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IWGIA visit to Standing Rock: Alarming use of “non-lethal weapons”

February 20 2017

“There’s a kind of warfare going on there,” said Johannes Rohr after his visit to Standing Rock. Photo: Johannes Rohr
Tear gas, water cannons, sound cannons, attack dogs, chemical sprays and rubber bullets. The multitude of "non-lethal weapons" that have been used against the protestors at Standing Rock was a shock to IWGIA’s Johannes Rohr, who visited Standing Rock in January.

“There’s a kind of warfare going on there,” said Johannes Rohr after his visit to Standing Rock.

Johannes Rohr participated in a four-day workshop and consultation for water protectors and the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. With him was Mr. Pavel Sulyandziga – indigenous rights activist from Russia, member and until recently chair of the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

At Standing Rock, they met protestors, who shared their testimonies: A girl was hit by a rubber bullet in the back of her head and has since then suffered from permanent severe headaches and cannot afford a neurological examination of her skull and brain.

Another protestor lost sight on his left eye after being hit by police. He told that the chances of recovering his left eye are slim.

Protestors also reported that planes that normally spray fertiliser on the fields flew regularly over the camps.

Hair tests have indicated that the planes have been spraying chemicals over the site of conflict. And protestors have reported symptoms of dizziness, fatigue and irritation of eyes and respiratory organs.

Non-lethal weapons cause death
Jamil Dakwar, a lawyer working for the American Civil Liberties Union, reported that a recent study made by his organisation shows that the term “non-lethal” is often euphemistic: Permanent disabilities and even deaths have been documented as a consequence of the use of non-lethal weapons. Read the study here.

“The problem is that is not transparent who bears the responsibility of the militarized response. Is it the State? The National Guard or the Morten County Police, assisted by police forces from many other counties and states?” asks Johannes Rohr.

Many testimonies showed that it was almost impossible to identify who was attacking and there were strong indications of collusion between law enforcement and private security forces acting on behalf of the company Energy Transfer Partners.

Trump’s Dakato Access Order
Johannes Rohr visited Standing Rock, as President Trump signed a memorandum to push forward the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline project.

In December, President Obama halted the project over concerns that the pipeline could contaminate the Standing Rock Sioux’s drinking water at Lake Oahe.

“People cried, and it was very emotional in the camps, as the news came out about President Trump’s decision,” Johannes Rohr tells. The Standing Rock Sioux reiterated their protest:

“The problem with the Dakota Access pipeline is not that it involves development, but rather that it was deliberately and precariously placed without proper consultation with tribal governments,” wrote David Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, in a letter to the president in an urge to not bypass the environmental analysis that lay ground to President Obama’s decision.

Building on indigenous land
Conflicting interpretations of law make the case complex, as in many of the land rights cases IWGIA are presented to. The Treaty of Ford Laramie, 1851, is the core legal document for the Standing Rock Sioux territory.

The US Constitution in Artcile 6 recognizes treaties as the supreme law of the land.

Yet the State of North Dakota ignores the treaty rights according to which most of the state including the site of the Dakota Access Pipeline is built on Indian land. Today’s Indian reservations cover only tiny patches of the treaty land.

“The problem here is that the presidential memo might be symbolic in terms of legal power, but it may still be considered a go for the construction company,” says Johannes Rohr and explains that they have already constructed everything except the final link under the Missouri river.

He fears that the company will build the access anyway and just accept the fines:

“They are in control of the construction site, and no one can physically stop them.”

Give your bank a call
“I admire all the protestors who held out all these months. I was on the bridge in the chilling wind, and now it was not even minus 20 degrees like some weeks before,” says Johannes Rohr.

Along with the continuing physical protest in North Dakota, there is a consultation lead by the Standing Rock tribe with requests for comments.

“From a distance what you can do is to put pressure on the banks that have invested in the construction companies. 17 banks are known to fund the project. Including banks from Germany, Norway and Holland. At this point, signing the petitions and putting pressure on the banks are the only the actions that can be taken,” says Johannes Rohr.

On Twitter, the hashtag #defunddapl can be followed for more information about the funding of the project. Petitions can be signed here.