After sending a delegation of human rights observers to monitor protest conditions, Amnesty International USA today called on state and local authorities to take specific steps to protect Indigenous communities’ right to peacefully protest at the site of a disputed pipeline in North Dakota.
In a letter to the governor of North Dakota, the North Dakota Highway Patrol and the Morton County Sheriff’s Department, Amnesty International USA asked that a roadblock to the protest site be removed, urged authorities to meet regularly with protesters and community leaders, and reminded officials of their duty to facilitate peaceful protest.
“The U.S. government is obligated under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of Indigenous people, including the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. It is the legitimate right of people to peacefully express their opinion,” the letter reads. “Public assemblies should not be considered as the ‘enemy.’”
Regarding the roadblock, which restricts southbound traffic to the protest area but allows northbound traffic to pass through, the letter states: “While reports indicate that the roadblock was initiated for safety and security reasons related to the protests taking place on the side of the highway, we are concerned that its continued use deliberately hinders access to the protest sites and camp near Cannon Ball…Any security measures imposed regarding protests, such as the use of road blocks, must only be used if they are necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim.”
The letter states that “no parking” signs and reduced speed limit warnings would address any public safety concerns without having to use the roadblock.
“Police have a duty to protect the right to peacefully protest, not to inhibit it,” said Tarah Demant, senior director at Amnesty International USA. “There is no reason to make it harder for communities coming from the north to exercise their right to free speech, when there are less obstructive ways to protect the public.”
Protesters have gathered in recent weeks at construction sites for the Dakota Access Pipeline near the border of North and South Dakota, close to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. The protest that the AIUSA delegation observed was peaceful. Separate court rulings are anticipated on whether the construction can continue, and whether the demonstrations can continue to take place. 29 people have been arrested in recent weeks.
The delegation will continue to closely monitor the situation and may return.
Amnesty International has history of monitoring protests and police conduct to ensure adherence to international standards for human rights. In the United States, AIUSA has deployed delegations of observers to Ferguson, MO, and Baltimore, MD, to monitor protests in the wake of police killings, as well as to Cleveland and Philadelphia to monitor the protests outside the Republican and Democratic National Conventions earlier this year.