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Statement of Bobby Castillo
to the United Nations
Commission on Human Rights
on behalf of Leonard Peltier


Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

Working Group on Indigenous Peoples

Twenty-First Session
21 – 25 July 2003

Item 4 (a)

Review of developments pertaining to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples

[General debate]


Mr. Chairperson,

As you well know, Mr. Chair, Leonard Peltier, a Lakota-Anishinabe, member of the American Indian Movement (AIM) and world recognized Indigenous Rights Defender, is still arbitrarily incarcerated after 28 years, at Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in the United States for a crime he did not commit (1). He has asked us to send his warmest greetings from his prison cell, to you Mister Chairperson, to all the members of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples, and to all his indigenous brothers and sisters present here at the 21st session of the Working Group. It is very important for him to know that he is not forgotten and that his case continues to serve as a reminder of how the criminal and judicial systems of Nation States deal with indigenous people fighting for the respect of their rights.

Mr. Peltier is not, and has never been in prison to pay restitution for a crime. Rather, he has been held in prison for vindictive and political reasons (2). His incarceration and the Reign of Terror by the FBI on the Pine Ridge Lakota Reservation, from 1973 to 1976, have functioned as an overall method to silence and inhibit indigenous peoples in the U.S. So far, all domestic remedies to bring justice to Mr. Peltier and to the lakota people, who have been victims of the Reign of Terror in the 1970s, have been obstructed by U.S. prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Mr. Peltier’s attorneys are currently pursuing an appeal to the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals of the recent denial of Leonard Peltier's 1999 Habeas Corpus petition against the U.S. Parole Commission. Mr. Peltier seeks to overturn the U.S. Parole Commission’s refusal to even consider him for parole until December 2008. The normal Parole Commission guideline for prisoners convicted of homicide offences is 200+ months served. This means that Mr. Peltier should have been released from prison over one decade ago. The Commission, however, has repeatedly refused to consider setting a parole date until 2008 – when Mr. Peltier will have served almost double the normal time. The justification the Parole Commission has articulated for denying parole has been arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, and in violation of his civil and human rights. Such practice can be considered a clear form of arbitrary detention in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 9). Oral arguments will be heard on September 19, 2003 in front of the United States 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. We invite jurists, international observers and indigenous rights defenders to be present at the Courthouse during the hearing to show their support for Mr. Peltier and to ensure that the courts finally conduct a fair review of his case.

Our organization has also waged a long battle to acquire crucial documents withheld by the government concerning key aspects of Mr. Peltier’s case. At the trial, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) provided only 3,500 documents to the defense team and steadfastly claimed that these were all that existed. Years later, through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) actions, Mr. Peltier's legal team acquired 12,000 additional documents. These documents demonstrated that the FBI withheld crucial evidence that had not been presented at trial so as to wrongfully convict Leonard Peltier. Hiding behind the guise of “national security interests,” the FBI continued to withhold an additional 60,000 documents which our organization has only recently succeeded in acquiring. The documents are currently under review by our legal team. However, we have since discovered that the government is still withholding approximately 100,000 documents concerning Leonard's case. After 28 years, there is no legitimate reason for the FBI to continue to withhold these and other documents.

Another clear example of racial discrimination towards indigenous prisoners in the United States is pointed out by a review by the Virginia-based National Center on Institutions and Alternatives that showed how US wardens overcounted the number of white inmates by more than 74,000 in 1997, giving the impression that whites represent 40.7 percent of all prisoners. The ''overcount'' of white prisoners was most pronounced in heavily Latino states such as New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. New Mexico, for example, recorded its prison population as being 83 percent white in 1997. But, once Latinos and Native Americans were excluded, it was 29 percent white. Most Latinos are of mixed-race heritage. The largest percentage of them are of Spanish and indigenous or ''Indian'' descent.

The Leonard Peltier Defense Committee welcomes the announcement made during the last session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, by Mr. Stavenhagen, the Special Rapporteur on the Violation of the Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Indigenous Peoples, stating that a focus would be made in his next report on the situation of indigenous prisoners and on the disparity in the administration of criminal justice towards indigenous peoples. It has also been a great satisfaction to learn that by its resolution 2003/55, the United Nations – Commission on Human Rights has decided to hold an International Expert Seminar on Administration of Justice and Indigenous Peoples, in Madrid next October. We hope that the plight of Leonard Peltier will serve as a case study for this important workshop.

To conclude, we would like to support Mr. Guissé ’s proposal to make “Administration of Justice” a permanent point of the agenda for the next sessions of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and we respectfully suggest that it become the principal theme for 2004.

Since Mr. Peltier is unfortunately not allowed to come here in person, he asked us to renew his invitation to you Mister Chairperson, to the members of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples and to Special Rapporteur Mr. Stavenhagen to come and pay him a visit in prison in order to discuss his case, meet other indigenous prisoners at Leavenworth Penitentiary, investigate the overall denial of justice for Native Americans and Xicano people (including the case of Eddie Hatcher, James Weddell, Ramsey Muniz, Luis V. Rodriguez,.....) and discuss indigenous issues at a worldwide level, such as the follow-up which should be developed after the end of the U.N. International Decade for Indigenous Peoples.

Even if our brother is still incarcerated, he remains a symbol for all of us who are fighting for the respect of our indigenous rights. As we all know, Mr. Peltier is a gifted advocate for the rights and sovereignty of indigenous peoples and his voice shall not be silenced by the U.S. Government. Truth, justice and reconciliation are needed between Indigenous Peoples and Nation States around the world. Freedom for Leonard Peltier, considered as the « indigenous peoples’ Nelson Mandela » would be an important step in this direction.

Thank you, Mr. Chairperson.

Submitted by Bobby Castillo (Apache/Xicano Nations, International Spokesperson for the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee)

LPDC - International Office, PO Box 583, Lawrence, KS 66044, USA
Tel 785-842-5774785-842-5774, Fax 785-842-5796, [email protected]

1. Mr. Peltier’s personal testimony of the case is recorded on the U.N. Commission on Human Rights’ document E/CN.4/1997/NGO/80.

2. In 1977, Mr. Peltier stood trial in the United States where he was denied due process in violation of the US Constitution and international human rights standards. The trial judge made rulings, which made a proper defense impossible. Furthermore, this judge has consistently refused to hear new evidence supporting Mr. Peltier’s innocence, thus skewing his avenues for redress in a severely unfair manner.

We note that for the last 17 years, the US government has consistently conceded that they cannot prove who is guilty for the crime Mr. Peltier was originally convicted of (see Peltier v. Henman, 997 F.2 at 469). Moreover, the Appellate Court has found that Mr . Peltier might have been acquitted had the FBI not improperly withheld evidence. Yet, a new trial was never granted.

Web Posted: July 23, 2003