Klint A. Cowan


The American Indian tribes have a unique status in the law of the United

States. They are characterized as sovereigns that predate the formation of

the republic and possess inherent powers and immunities. Their powers

permit them to create and enforce laws and generally to operate as

autonomous governmental entities with executive, legislative, and

judicial branches. Tribes enjoy immunity from suit and exemption from

federal and state constitutional provisions which protect individual

rights. These powers and immunities provide a connection between tribal

governments and U.S. international human rights obligations. This

Article explores that connection. It examines whether the tribes may

breach certain international human rights obligations of the United

States, whether tribal violations may incur U.S. international

responsibility, and if so, what consequences might result. It constructs an

argument that the United States has failed to implement fully its

international human rights obligations and that it can be held

internationally responsible for tribal violations of human rights. This

argument leads to policy recommendations for the United States and

tribal governments.