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UN experts worried at US indigenous leader's court call

Great Sioux Nation leader who protested Trump rally at iconic monument could face 17 years in jail

Peter Kenny   | 15.12.2020
UN experts worried at US indigenous leader's court call


The UN human rights experts Tuesday expressed concerns over charges against a US indigenous leader set to appear in court this week after peaceful demonstrations against a political rally by President Donald Trump at the iconic Mount Rushmore earlier this year.

Trump's rally was held without the Great Sioux Nation's consent and attracted some 7,500 people, who did not wear masks or practice social distancing.

Nicholas Tilsen is due in court on Dec. 18 on four felony charges and three misdemeanor charges after he and others blocked a road leading to the rally site.

South Dakota is one of the US states worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Obviously, we cannot pre-judge the outcome of the case against Nicholas Tilsen, but we are seriously concerned about his arrest and the charges brought against him in connection with the exercise of his rights as an indigenous person, particularly the right to assembly," the experts said.

If convicted of all charges, Tilsen could face 17 years in prison.

The experts include Jose Francisco Cali Tzay, special rapporteur on indigenous peoples' rights; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on human rights defenders; and Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly.

The experts called on the US to ensure that the due processes of Tilsen are respected during the criminal prosecution.

Tilsen is a human rights defender of the Oglala-Lakhota Sioux Nation and president of the indigenous-led NDN Collective.

He was one of 15 peaceful protesters arrested when Trump's political rally was organized to celebrate US Independence Day in July.

With its colossal sculptures of former presidents, Mount Rushmore National Memorial is on the Great Sioux Nation's treaty lands.

"We are also concerned at allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement agents against indigenous defenders, and recent reports of surveillance and intimidation by local police officers following the arrests," the experts said.

They also said it is essential that the authorities do more to support and protect indigenous communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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