Today the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva, Switzerland, issued a declaration demanding that the United States “take all necessary measures to ensure the wellbeing and human rights” of Veronica Brown, a 4-year-old Cherokee tribal member at the center of one of the most contentious custody battles in U.S. History.
Dr. James Anaya, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, an independent expert charged with the responsibility of working to ensure that governments enforce and protect the human rights of their indigenous citizens, said that her rights are “guaranteed by various international instruments subscribed to or endorsed by the U.S., including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Veronica’s human rights as a child and as member of the Cherokee Nation, an indigenous people, should be fully and adequately considered in the ongoing judicial and administrative proceedings that will determine her future upbringing,” Mr. Anaya stressed. “The individual and collective rights of all indigenous children, their families and indigenous peoples must be protected throughout the United States.”
See the full statement here.
The Cherokee Nation, which has supported Veronica and her biological father, Dusten Brown, throughout his nearly four-year struggle to maintain custody of his daughter, welcomed the statement of support from the OHCHR.
“We are grateful to Dr. Anaya and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for their strong endorsement of the rights of Veronica and all Native American children in the United States,” said Chrissi Nimmo, assistant attorney general for the Cherokee Nation. “We believe the statement speaks for itself and we thank the international community for their support.”
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF), the nation's oldest law firm dedicated to the rights of Indian people in the United States said that Anaya's statement in support of a “best interest” hearing for Veronica is important as her case continues before the courts.
“As we continue to press forward, we believe Veronica absolutely has a right to a hearing in her best interest which is based on her current circumstances and her relationship to her family, her tribe and her community,” said Richard Guest, NARF staff attorney and co-director of the Tribal Supreme Court Project. “Her basic human rights were ignored from the beginning and we remain committed to ensuring that her voice is represented in regards to her future.”
Native legal experts from around the country unanimously praised Dr. Anaya for his analysis of the situation as relates to indigenous rights throughout the Western Hemisphere.
“Mr. Anaya correctly points out that these are not only her rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act, but also the U.N. treaties on civil and political rights, as well as the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said J. Eric Reed (Choctaw), former tribal prosecutor with the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and a former state and federal prosecutor. “This is now law in the United States and requires a best interests of the child analysis which the South Carolina courts failed to conduct and the United States Supreme Court failed to consider in analyzing this case. Moreover, the best interests of this child must be considered on a present and future basis in relation to her rights as an indigenous person.”
In his statement, Anaya reiterated that the separation of Native American children from their homes and families remains an “ongoing” issue for indigenous communities.
“I urge the relevant authorities, as well as all parties involved in the custody dispute, to ensure the best interests of Veronica, fully taking into account her rights to maintain her cultural identity and to maintain relations with her indigenous family and people,” said the UN Special Rapporteur. “I encourage the United States to work with indigenous peoples, state authorities and other interested parties to investigate the current state of affairs relating to the practices of foster care and adoption of indigenous children, and to develop procedures for ensuring that the rights of these children are adequately protected.”