GENEVA January 30, 2018 – A US presidential order slashing the area of land in the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah and paving the way for the extraction of natural resources is outrageous and should be reversed, a UN human rights expert has said.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, said the US Government should be stepping up protection of sacred areas, not reducing protection.

“It is outrageous to witness the dismantling of the Bears Ears National Monument, in what constitutes a serious attack on indigenous peoples’ rights in the United States,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

As of 2 February 2018, the land will be open to projects that may cause irreparable damage such as oil and gas drilling, uranium and potash mining and mineral exploration. “Native American sacred lands and artefacts that were once protected may also be subjected to vandalism and looting,” the expert said.

The Bears Ears monument, created by the previous administration, protected around 1.35 million acres of land in south-eastern Utah.

“The designation of the national monument was a laudable government action that protected thousands of sacred sites which are central to the preservation of regional Native culture,” said the Special Rapporteur. “It also set an excellent example and best practice regarding co-management of the protected area, with shared responsibilities between the federal government and local tribes.”

President Trump’s proclamation cuts the protected area to just over 200,000 acres and divides it into two disconnected sections – the Indian Creek and Shash Jáa.

“The decision to reduce the area included in the national monument by 85 percent is a huge setback for the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples. It exposes thousands of acres of sacred lands and archaeological sites to the threats of desecration, contamination and permanent destruction,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

“The Government of the United States must comply with its obligations to consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that affect them.

“No consultations have taken place with indigenous peoples affected regarding to measures taken to change the status of the Bears Ears National Monument.

“I urge President Trump to reverse this decision and ensure the protection of sacred lands and archaeological sites for the benefit of future generations,” Tauli-Corpuz said.

Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Philippines), Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, is a human rights activist working on indigenous peoples’ rights. Her work for more than three decades has focused on movement-building among indigenous peoples and also among women, and she has worked as an educator-trainer on human rights, development and indigenous peoples in various contexts. She is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot indigenous peoples in the Cordillera Region of the Philippines.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

See the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

UN Human Rights, country page: United States