On Tuesday, November 15, 2016, the University of San Francisco community under the leadership of student Calina Lawrence held a rally in support of the National Day of Solidarity with Standing Rock (#NoDAPL). Professor Zartner, Chair of the International Studies Department spoke at the event. Below is a transcript of her speech calling for multi-level activism bringing the global and the local together. Thank you to all members of the International Studies community who came out to support this effort!
The Local-Global Connection and International Action in Support of Standing Rock
By Dana Zartner, International Studies Department
There are National Day of Action events happening in all 50 states today. This morning in San Francisco, there was a sunrise vigil at City Hall. People are standing up to recognize the inherent inequities and unlawfulness happening in North Dakota. For the Standing Rock Sioux and all the other Native American nations, this fight is nothing new. They have been fighting these violations of their rights, culture and land for centuries. But I think what we are seeing in the last few months, indeed the last few days, is the recognition that this is a fight they should not be in alone. And today I want to talk about this fight and activism and why what is happening at Standing Rock is a seminal moment – for Native American nations, but also for peoples around the world.
Standing Rock and the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline is a global issues and it has generated support from all corners of the world. It exemplifies the multi-level activism that I think is so important in today’s world. Activism happens at many levels, and we must use all of these in our fight against injustices and illegal activities like those happening in North Dakota. We know that there has been active negative action on the part of the North Dakota state government, and harmful inaction on the part of the federal government.
What do we do when we face such obstacles? We do what the Standing Rock Sioux and their allies have done. We turn to the courts. We turn to the media. We organize and protest. And we turn to the global community. In 2016 activism has gone global, and while imperfect, I believe that much action on issues like those at Standing Rock in the years to come will be at the local level buoyed by support from international law, international institutions, and the broader global community.
We need to draw on all the resources available to us. We need to be creative in our activism. We need to look beyond our borders and seek allies and ideas and new mechanisms to fight for the rights of all peoples. There is much criticism of the international system of laws and institutions as being ineffectual, and in many ways it is. It is not a global government in the way we have state governments. But we know, in situations like Standing Rock, having a state government with laws and a police force doesn’t always mean that laws and rights are protected. Turning to the global offers support in different ways: giving added legal weight to the violations occurring, offering global protest that pressures multinational corporations and other investors, ‘naming and shaming’, offering on the ground protections, and creating pressures of potential punishment through supranational forums.
We know the numerous human rights violations, recognized not only in our domestic law but in international law to which the U.S. is obligated, are occurring at Standing Rock:
- Right to Clean Water
- Right to Cultural Heritage
- Right to Cultural Land
- Right to Equal Protection of the Laws
- Right to Freedom of Expression
- Right to be free from Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
- The right to prior informed consent
- The right to a thorough environmental impact statement
Emphasizing the international and universal nature of these rights provides extra emphasis to domestic laws, and has been used effectively by peoples around the world who have gone through, or are going through, situations similar to what is happening at Standing Rock – communities along the Amazon, the Mekong, The Congo. The Brahmaputra, and many others around the world are facing the same struggles for clean water and cultural preservation and they have used international laws and institutions in the absence of support from their state governments to fight for their land, their culture and their rights.
Just a few days ago, Grand Chief Edward John, an Expert Member with the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues visited Standing Rock and issued conclusions confirming the violations of numerous international human rights by both the companies involved, and the local and state law enforcement agencies. He was joined by a member of the International Indian Treaty Council. It is also likely that the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples will visit soon, after calling on the US to halt construction.
What does this mean for a country that has a reputation for ignoring the UN? While it may not mean sanctions or removal from positions of influence, it does shine a light on what is happening in North Dakota. ‘Naming and Shaming’ can have an impact on states and their behavior. And this impact can come in a variety of ways.
For example, global protests over the issues at Standing Rock can impact the companies supporting this action. Reaching out to the global community, ensuring Standing Rock is on the front page of newspapers and social media in countries around the world, creates global networks of advocates who can have a powerful impact on companies or investors. After protests in Norway, including a sit in at the bank’s headquarters, the DNB bank (Norway’s largest, which has given $120 million to Bakken Pipeline, and $460 million in credit lines to companies with ownership stakes, including Energy Transfer Partners), has announced it is conducting its own objective and fact-based evaluation of how the Standing Rock’s Sioux rights are being treated.
Amnesty International has also sent a team to Standing Rock to investigate human rights abuses under the ICCPR and CAT, two treaties to which the US is a part and which can therefore be used in court cases in US courts. These visits can not only shine a light, but also serve as an additional layer of protection for the people on the ground. One protector interviewed by Amensty said that government and company fly-overs of the camp and harassment decrease when groups like the UN or Amnesty or on the ground.
This international attention can also have an impact in building a record of violations that may be able to be used in the future. The Office of the Prosecutor at the International Criminal Court recently stated that they will “give particular consideration” to prosecuting crimes involving “the destruction of the environment, the illegal exploitation of natural resources or the illegal dispossession of land.”
While the U.S. is not a party to the Court, Canada is and Canada’s largest pipeline company, Enbridge, recently became a joint stakeholder in 49% of the DAPL. And there are other investors from other countries such as Japan, the UK, and France who are also members of the ICC. The threat of these kinds of cases being filed in a global forum can be a deterrent to CEOs and other individuals and impact their support of actions such as the Dakota Access pipeline.
The main point I want to make with these examples is that we need to go global in our activism. Last year I attended the annual meeting of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. As is often true with these global events, the real work was done in the hall ways and the coffee bar where representatives from indigenous groups and rights groups from around the world connect, share stories and strategies and come together to realize they are not alone.
I haven’t been out to Standing Rock, and I am sure those who are camped there facing the onset of the North Dakota winter and an increasingly hostile and armed corporation, do feel alone. As allies of those at Standing Rock and of all indigenous peoples around the world fighting for their rights, their culture, their sacred space, and water – on behalf of themselves and all people of the world, it is up to us to do what we can to let them know they are not alone. What we can each contribute may be different, but it is up to us to contribute what we can. Use your strengths, dedicate your heart, release your passion. Stand with Standing Rock, in spite of the obstacles,
Water is Life. Mni Wiconi.