NICWA Testimony to UN Convention Yields Progress and Early Commitments

Terry Cross in GenevaGENEVA – NICWA Executive Director Terry Cross and NICWA Board Member Jocelyn Formsma concluded their participation at the international convening addressing U.S. compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination treaty in Geneva, Switzerland, today, optimistic that their advocacy for the rights of Indigenous children will result in direct action in the international arena and as part of future domestic regulations.

“I am near elated,” said Formsma. “No doubt the work will continue from here, but I could not be happier with the outcome of our participation at this meeting.”

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, or CERD, is the United Nations body charged with monitoring implementation by countries which have signed onto the convention. The United States became a party to this treaty in 1994.

Last month, NICWA submitted a shadow report to CERD voicing concerns over the problematic implementation of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) and violations to American Indian and Alaska Native children’s internationally protected right to culture. [NICWA’s report is available here.]

Throughout the week, Cross appealed to the committee and members of the U.S. delegation to achieve traction on the issues. [His briefing to the committee is available here.]

Cross’s advocacy clearly resonated with the committee, as evidenced by CERD members seizing the opportunity to ask several rarely-issued follow-up questions to the United States delegation on Indian child welfare issues raised by Cross.

In response to these questions, U.S. representatives from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) acknowledged the lack of ICWA compliance and pledged to renew efforts to monitor and strengthen guidelines via regulations.

“We are pleased with the BIA response to the CERD question on Indian child welfare indicating their intent to
work with NGOs to develop regulations,” said Cross. “When our children can be protected under the authority
of an international treaty, as is their right, this is indeed important progress.”

Once the in-person dialogue is complete, the committee will issue a report outlining its concerns as well as
making specific recommendations to the United States on how to meet its legal obligations under the treaty.

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