In their ongoing battle with the United States over ancestral land rights, the Western Shoshone people scored a victory in Geneva this week before a United Nations committee on racism.
In a strongly worded finding, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, called on the United States to halt the destructive land-use practices it has allowed on some of the 60 million acres the Western Shoshone claim as theirs until a settlement is reached on the status of that land. The area stretches across most of Nevada and parts of Idaho, Utah, and California.
Armed with 13,000 signatures Oxfam America helped to gather, a delegation from the Western Shoshone traveled to Geneva to deliver a petition in defense of their land rights.
"This is a tremendous victory for the Western Shoshone people," said Laura Inouye, a senior program officer for Oxfam America. "The CERD decision acknowledges the US government's violations of Western Shoshone rights and requires the immediate initiation of a dialogue to resolve the issues in a way that respects their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. This is what the Western Shoshone have been asking for for years."
In its decision, CERD urged the US to freeze plans to privatize the lands for transfer to extractive industries and energy developers. The decision also asks the US to stop imposing hunting and fishing restrictions on the Western Shoshone for use of the land and to lift the grazing fees on their livestock.
"This battle has been going on for quite some time, but we’ve seen a dramatic increase in the federal government and the companies' rush to finalize what they consider a settlement in order to get hold of our lands for activities that are contaminating our water and our air," said Steven Brady, a member of the Western Shoshone delegation. "We are very pleased that our rights are finally being listened to."
The CERD decision instructs the US to start a dialogue with the Western Shoshone people to find a solution to the land-use issues that complies with their rights. It asks the US to provide an update by July 15 on the steps it has taken to meet CERD's requests.
Members of the Western Shoshone are calling CERD's action historic. They note that this is the first time a UN committee has issued a full decision against the US in respect to its controversial federal Indian law and policies.
The Western Shoshone maintain that the US recognized their rights to the land in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. However, the US now claims these lands as public and allows them to be used for military testing and gold mining. Planning for nuclear waste disposal on the land is also under way.