United Methodist UN Representative Presents Testimony on
Religious Intolerance and Native People
April 14, 1999
Contact: Shanta M. Bryant (202) 488-5630
A United Methodist representative to the United Nations and
American representative submitted April 13 oral testimony on indigenous
people and religious intolerance in the United States to delegates of the
55th Session of the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland.
"The United Methodist Church prays for a rule of law for
all peoples based on
respect for justice, human rights, religious freedom and tolerance," said
Liberato Bautista, General Board of Church and Society's assistant general
secretary of the United Nations Office.
Bautista gave the testimony with Peggy Francis Scott of the Dineh Nation
(Navajo) in Arizona, following a report from Abelfattah Amor, an UN Special
Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. Amor, a Tunisian national, presented the
commission with a report linking human rights violations and religious
intolerance in the United States, China, Pakistan, Iran, Greece, Sudan,
India, Australia and Germany. Several countries and non-governmental (NGO)
delegations, including the World Council of Churches, spoke from the floor.
In early- February 1998, Amor investigated charges of religious
rights violations by the US government against the Dineh people in Black
Mesa, located in the northeastern region of Arizona. The special rapporteur
is an independent expert that reports only to the Commission and the UN
The complaint, filed by several members of traditional Dineh
people to the
UN Human Rights Commission, accused the United States of destroying 4,000
ancient Anasazi ruins and sacred burial sites. Additionally, the complaint
charged that US federal laws have denied them access to water, legalized the
confiscation of their livestock,
prevented the gathering of firewood to heat their homes and prohibited any
Thom White Wolf Fassett, general secretary of the General Board
of Church and
Society, led an interfaith delegation of non-governmental organizations,
which included Bautista, to meet with Amor during the Feb. visit to Black
Mesa, the Dineh tribal land. United Methodist Bishop William Dew (Phoenix
Area) and Thomas Butcher of the Desert Southwest Annual Conference joined
Fassett. The NGO representatives were invited by the traditional Dineh to
witness the onsite visit of Amor.
"[Amor's] visit in Black Mesa is historic and symbolic
in that, at a low
point in the struggle of our people, he lifted our hopes, awakened our
dreams, and lent an understanding ear to our prophecies," said Scott. "But
more remains to be said about the Dineh situation."
US Public laws 93-531 and 104-391, also known as 'relocation
forced the traditional Dineh off their ancestral lands, relocating more than
12,000 Dineh since 1974. Today, only 3,000 remain in the area.
In the commission report, Amor observed that the US Supreme
jurisprudence points to "no enforceable safeguards for worship at sacred
Scott noted that the Dineh's ancestral land has also been threatened
coal mining practices of multinational corporations and urged US government
to enforce laws protecting their land, including the Native American Grave
Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) and the Antiquities Act. "The
unsustainable environmental practices of runaway multinational mining
corporations inflict environmental racism upon us," said Scott.
"The US government must recognize that no territorial
settlement should ever
deprive Indigenous Peoples of their right to remain on their traditional land
or to practice their religion thereupon," Scott asserted. "Our land is sacred
and we do not believe it should be expropriated from us. The US government
cannot and must not subordinate our survival as a people to economic
interests whose dividends we do not partake from."
Asserting the United Methodist policy supporting the 'needs and aspirations'
of America's native peoples as they struggle for their survival, Bautista
indicated that the denomination supports the mandate of the Special
Rapporteur on Religious Intolerance. He also urged the Human Rights
Commission to extend the mandate of the investigation of religious
intolerance in the United States.
Scott and several Dineh members were part of the general board's
to the UN Commission on Human Rights. The General Board of Church and
Society is registered at the United Nations as an international NGO in
consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council.