Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Public Hearing

The extreme level of violence against American Indian and Alaska Native women in the United States is again gaining global attention. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights held a thematic hearing to investigate human rights concerns related to this crisis on October 5, 2018 at the University of Colorado Law School in Boulder, Colorado.

“It is unacceptable that today indigenous women continue to face the highest rates of sexual and physical violence of any group in the United States,” said Jana L. Walker, director of the Safe Women, Strong Nations project at the Indian Law Resource Center. “Indigenous women have the same human rights as others to enjoy the full protection and guarantees against violence and discrimination.”

The Commission is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), a regional organization consisting of 35 countries, including the United States. The Commission promotes respect for human rights and defends these rights within the Americas. It holds thematic hearings to investigate human rights concerns.

The Indian Law Resource Center filed the request for the hearing joined by the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center, National Congress of American Indians, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. The purpose of the hearing was to inform the Commission on the unprecedented levels of violence against indigenous women in the United States, with particular attention to the urgent situation of Alaska Native women, missing and murdered indigenous women, and the impact of extractive industries on their safety.

“We hope the hearing increased attention to the urgent need for the United States to prevent and respond to the ongoing systemic problems relating to these violent crimes against indigenous women,” said Lucy R. Simpson, Executive Director of the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center. “For example, we need the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to be strengthened to better protect all indigenous women.” Simpson added that “many indigenous women disappear and are killed and, on some reservations, American Indian women face murder rates more than ten times the national average.”

“Perhaps the most dangerous barriers in U.S. law today are the jurisdictional restrictions in VAWA 2013 that deny Alaska Natives the full benefit of the law and treat Alaska Native women differently than other women,” added Tamra (Tami) Truett Jerue, Director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center. “We cannot forget that this is at a time when the levels of violence against Alaska Native women are among the very highest in the United States.”

Indigenous women also are being denied access to justice, including victim services and victim compensation. “It is unconscionable that the most victimized population in the United States is largely left out of the Victims of Crime Act”, said Virginia Davis, senior policy advisor for the National Congress of American Indians. “Indigenous governments, like all other governments within the U.S., must have access to these life-saving funds.”

The hearing provided an update to the Commission on the continuing failure of United States law to protect American Indian and Alaska Native women from violence and multiple forms of discrimination or to provide them with meaningful remedies and access to justice because they are women, indigenous, and members of indigenous peoples’ communities.