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UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: ARBITRARY DETENTION OF INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST LEONARD PELTIER

The International League Against Arbitrary Detention urges the Government of the United States of America to take all the necessary actions to implement the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Opinion No. 7/2022 concerning Leonard Peltier (United States of America) starting with his immediate release and according him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.


Read the full WGAD Opinion concerning Leonard Peltier (United States of America) : Opinion No. 7/2022


INDIGENOUS ACTIVIST IMPRISONED FOR 44 YEARS DENIED CONSIDERATION FOR PAROLE


Leonard Peltier is a citizen of the United States and an indigenous activist. He is a member of the Chippewa and Lakota Nations. Mr. Peltier was arrested on 6 February 1976, at the age of 32, in Alberta, Canada and extradited to the United States to face murder charges. He was convicted and received two consecutive sentences of life imprisonment. At the time of the petition, Mr. Peltier was 75 years old and had been imprisoned for 44 years, originally based on a murder conviction. He has been continually denied parole on the basis of unproven allegations of aiding and abetting. He is currently detained at United States Penitentiary Coleman I in Florida.


The Working Group recalled that consideration for parole must be carried out in accordance with the law and noted that Mr. Peltier was not afforded his rights under applicable law and procedures, in violation of article 9 (1) of the Covenant. Moreover, the Working Group noted that, when considering parole, the relevant criteria must be the detainee’s conduct while serving his or her sentence. In the present case, the Working Group found that the consideration by the Parole Commission of factors unrelated to Mr. Peltier’s current conduct – such as his conviction, which was already taken into account during sentencing – has resulted in his ongoing detention for a longer period than other detainees convicted of similar offences, in violation of article 9 (1) of the Covenant.


Moreover, Mr. Peltier has spent over five years in solitary confinement and has been placed in solitary confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Working Group recalled that solitary confinement may amount to torture and that it must be used only in exceptional cases as a last resort, for as short a time as possible, subject to independent review and authorized by a competent authority. Hence, the Working Group found that Mr. Peltier’s detention was arbitrary under category III.


SUBJECTED TO ANTI-NATIVE AMERICAN DISCRIMINATION


The Working Group noted that Mr. Peltier has been subjected to anti-Native American bias throughout the parole process. The Working Group emphasized that in May 1998, the examiner suggested that it was appropriate to continue to detain Mr. Peltier because the actual killer appeared to have been someone from his indigenous group. Furthermore, Mr. Peltier’s parole and clemency applications have been strongly opposed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which appeared to have an interest in the case not only because of the death of its two agents, but also owing to Mr. Peltier’s former activism on indigenous rights with the American Indian Movement.


Finally, taking also into consideration that Mr. Peltier has served a significantly longer sentence than others granted parole for similar offences, the Working Group found that Mr. Peltier continues to be detained because he is Native American, contrary to articles 2 and 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2 (1) and 26 of the Covenant and therefore concluded that Mr. Peltier’s detention is arbitrary under category V.


CONCLUSIONS OF THE UN WORKING GROUP AGAINST ARBITRARY DETENTION


In light of the foregoing, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention considered that the detention of Leonard Peltier was arbitrary and fell under categories III and V because the deprivation of liberty of Leonard Peltier was in contravention of articles 2, 7 and 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and articles 2 (1), 9 and 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.


The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recommended that the Government of the United States of America take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of M. Leonard Peltier without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms, starting with his immediate release and accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law.

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