A United Nations human rights experts today called on the United States to halt the construction of an oil pipeline in the state of North Dakota, citing significant risks to the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the potential destruction of their burial grounds and sacred sites.
“The tribe was denied access to information and excluded from consultations at the planning stage of the project and environmental assessments failed to disclose the presence and proximity of the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation,” said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, in a press release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The Dakota Access Pipeline would transport crude oil from the Bakken/Three Forks oil fields in North Dakota to Illinois, crossing four states. The pipeline is planned to run underneath Lake Oahe, close to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation.
The Special Rapporteur’s call comes after a temporary halt to construction and the recognition of the need to hold “government-to-government consultations” made by the US Departments of the Army, Justice and of the Interior. The 1,172 mile (1,890 kilometres) pipeline is being built by the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Energy Transfer LLC Corporation.
“The United States should, in accordance with its commitment to implement the Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous Peoples, consult with the affected communities in good faith and ensure their free, and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, particularly in connection with extractive resource industries,” Ms. Tauli-Corpuz said.
The Special Rapporteur also warned that tribal leaders and community members who have turned to peaceful protests to halt the pipeline’s construction have been reportedly intimidated, harassed and prosecuted. “The U.S. authorities should fully protect and facilitate the right to freedom of peaceful assembly of indigenous peoples, which plays a key role in empowering their ability to claim other rights,” she highlighted.
The expert urged the United States Government to undertake a “thorough review” of its compliance with international standards regarding the obligation to consult with indigenous peoples and obtain their free and informed consent.
“The statutory framework should be amended to include provisions to that effect and it is important that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Advisory Council on Historic Preservation participate in the review of legislation,” she said.
Ms. Tauli-Corpuz’s call has also been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, Léo Heller; the Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, John H. Knox; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights, Karima Bennoune; the Special Rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak; and Pavel Sulyandziga, current Chairperson of the Working Group on business and human rights.
Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.