Native Women Seek Justice at United Nations

A news report states that the United States is facing international scrutiny for its apparent failure to prosecute criminals who enter indigenous territories to prey on Native women and girls.

Between 60 and 80 percent of violent victimization of Native American women is perpetrated by non-Natives, according to a U.N. expert on legal matters related to women’s rights violations worldwide.

Rashida Manjoo, the U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, notes that in the U.S., indigenous women are much more vulnerable to abuses than any other ethnic group in the country.

Manjoo cited data showing that one in three Native women is raped during her lifetime. She is due to submit her report to the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council in the next three months.

In most cases, the rapists go free because tribal governments have limited power to prosecute those who commit crimes in their territory. Native people say it is very hard for them to get help from the U.S. authorities.

“Since 1978 our tribal government, like all Indian nations, has been stripped of the authority to prosecute rapists and abusers that are non-Indians,” says Terri Henry, councilwoman for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in North Carolina.

Henry, who is also a member of the Indian Law Resource Center, says there will be no end to violence against Native women until U.S. authorities “remove the legal barrier that ties the hands of tribal governments.”

Henry describes indigenous women’s situation in the United States as “a human rights crisis . . . We are glad that the rest of the world is beginning to take notice,” she said.

In January, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced the formation of a new task force to protect Native women from violence and abuse. “We know too well that tribal communities face unique law enforcement challenges and are struggling to reverse unacceptable rates of violence against women and children,” Holder said.

The 13-member task force is directed to produce a trial practice manual on the federal prosecution of crimes against women in Indian territories, and includes the U.S. attorney for Nebraska and assistant U.S. attorneys from five other western U.S. states, as well as judges, prosecutors and attorneys from several Indian nations.

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