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Continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier is a fundamental denial of justice

    February 06, 2015

    The worldwide movement of Amnesty International stands behind the growing calls for the immediate release of Native American activist Leonard Peltier.

    As of this month, Leonard Peltier has spent 39 years behind bars. Peltier was convicted in connection with the 1975 murder of two FBI agents, Jack Coler and Ronald Williams, who were killed during a confrontation involving members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota.  Peltier has always maintained that although he was present during the confrontation, he did not kill the two agents. 

    Amnesty International has never taken a position on whether Peltier is innocent or guilty of this very serious crime. We have however consistently spoken out against the injustices on which his continued imprisonment rest.

    Amnesty International researchers attended  Leonard Peltier’s trial in 1977 and Amnesty has extensively reviewed the case.  In our view, the US justice system has breached basic standards of due process and fair trial, beginning with his arrest and extradition from Canada in 1976, where he had fled following the shooting. Amnesty’s numerous concerns include coercion of an alleged eye-witness whose testimony was used to obtain Peltier’s arrest and extradition, and the prosecution’s withholding of evidence that may have altered the outcome of his trial. Furthermore, the justice system has failed to address these breaches whether through a retrial or through the parole process.

    Amnesty International also remains deeply concerned that the treatment of Leonard Peltier in the US justice system may have been influenced by political factors, including the tense relations between AIM and the FBI at the time of killings. 

    Amnesty International recognizes the seriousness of the crime for which Leonard Peltier was convicted and has the deepest sympathy for the relatives of Jack Coler and Ronald Williams. We also believe that the fundamental injustices involved in the arrest, conviction, and imprisonment of Leonard Peltier mean that he must be released.

    The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous Peoples has referred to the continued imprisonment of Leonard Peltier as one of the “open wounds” in the relationship between Native Americans and the US government.

    All legal appeals have been exhausted. Peltier’s most recent petition for release on parole was denied in 2009 and he will not be eligible for parole again until 2024, by which time he will have served 48 years in prison. 

    Amnesty International is calling on US officials to release Leonard Peltier in the interests of justice and on humanitarian grounds.

    For background information on the case and Amnesty's analysis of the judicial process, please see our February 2014 news release.