, please contact IPLP Assistant Director Justin Boro at justinboro1986@email.arizona.edu or 520-626-9224.

Faculty and students from the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop at the University of Arizona Indigenous Peoples Law and Policy (IPLP) Program submitted a report to the United Nations (UN) regarding the human rights violations committed against water protectors resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The report, “Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline: Criminalization of Dissent and Suppression of Protest,” was sent to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, on behalf of the workshop’s clinical client, the Water Protectors Legal Collective (WPLC). The WPLC provides on-the-ground legal support for those facing criminal and civil charges stemming from the Dakota Access Pipeline resistance at Standing Rock, North Dakota.
The report will be presented to UN officials during the 17th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at the UN headquarters in New York City. Professor Seanna Howard, Director of the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop, is convening a panel discussion at UNPFII titled “Dakota Access Pipeline Resistance and the Criminalization of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders” on April 19, from 2:45–4 PM. The panel features leading human rights scholars and UN experts, including Ms. Tauli-Corpuz, and will address the criminalization of water protectors resisting DAPL and the need for protection of indigenous human rights defenders worldwide. 
Under the direction of Professor Howard, students in the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop helped prepare the report by conducting research on the suppression of peaceful protest and criminalization of dissent against indigenous peoples in the United States and worldwide. The report was submitted to inform the Special Rapporteur’s upcoming thematic study on the Criminalization of Indigenous Human Rights Defenders. The study will address the challenges faced by indigenous human rights defenders and recommend ways to protect their rights to peaceful protest and expression. Ms. Tauli-Corpuz will present her findings to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2018.
“This is cutting-edge work that critically analyzes the multiple and intersecting violations of indigenous peoples’ treaty rights, human rights, and civil rights on sacred ground in North Dakota. The information contained in this report, however, should raise and inform global concerns about the goals, strategies, and tactics of states and resource extraction companies once they focus their attention on acquiring rights in the lands indigenous peoples use and protect for their cultural survival, integrity, and identity. I am so impressed with the commitment and passion shown by the International Human Rights Advocacy Workshop students for this project, led by Professor Howard with the assistance of IPLP graduate student and clinical fellow Michelle Cook. The whole team has done remarkable work in organizing this project,” notes IPLP Faculty Co-Chair Robert A. Williams Jr.
The report, “Indigenous Resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline: Criminalization of Dissent and Suppression of Protest,” makes the following recommendations:

  • Review and reconsider criminal proceedings against water protectors and direct prosecutors to seek proportionate penalties for protestors who violate the law
  • Investigate, punish, and provide appropriate reparations for all human rights violations, including the use of excessive force and mass arrests in response to DAPL opposition; OR convene a truth commission with the indigenous representative institutions of the Oceti Šakowiŋ
  • Adopt a regulatory framework to supervise and monitor activities of extractive industries and energy companies, private security firms and other non-state actors to prevent human rights violations in regard to activities that affect indigenous peoples and their lands
  • Provide training to law enforcement and private security on best practices for managing peaceful demonstrations; the right to free expression and assembly; and indigenous peoples rights under international law
  • Implement national measures to protect indigenous human rights defenders in compliance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international standards to ensure the full enjoyment of their rights to free expression and assembly
  • Issue executive order regulating and restricting transfer of military-grade weapons and equipment to local law enforcement
  • Reject or amend state legislation that violates the right to free assembly
  • Ensure that state and local emergency powers are not abused in the context of social protest
  • Implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and recommendations on indigenous peoples rights issued to the United States by the UN Treaty Bodies, Universal Periodic Review process, UN Special Procedures and the Inter-American System of Human Rights