• Press Release

Justice Department Must Investigate Policing of Standing Rock Demonstrations

November 30, 2016

Based on information gathered by four Amnesty International USA human rights observer delegations and reports from the area, AIUSA has formally requested an investigation by the Department of Justice into the policing of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations.

The letter, signed by AIUSA executive director Margaret Huang, reads in part:

“The U.S. government is obligated under international law to respect, protect, and fulfill the human rights of Indigenous people, including their rights to freedom of expression and assembly….Public assemblies should not be considered as the “enemy.”

“We believe that an investigation by your office of the policing of the Dakota Access Pipeline demonstrations in North Dakota is warranted, and that the Civil Rights Division should deploy observers to the area to ensure that the rights of people opposed to the pipeline are respected, protected and fulfilled. Should your investigators uncover any civil rights violations by law enforcement, individual officers should be charged and prosecuted as warranted.”  

Today’s request was made following several instances in which AIUSA observers expressed concern that disproportionate force was used by police.

“Although we have contacted local authorities several times, we have received no response, while our concerns about the safety and rights of those opposed to the pipeline have only increased,” said Eric Ferrero of Amnesty International USA. “The sheriff’s office has used tear gas, concussion grenades and fire hoses against protesters in sub-freezing temperatures, so we believe that federal oversight is necessary.”

AIUSA observers also witnessed what appeared to be unnecessary use of force against protesters in a shopping mall on November 25. Although the protesters were complying with officers’ demands to leave the building, police forcefully arrested some individuals as they reached the doors.

“People should be given a reasonable amount of time to comply with an order to disperse,” said Ferrero. “The fact that people were in the process of exiting the mall when they were forcefully arrested raises serious questions that must be addressed.”

Amnesty International has a history of monitoring protests and police conduct to ensure adherence to international human rights standards. In addition to North Dakota, 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.