Saturday, June 25, 2011

Guam at the UN

The United Nations is supposed to represent everybody. For countries weak, strong, big and small there is supposed to be a place for each and everyone. But for those who are not nation-states or are nations within nations or colonies, the UN is a very different experience. There is no official, permanent place there. You are literally a ghost which is called into existence and every once in a while given a temporary place from which your story can be told.

In the case of Guam, there is an official place for this tiny little island each June and July when petitioners from Guam can speak before two different committees. Below is the summaries of the most recent visit this June.


United Nations Press Release

Special Committee on Decolonisation

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Special Committee on Decolonization Adopts Draft on Falkland Islands (Malvinas), Amid Petitioners’ Concern that Text Ignores Islanders’ Self-Determination Wish ‘Committee of 24.’ Also Forwards Three Traditional Texts in Support Of Decolonization Declaration to General Assembly; Hears Petitioners from Guam
In a busy day that heard pleas to do otherwise, the Special Committee on Decolonization today adopted a consensus resolution reiterating that the way to end the “special and particular” colonial situation in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) was through the peaceful, negotiated settlement of the sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom.

The text was one of four passed today, which zeroed in on thorny questions that had been before the Special Committee for decades, and recommended ways to better implement the 1960 (Decolonization) Declaration, which it was tasked to monitor. The day also heard a number of petitioners air their views on the questions of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and Guam.

By the terms of the text, introduced by Chile’s representative, the Special Committee regretted that, despite widespread international support for negotiations between Argentina and the United Kingdom, which included all aspects of the Islands’ future, longstanding General Assembly resolutions on that question had not been implemented. The parties were requested to consolidate the current “process of dialogue and cooperation” by resuming negotiations in order to find, as soon as possible, a peaceful solution to their sovereignty dispute.

Imploring the Special Committee not to adopt the resolution as presented, Roger Edwards, an elected official of the Legislative Assembly of the Falkland Islands, and one of several petitioners to take the floor on the issue, pointed out that the text had been drafted without a reference to the wishes of the Falkland people and their fundamental right to self-determination. “Falkland Islanders do not wish to see a change from British sovereign status,” he declared. The Islands had never formed part of Argentina; they were self-sufficient, self-governing and enjoyed a high standard of living. “Please respect our people’s wishes and our right to self-determination,” he said.

On the other side of the issue, petitioner María Angélica Vernet, Director of the National Historical Museum of the Buenos Aires Old Town Hall and May Revolution, traced her roots to the Malvinas Islands, where Argentine citizens had been stripped of their property and expelled by the United Kingdom in 1833. The population on the islands today was not a people in the legal sense of the term, as they were British either by birth or by origin. “The usurpation of the Malvinas Islands in 1833 was the usurpation of a territory that, both in fact and in law, belonged to Argentina,” she insisted.

Weighing in as an observer, Héctor Marcos Timerman, Minister for Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina, reiterated his Government’s “unrenounceable” rights over the Malvinas, South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands and the surrounding maritime spaces. In accordance with the United Nations mandate, he said, Argentina had included in its Constitution the commitment to take into account their interests and respect their lifestyle.

Further, while Argentina had always advocated the right to free determination of peoples, the United Nations, on the question of the Malvinas Islands, had determined that such a principle did not apply, he said, since the inhabitants of the South Atlantic Islands had not been subjugated to a colonial power. He extended a formal invitation to the British Government to resume negotiations, in good faith, to resolve the sovereignty dispute and end an “incomprehensible” colonial situation that was unacceptable in the twenty-first century.

Echoing the call to end colonialism in the modern era, the Special Committee approved three other consensus resolutions submitted by Chairperson Francisco Carrión-Mena (Ecuador) for the General Assembly’s adoption, all of which related to the implementation of the landmark Decolonization Declaration.

By the first, the Assembly would call on the administering Powers to cooperate fully with the 24-member body and finalize — as soon as possible — a programme of work on a case-by-case basis for the Non-Self Governing Territories to facilitate implementation of the Special Committee’s mandate. Among other things, it would request the Special Committee to continue to seek a suitable means to carry out actions related to the Second and Third International Decades for the Eradication of Colonialism, in those Territories that had not yet exercised their right to self-determination.

By the second text, the Assembly would urge the specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations that had not yet done so to provide assistance to Non-Self-Governing Territories. Those agencies would be urged to provide information on environmental problems facing the Territories, ways and means to assist them in fighting drug trafficking, and on the illegal exploitation of the Territories’ marine and other natural resources. The Assembly would recommend that the heads of those agencies formulate proposals for the full implementation of relevant United Nations resolutions and submit them to their governing and legislative organs.

The third text would have the Assembly reaffirm the right of Non-Self-Governing Territories to self-determination, in line with Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) (1960), as well as to the enjoyment of their natural resources and to dispose of those resources in their best interest. It would affirm the value of foreign economic investment undertaken with the Territories — and in accordance with their wishes — in order to contribute to their socio-economic development. By other terms, the Assembly would urge administering Powers to safeguard and guarantee the inalienable right of Territories to their natural resources and maintain control over the future development of those resources.

In final business today, the Special Committee heard presentations by several petitioners on the question of Guam, who made their voices heard on the future of that Non-Self-Governing Territory administered by the United States. Lisa Baza of the non-profit organization Conscious Living recommended that Guam remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories until the Chamorros people had an opportunity to exercise their right to political self-determination. More broadly, she recommended that the United Nations adopt a resolution that reflected a case-by-case decolonization plan for each of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to be achieved in the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

Echoing that call, Clare Calvo, speaking on behalf of the Governor of Guam, said: “exercising this human right is long overdue”. She urged the Special Committee to help the Chamorros become citizens of their own place in this world.



The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to hear petitioners on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). Before members was a draft resolution on the item (document A/AC.109/2011/L.7), as well as a working paper prepared by the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2011/14) outlining, among other things, constitutional and political developments, as well as progress on mine clearance, economic and social conditions, and the Territory’s future status.

The paper says that the Constitution approved in 2008 came into force on 1 January 2009. The last general elections were held for all eight members of the Legislative Assembly on 5 November 2009: five from the Territory’s urban constituency and three from the “Camp”, for a four-year term. The Governor took up his appointment in October 2010.

As for the Territory’s future status, the paper says that, on 24 September 2010, the United Kingdom reiterated in the General Assembly that there could be “no negotiations on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless and until such time as the Islanders so wish”, and that the principle of self-determination “underlies our position on the Falkland Islands”. The Falkland Islands Government was entitled to develop a hydrocarbons industry within its own waters, the representative had said, noting that Argentina had announced plans for hydrocarbons exploration in the South Atlantic.

In an annual message to the Territory for 2011, the United Kingdom Prime Minister said: “It is in all our interests that we maintain a constructive working relationship with Argentina. And we will continue to do so.” There was common ground to be found at the Group of 20 (G-20) and on tackling climate change. The United Kingdom would stand resolutely with the Territory on any question of sovereignty, the paper explains.

Also on 24 September, according to the paper, Argentina’s President in the General Assembly claimed “respect for our sovereign rights over the Malvinas Islands”, underlining that the United Kingdom had refused to implement Assembly resolutions calling for negotiations with her country on the question of sovereignty. Unilateral decisions had been taken by the United Kingdom to exploit hydrocarbon resources on the Islands, she said, which constituted a “depredation of natural resources that belong to us” and entailed “the risk of ecological catastrophe”.
According to the paper, she had expressed her belief that the United Kingdom could “do as it likes”, as no one was compelling it to implement Assembly decisions. In a world of double standards, it was not possible to build peace, she had said, let alone maintain international security, as such situations ended up creating the kind of insurmountable disputes seen every day.


Also before the Special Committee was a working paper (on the territory of Guam) prepared by the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2011/15), which outlines constitutional, legal and political issues there, as well as matters relating to the military presence, land, economy, social conditions and the environment.

The paper explains that the new Governor of Guam took office after the November 2010 elections. In October 2010, United States President Barack Obama signed into law bill H.R. 3940, which clarifies the Secretary of the Interior’s authority and obligation to provide federal funding for political status education on Guam, which should help inform the people of the island about their constitutionally viable political options.

As for action taken by the General Assembly, the paper explains that, on 10 December 2010, the Assembly adopted without a vote resolutions 65/115 A and B. Section VI of resolution 65/115 B outlines, among other things, the Assembly’s call on the administering Power to consider the expressed will of the Chamorro people as supported by Guam voters in the 1987 referendum and as subsequently provided for in Guam law, regarding Chamorro self-determination efforts.
Additional texts before the Special Committee are contained in documents A/66/63, E/2011/73 and A/AC.109/2011/L.10; as well as A/AC.109/2011/L.9 and L.11).
Petitioners on Guam
CLARE CALVO, speaking on behalf of Eddie Baza Calvo, Governor of Guam, said: “The people of Guam need your help.” Colonialism had weighed on them for nearly 500 years. The island had suffered over 230 years of Spanish colonial rule, during which the Chamorros had been devastated by disease, war and oppression. After the Spanish-American War, the United States had claimed Guam, and rule had begun under the “Naval Government”. Japan’s foray into imperialism during the Second World War had been especially brutal, when Chamorro women had been raped and men beheaded by the Japanese Imperial Army.

In July 1944, the United States had taken back the island, she continued, and while the Chamorros had been liberated from slavery and war, they were still suppressed under colonialism, and worse, had yet to receive reparations for the atrocities they had suffered. The Chamorros of the Second World War had endured slavery, murder and genocide, yet the United States had been silent on its obligations for war reparations. That silence reinforced the point that Guam could no longer be a colony in perpetuity.

She said the Chamorros had been unable to reach their full socio-economic potential because of their political status. “Now, more than ever, it is important to move forward”, while there were still Chamorros left to express their right to self-determination. She was thankful that the United States, the administering Power, recognized that right. The Obama Administration had agreed to match local funding allocated for decolonization efforts. The Government of Guam was committed to a plebiscite, and she wished to see a vote taken in the next general election or the one thereafter.

Most important was to ensure that Chamorros made an educated decision on their political status, she said, underscoring that “exercising this human right is long overdue”. For far too long, the Chamorro people had been told to be satisfied with a political status that did not respect their wishes first. For far too long, they had dealt with taxation without full representation, quasi-citizenship and partial belonging. She urged the Special Committee to support their human rights and help them become citizens of their own place in this world.

EDWARD ALVAREZ, Executive Director of the Commission on Decolonization of Guam, said his Government would embark on an aggressive campaign to parlay its situation to a national and international audience. Legislation had been introduced to appropriate money for a Chamorro self-determination educational campaign, a programme which the United States Department of the Interior had expressed its intention to fund. Moreover, the Governor aimed to hold a plebiscite in the next five years for the Chamorro people to exercise their right to self-determination.

He said that Guam did not plan to draft a constitution at this time, but rather, it would pursue the resolution of its political status by helping Chamorros exercise their right to self-determination, particularly amid the military build-up. With that, he recommended that a representative from the United States President’s Office facilitate the issue in Congress, as Guam engaged the Departments of the Interior and Defence.

For its part, Guam would reach out to national and international media “to get our story told and message across”, he pledged. It also would seek advocacy from as many groups and celebrities as possible. He also recommended that the United Nations advocate for Guam by pressuring the United States. Along with a national and international media campaign, Guam might request an invitation to the International Court of Justice. “The time has come for all of us to come to grips with what is right and just for the Chamorro people of Guam,” he said.

LISALINDA NATIVIDAD, Chamorro professor at the University of Guam and a member of the Guam Commission on Decolonization, said that, in 2006, the United States had entered into a bilateral agreement with the Government of Japan, which included plans to transfer 8,000 United States Marines from Japan to Guam. That process had occurred without any consultation with Guam leaders or the Chamorro people — a situation that had been made possible by the island’s unresolved political status. Guam’s current colonial condition “set the stage for exploitation” of its lands and the rights of the Chamorro people.

She said that the announced planned military build-up had prompted a return by Guam to the annual sessions of the Special Committee after a nearly 10‑year absence. But despite consecutive years of attendance since 2006, the situation remained unresolved and conditions in Guam were poor. “As you hear the dismal realities of our island home, we ask that you do something different,” she urged the Special Committee, calling on delegates to focus on specific actions that could be taken by the United Nations, and the Special Committee in particular, to bring about changes.

“Militarism has historically been used as the imperial hammer that ensures the suppression of Guam’s colonized peoples,” she said, noting that the application of American militarism in Guam had continued as recently as 2010, when the United States Navy had begun awarding Department of Defence contracts for construction and other projects on the island. Over the years, the United States military presence in Guam and the Federated States of Micronesia had resulted in radiation exposure, environmental devastation and toxic contamination of the islands and their peoples. Nonetheless, Guam residents were still not eligible for compensation through the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of the United States Congress, a fact that continued despite evidence of excessively high rates of rare types of cancer among the Chamorro people.

In light of the current situation, she offered a series of recommendations, including keeping Guam on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories until the Chamorro people were able to exercise their right to political self-determination. She further recommended that the Special Committee reaffirm and declare that Guam’s militarization plans by the administering Power, the United States, posed an impediment to the exercise of the Chamorros’ rights to self-determination and decolonization. Among other recommendations, she also said that the United Nations should provide financial and technical assistance for an educational campaign in Guam, in the near future, relative to the political status plebiscite.
YASUKATSU MATSUSHIMA, Professor at Ryukoku University in Japan, said that the colonial histories of Guam and his native Okinawa were closely linked. Just as Guam had been historically controlled by Spain, Japan and the United States, Okinawa had been under Japanese and United States control. And just as the Japanese Government had imposed colonialist policies in Okinawa, prohibiting the use of the Okinawan language in schools, Chamorros in Guam had been forced to speak English. Those policies and others like them amounted to a “cultural genocide”. The military policies in Guam and Okinawa had been unilaterally decided by the colonial Powers, ignoring the claims of their residents.

Today, the militarization of Guam was tied to the building of new military bases and the transfer of more than 8,000 United States Marines from Okinawa to Guam. With that movement, the Chamorro people would face many of the same problems that the Okinawan people had faced, including field fires and bomb accidents caused by live ammunition, plane and helicopter crashes, as well as noise pollution, traffic accidents, the destruction of environmental and historical sites and the loss of indigenous cultural heritage. The Okinawan people were against the movement of United States Marines to Guam, as well as the construction of new military bases, as they feared that the island’s colonial situation would become “deeply fixed”. They insisted that Guam be demilitarized in accordance with United Nations decolonization principles and the Special Committee’s processes.

LISA BAZA, Conscious Living, a non-profit organization, recommended that Guam remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories until the Chamorros had an opportunity to exercise their inalienable right to political self-determination. The United Nations should provide financial and technical assistance for an educational campaign that informed all people of Guam about the political status plebiscite, and it should send a visiting mission to observe that event.

More broadly, she recommended that the United Nations adopt a resolution that reflected a case-by-case decolonization plan for each of the Non-Self-Governing Territories to be achieved in the Third Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in particular, should financially assist Non-Self-Governing Territories in dealing with poverty-related issues caused by their economic dependence on administering Powers. The Organization should also consider revisiting the development of a declaration of rights for indigenous peoples, which would allow colonized voices to be heard.

Guam’s process of self-determination would be revisited with a plebiscite within the next five years, she said. The administering Power, through the Department of the Interior, had pledged funding for education, as the island worked towards that plebiscite, and she asked the Special Committee to implore the administering Power to follow that mandate.


Governor of Guam Discusses Role in UN Process:

Guam Self-Determination Outlined at UN Seminar, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, June 2011: Issues and Concerns of Civil Society on Guam:

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