Published: Nov. 5, 2020

This article is prepared by First Peoples Worldwide and Joshua Cooper, Director of the Hawai'i Institute for Human Rights and co-chair of the US Human Rights Network’s UPR Task Force. Since 2019, the US Human Rights Network has educated and engaged communities to create people-centered campaigns highlighting human rights violations. The voices of the people continue to echo from the ground to the UN in Geneva, offering a vision for equity and equality. The US Human Rights Network offers opportunities to organize with UN Missions so that the UPR reflects the will of the people inside the U.S. with a message that the world is watching and wants the U.S. to live up to its international human rights law obligations and constitutional commitments.

The United Nations Human Rights Council is reviewing the United States’ human rights record.

The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United States of America’s human rights takes place on Monday, November 9, 2020 at 14:30 CET (8:30 am ET) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The public can observe live at

The UPR is a process to propose policies and practices to realize human rights in communities and cities across every country. The review of the United States, originally scheduled for the spring of 2020, was postponed due to the emerging coronavirus pandemic. In response, the US Human Rights Network organized a briefing on the impacts of the pandemic on human rights in the United States (see Indigenous Peoples and the 2020 Human Rights Review of the U.S. during a Global Pandemic).

The 2020 review of the U.S. is based on three reports consisting of a total of 40 pages: 

  1. Encompassing the peoples’ voice, stakeholders from the state under review send submissions to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which includes a ten-page summary released after compiling all of the civil society content
  2. Another ten-pages is compiled from core UN human rights treaty body reviews including committees, UN Human Rights Council special procedures, UN agencies and all other applicable relevant documents related to human rights. 
  3. Finally, the National report is 20 pages prepared by the state under review and should be based on broad consultation with stakeholders. The United States submitted its report late and incomplete. Of note, there is no mention of the impacts of COVID-19, the report only makes slight mention of Indigenous issues, and it does not adequately address the recommendations received in previous reports. 

Upon review, the UPR Working Group presents a final Report that includes conclusions and recommendations. The United States was last reviewed in 2015. 

This article provides 20 recommendations to the United States on Indigenous issues. The recommendations, which are grouped into related topic areas, establish a framework for how the United States can continue to improve its record on human rights and ensure the utmost protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The hope is that member nations will bring forward these recommendations at the official review. 

Engagement with Human Rights Mechanisms & International Fora

1. Meaningfully and fully participate in all United Nations and international human rights processes to ensure the utmost respect for and protection of Indigenous rights in the United States. This includes responding to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

2. Reaffirm their commitment to and incorporate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) into domestic law through statutes and regulations and ensure that human rights pronouncements made at the federal level are implemented at the local level. Draft and deliver a National Action Plan to implement the UNDRIP.

3. Ratify the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169 and submit an initial report for review; ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and establish a national agenda to actualize articles 17, 29 and 30 to ensure Indigenous Peoples rights; and ratify the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) with focus to reduce violence against Indigenous women and eliminate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

4. Extend an invitation to the UN Special Procedures to conduct in-country visits and investigations, specifically the UN Special Rapporteurs on: the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; the Human Rights of Migrants; and Violence Against Women.

FPIC, Tribal Sovereignty, and Resource Development 

5. Honor treaty and trust obligations to Tribes and Indigenous Peoples and promote Tribal sovereignty and self-determination. 

6. Embrace a standard of free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) and support the government-to-government relationship as necessary to fulfill the principles set forth in the UNDRIP.

7. Halt all energy and infrastructure development, including the seismic permitting and lease sales in the Arctic Refuge, until obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of all affected Indigenous Peoples. 

8. Ensure federal agencies take proper steps to identify and notify all potentially affected Indigenous Peoples, analyze impacts in direct coordination with affected Indigenous Peoples, and engage Indigenous Peoples at the concept and planning stages of any project requiring federal approval and in adherence with the UNDRIP.

9. Continue to address the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women.

Environment & Climate Change

10. Reenter the Paris Agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to decarbonize the economy and to decolonize international institutions to reconnect with our natural environment. 

11. Assess and mitigate the impact on climate change on Indigenous communities in the United States. In doing so, recognize that Indigenous Peoples are on the frontlines of climate change. Gather and integrate data of Indigenous-led science and traditional knowledge and assemble information about resource impacts to achieve global priorities for the planet.

Sacred Places

12. Adopt legislation to amend existing laws governing the protection of sacred and cultural places. The policies should reflect Indigenous Peoples’ definition of sacredness as an interconnected landscape with unique relationships to religion, community, livelihoods, subsistence and gathering of traditional medicines and resources. This includes securing permanent protection for Mauna Kea, the San Francisco Peaks, and the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge.

Health & the COVID-19 Pandemic

13. Address national disparities in the health of Indigenous communities and respect the right to health under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, particularly given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous Peoples.

14. Consult with Indigenous leaders to understand their key priorities and ensure that they have access to the basic resources necessary to deal with the health, food, water, and security emergencies that have arisen during COVID-19.

Food Sovereignty & Subsistence Ways of Life

15. Support food sovereignty including land rights and seeds programs for Indigenous Peoples across the country. This includes protection of subsistence rights and continued ways of life; such as those of the Gwich’in.

Education & Language 

16. Create national and state educational curriculum covering international human rights including the UNDRIP as well as supporting initiatives to integrate Indigenous knowledge into local curriculum.

17. Nurture Indigenous languages and create educational programs to indigenize names of places and share basic knowledge of host languages. Halt the use of racist and/or appropriated language and imagery.

Representation, Redress, & Access to Justice

18. Ensure Indigenous Peoples have full representation as well as access to redress for violations perpetrated on and against their lands and territories, including access to judicial forums to dispute claims and access to concrete and timely assistance to mitigate adverse impacts on environmental and cultural resources. Adopt policies to ensure that mechanisms for future redress and remediation are clearly articulated during the initial consultation period between tribal, state, and federal government actors.

19. End the criminalization of Indigenous human rights defenders. 

20. Create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to acknowledge and correct historic and ongoing discrimination against Indigenous Peoples that has resulted in historic trauma and disproportionately negative economic, health, and related outcomes.