Keith Harper
Attorney General of the Cherokee Nation

Assumed office:
August 14, 2019

Pricipal Chief: Kimberly Teehee
Preceded by: Todd Hembree
United States Ambassador
to the United Nations Human Rights Council

In office:
June 5, 2014 - January 20, 2017

Preceded by: Eileen Donahoe
Succeeded by: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
Born: 1965 (age 54–55)
Nationality: American, Cherokee
Political party: Democratic Party
Alma mater:

University of California, Berkeley
New York University

Occupation: Diplomat, Attorney, Politician

Keith M. Harper is an American attorney and diplomat who was the first Native American to ever receive the rank of a U.S. Ambassador. He is a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and is currently serving as the nation's Attorney General. He was, from June 2014 to February 2017, the United States representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Education and Legal Career

Harper attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he graduated in 1990 with a B.A. in sociology and psychology. He then went to the New York University School of Law, where he graduated with a J.D. in the class of 1994, where he served as an editor on the New York University Journal of International Law and Politics. He was admitted to the New York bar the following year.

After law school, Harper served as a law clerk to Judge Lawrence W. Pierce of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which he considered formative in his legal advocacy. Harper was a litigator at the Native American Rights Fund from 1995 to 2006. He is most known for his work in the Cobell v. Kempthorne, a large class-action lawsuit brought by Native American representatives against two departments of the United States government. The case was brought in 1996 on behalf of upwards of 500,000 Native Americans, and was resolved in 2009 with the Obama administration agreeing to a $3.4 billion settlement, the largest settlement of a lawsuit against the United States in history.

Harper later became a partner at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, in Washington, D.C., where he focused his practice on litigation and Native American affairs, representing tribes and individuals.


Harper was nominated by President Obama for the position of United States Ambassador to the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 10th, 2013. Many human rights advocates were unfamiliar with Harper, and as such the pick reflected a long-standing practice of Presidents rewarding top supporters and fundraisers with ambassadorships and similar postings.

Indigenous Rights

Particularly as indigenous himself, Harper worked to reform the Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP), strengthening the body and expanding its mandate. The new mandate now permits the EMRIP to decide topics for discussion, encourages EMRIP members to visit two states annually, coordinates an annual agenda with additional global actors, and provides direct access to the UN Human Rights Council. The EMRIP was additionally granted the authority to conduct investigations and publicize its findings broadly, while previously its main task was to prepare an annual study on a topic pre-selected by the Human Rights Council.

Sri Lanka

Amassador Harper Meets High Commissioner Pillay

Ambassador Harper (center) meets High Commissioner Navi Pillay (left), 2014

In March 2014, the United Nations Human Rights Commission drafted a resolution - introduced and largely authored by Harper - on "Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka." The resolution requested High Commissioner Navi Pillay to undertake a comprehensive investigation into human rights abuses that took place during the war. Subsequently, the Human Rights Commissioner directed the setting up of OHCHR Investigation in Sri Lanka (OISL).

Sri Lanka initially reportedly refused to cooperate with the inquiry. In August 2014, the state rejected entry visas for investigating U.N. officials, later banning all foreigners from visiting the former war zone altogether. Following the inaguration of new Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena in 2015, alongside further dialogue with the UNHRC, the an international court system was established in Sri Lanka, due to mistrust in the domestic justice system. Guided by the UNHRC, this initiative investigates human rights abuses at the hands of both the LTTE (Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam) and the government during the conflict and in its immediate aftermath.

Ambassador Harper called the resolution his "proudest moment," stating that it put Sri Lanka on the "path to a lasting peace built on a foundation of justice and accountability."

Views on the UN

As Ambassador, Harper stated that "he United Nations is the extant manifestation of a simple proposition that an international community united in purpose and objective is essential for greater stability, security and prosperity for all. Nevertheless, he has criticized U.N. institutions as "not built and are not intended to address every issue of a human rights violation or peace and security," because the veto power granted to China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, allowing human rights abuses by China, Russia, or their allies to be ill-suited for United Nations conflict resolution.

Cherokee Nation Attorney General

Murphy Case

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