Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Three Ways the Dakota Pipeline is an International Human Rights Crisis

By Christopher HannaPublished September 22, 2016

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Written by Christopher Hanna, 9/22/2016 Since last April, members of various Native American tribes have partially occupied the site of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. According to the protestors, the multi-million dollar oil pipeline will desecrate indigenous cultural sites and imperil indispensable sources of clean water. Here's how this issue is of vital importance not just to the affected tribes, but to the international community at large.
By Christopher Hanna

Since last April, members of various Native American tribes have partially occupied the site of the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. According to the protestors, the multi-million dollar oil pipeline will desecrate indigenous cultural sites and imperil indispensable sources of clean water.

Here's how this issue is of vital importance not just to the affected tribes, but to the international community at large.


  1. The Dakota Pipeline will bolster global oil markets. There is mounting evidence that the pipeline's oil will be exported to foreign countries, perpetuating climate change and enlarging the market for crude oil exports. This betrays the imperative that we move away from non-renewable energy sources and institute an oil-free energy infrastructure in order to protect the world from further climate devastation.
  2. The Dakota Pipeline violates international agreements on indigenous rights. According to the United Nations (U.N.) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, the U.S. government violated the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples by failing to consult the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on the construction of the pipeline. The U.S. government has thus undermined a vital international covenant that codifies the rights of the world's 370 million indigenous people, despite President Obama's pledge to respect Native sovereignty. This disregard for Sioux self-determination sets a disturbing precedent for the treatment of indigenous peoples everywhere.
  3. The Dakota Pipeline shines the spotlight on corporate violence. The Dakota Access pipeline company has used helicopters, attack dogs, pepper spray and other militarized law enforcement tools to intimidate and remove peaceful protesters. In the past, foreign governments have similarly collaborated with energy firms to raid, detain and even assassinate anti-oil organizers. The U.S. government's conspicuous silence on corporate violence against the pipeline protesters legitimates Big Oil's transnational assault on anti-climate change organizers. If it was truly committed to environmental justice, it would have initiated investigations into the Dakota Access pipeline company's mistreatment of rally-goers.

When the U.S. leads, the world follows. For that reason, the federal government must take action to halt the Dakota Pipeline's construction, ban crude oil exports, and penalize corporate entities that brutalize protesters. It's time to fight for a world free of fossil fuels, and one in which indigenous rights are fully respected.