Part of the postwar strategy of the United States was to develop the islands in Micronesia into a buffer zone, to put space between its potential enemies in Asia. This meant prioritizing for two decades the military interests of the US over the interests or desires of the people in the region. This manifested most clearly in the form of security clearance requirements for those coming in and out of the Marianas. As politicians at the time were apt to grumble about quietly and rarely broach openly, everyone going in and out of the islands at the time, had to be approved or cleared by the US Navy. This meant a tourism industry and even simple economic development was extremely difficult for the island.
Guam by this time had been a colony of the US for five or six decades, and any connections to the rest of the world were strained or diminished completely. Take for instance something that is constantly discussed in Guam, the Japanese occupation of the island during the war, but which is scarcely discussed from the Chamorro perspective, even if Chamorros are constantly featured in the discussion. As Guam developed in the postwar context, Japan had gone from an enemy of the US, to one of its main allies. As the security clearance for the island was lifted, Japan was a primary option in terms of enticing tourists. This made sense if we consider Guam to just be a footnote of the US, a reflection of it, a minute emulator in the Western Pacific, with no real substance of its own. This is an extension of the saying that when the US sneezes, Guam gets a cold.
But this represented a problem with the trauma and pain that Chamorros experienced in World War II at the hands of the Japanese. A handful of Chamorros were interviewed at the time when Guam's tourism industry was born and some of them seemed perturbed at the idea that the island was now supposed to welcome with flower leis, those who just a generation before had come with swords and grenades. There is nothing wrong with reconciliation with Japan, but the problem is that the reconciliation was not Chamorro-driven, but rather something Guam was pulled into by US interests and local elites who were determined to follow whatever course the Mother Country allowed them. This is one reason why the antagonism leftover from World War II became directed more forcefully and openly towards the Chamorros from the northern islands, because no space was created for Chamorros on Guam to deal with their feelings towards the Japanese. There are a few stories of young people down South throwing rocks at Japanese tour buses, but in truth, Southern children were known to do that to any car driving that might be driving through their village.
We see this detached dynamic continue up until today, and it is on the one hand understandable, but nonetheless frustrating. US interests inundate the island, but at the same time, the US speaks for the island in all international forums, explicitly or implicitly claiming to represent our interests.
One of the appeals of the United Nations and its bodies was that it allowed Guam to have a forum for speaking, albeit symbolically, directly to the world. In so many other ways, the island is subsumed in American power and is barely perceptible in any way except as the tip of America's spear or where America's Day begins, but by traveling to the UN and testifying there, it represented a different possible future for Guam, where its identity, its interest, its ability to determine its destiny not be lost in the vagaries of American power. This is why at different points over the past four decades, delegations from Guam have been formed to travel to testify before the UN Fourth Committee in New York about the situation in Guam. It is an important form of outreach, which I myself got to participate in, when I traveled there with two others to testify in 2007. There are some small discussions about the possibility of reviving this strategy, as the last significant delegation to the UN from Guam was in 2010. The UN release on that visit is pasted below:
UN General Assembly
Special Committee on
7th Meeting (AM)
Special Committee on Decolonization Urged to Visit Guam as Petitioners Deplore Militarization of Non-Self-Governing Territory
Speaking out against the militarization of Guam by the United States, several petitioners today called upon members of the Special Committee on Decolonization to visit the Non-Self-Governing Territory and see the situation for themselves as soon as possible.
Many called attention to the release of an 11,000-page draft environmental impact statement by the United States, which the people of Guam had been given 90 days to study and comment on. Hope Antoinette Cristobal urged the Special Committee to study the document, which was “in direct violation of various international human rights instruments, including United Nations resolutions and declarations”.
Rima Ilarishigh Peter Miles, speaking on behalf of Women for Genuine Security, noted that United States Navy activities carried out on the island had gravely impacted the environment, human health and the welfare of the territorial government. Considering such challenges, she stressed the position that “the United States does not care what it destroys as long as no one knows about it”.
Asserting that the United Nations must not allow negative impacts to further block the process of decolonization, many petitioners requested that the Special Committee declare the militarization of Guam to be a major impediment to Guam’s exercise of its right to self-determination. They also requested that the Special Committee ensure that United States congressional appropriations and other United States military projects be put on hold until past injustices were remedied, current adverse impacts were negated and the potential for future adverse impacts completely removed.
The Special Committee — known also as the Special Committee of 24 or formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — also heard petitioners on the Non-Self-Governing Territories of Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.
On the question of New Caledonia, Caroline Machoro-Reignier of Front de libération nationale kanak socialiste underscored major challenges that remained despite progress made in the wake of the landmark 1998 Nouméa Accord. Those included serious economic and social imbalances between the Territory’s Northern and Southern Provinces. Emphasizing the inevitably of New Caledonia’s independence, she called for United Nations support, particularly legal assistance in developing a constitution.
As the Special Committee turned to the question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, two petitioners voiced deep concern about the process by which a new territorial constitution was to be created. Wendal Swann, Chairman of the All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform, said that the Government of the United Kingdom had appointed a constitutional consultant to catalogue the views of the Territory’s people — after deciding to suspend specific portions of the current charter.
Benjamin Roberts of the Turks and Caicos Forum said the appointment had incited fears among the Territory’s people that their interests would not truly be heard, and that the United Kingdom would impose a decree on the islands if they ratified a constitution that did not reflect the administering Power’s views.
Also taking part in today’s proceedings were representatives of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 June, to continue its hearing of petitioners on the question of the United States Virgin Islands.
The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to hear petitioners on the questions of Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands.
Question of Western Sahara
PEDRO NUÑEZ MOSQUERA ( Cuba) said that in light of the Saharan people’s struggles over 40 years to gain independence, the conflict in the Territory should be included on the General Assembly’s agenda as a direct responsibility of the United Nations. The Special Committee had a key role to play in fulfilling that aim, he said, noting that the people of Western Sahara were the only ones who could choose their future freely and without pressure or conditions. The United Nations had adopted more than 40 resolutions since 1963, when Western Sahara had been added to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and several rounds of discussion had taken place on the issue, he said, emphasizing that all parties involved must step up their determination to continue their efforts.
The self-determination of the Saharan people must be guaranteed within the framework of the United Nations Charter and resolution 1514 (XV), he said, stressing further that they needed the support of the entire international community. To that end, Cuba had contributed as much as possible to the development of the Saharan people, particularly in the area of education, he said, affirming that his country would continue to support the development of a just and definitive solution to the situation of Western Sahara, whose people would always be able to count on Cuba.
JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), stressing his country’s solidarity with and commitment to the self-determination efforts of Western Sahara, said his country’s Constitution enshrined the principles of respect for the inalienable rights to independence, territorial integrity and self-determination, to which strict adherence must be exercised. On the basis of those principles, Venezuela had extended diplomatic recognition to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and therefore reiterated its request for similar United Nations support.
He called for the strict implementation of resolution 1514 (XV) and urged the Special Committee to consider the situation with more determination, taking into account the need to promote justice and the human rights for the Saharan people. Expressing hope that negotiations would ensure the implementation of relevant appropriate resolutions, he said they could only succeed if carried out within the framework of the Charter and resolution 1514 (XV). In addition, Venezuela reaffirmed, as per resolution 1514 (XV), the necessity of eliminating colonialism, racial discrimination and human rights violations, and called upon administering Powers to take the necessary action to ensure the exercise of self-determination.
AHMED BOUKHARI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), said 18 years had passed since the United Nations had endorsed, in 1991, the plan for a self-determination referendum in Western Sahara, which was still to be held. The process had been deterred by Morocco on the basis of friendships it had forged in the Security Council, particularly with France, which would provide it with impunity to continue its destructive efforts. Morocco still believed that it could involve the Council in gravely altering the Saharan people’s fundamental basic right to self-determination. None of the endeavours carried out, from the 1997 Houston Agreement to the 2003 Baker Plan, to efforts by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, had managed to overcome the intransigence of the occupying Power, he said.
Morocco had incorporated new arguments and pretexts to create new alliances within the Council in exchange for hopes of realizing the final annexation of Western Sahara, he continued. That would signify the introduction of a new and curious doctrine that would enable all those participating in it to annex neighbouring territories, he warned. That pseudo-solution of “autonomy of Moroccan sovereignty”, which Morocco had formulated in 2007 and set as a precondition for advancing the current negotiations, implied forcing the Saharan people to renounce the option of independence and integrate into the occupying Power. It would not be difficult for members of the Special Committee to consider that pseudo-solution as a grave rejection of the principle of self-determination, established by the United Nations in resolution 1514 (XV) and defined in resolution 1541 (XV).
Morocco continued to negate the 1991 United Nations decision, he said, adding that it also continued illegally to exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources and to violate the Saharan people’s human rights under the eyes and ears of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). There was no indication that Morocco would change its position in the near future, he said, noting that the United Nations would fail to address the situation of the last African territory on the Special Committee’s agenda. The Moroccan case could have represented success on decolonization, but instead, it had become a symbol of protracted failure. No one could resign themselves to a fait accompli predicated on false and territorial appetites, he stressed.
He said Morocco was continuing the expansionist policies of Mohamed Allal al‑Fassi, leader of the Istiqlal Party, who had sought, since independence in 1956, to forge a “Greater Morocco” extending into Senegal and swallowing up all of Western Sahara, Mauritania and parts of Algeria and Mali. The region had seen no peace since 1975, and had even moved further away from it due to Morocco’s decision to base its demands on ancient history. Failure to follow the road to peace, as instructed by the United Nations, should not be permitted, he said, adding that the Special Committee could play a large role in replacing injury and violence with a complete process for the peaceful decolonization of the last African colony on its agenda.
More than ever, the Special Committee had the chance to find out for itself what was happening in the Territory, he said, recalling that its last visit to Western Sahara had taken place 35 years ago. There was no valid or convincing reason to object to a second visit until the question of decolonization was resolved. The Special Committee had a right to request and receive true and appropriate information about the situation in the Territory, but Morocco was refusing to provide it, claiming that it had no colonies, only “provinces”. Sooner or later international law would prevail in Western Sahara, he said.
Calling for a pooling of efforts to convince Morocco to cooperate with the United Nations on ending the unsustainable colonial situation that had handicapped the future of the entire region, bringing instability and insecurity, he said all countries of the region had been subjected to European colonization, and had subsequently spent years building their own independent futures. “We cannot be an exception to the general rule,” he emphasized, denouncing Morocco for trying to return to times of injury, violence and territorial bullying based on ancient history. The only way forward was through a democratic solution in which the Saharan people would be masters of their own destiny, he said.
When asked by the representative of Bolivia about a solution to the conflict, Mr. BOUKHARI said all the parties concerned had agreed on a solution “a long time”. The consensus had been that the Saharan people could decide whether they preferred to remain part of Morocco or to become independent. However, there had been a deviation from that process towards attempts to legitimize an unacceptable situation, he said, noting that, during informal negotiations, Morocco had taken “a step back”. In light of that, Mr. Ross hoped to consider a new negotiating round in efforts to move forward. The only solution was to apply the already agreed-upon principle of self-determination for Western Sahara, he said, noting that any other method could lead to “a dead end”.
Responding to a question by the representative of Nicaragua about the Special Committee’s role, he said that, as long as the decolonization process continued in the Territory, the Special Committee would remain involved and use all the means at its disposal. He said he did not understand the rationale behind objections to the Special Committee visiting Western Sahara in order for members to view the situation for themselves. It should visit, since preventing such a visit would not help to strengthen the competence of its work.
Asked by the representative of Venezuela about the difficulties of the decolonization process, he said the current situation in Western Sahara was the result of destruction that had begun in 2009. Considering the risk that a lack of action could become a shield for the status quo, he urged the United Nations to take another look at the situation in Western Sahara so as to avoid a tragedy that would take place in the Organization’s name.
DONATUS KEITH ST. AIMEE (Saint Lucia), Chair of the Special Committee, said it was not possible to have two separate solutions, adding that he would seek to move the process forward through talks between the parties concerned. He expressed concern that the approaches taken thus far had not produced results and he would work towards a different approach, if needed.
The representative of Chile said it was important to keep the matter on the agenda in the interest of the right to self-determination. The Special Committee must also raise the question of beginning a third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.
The representative of Nicaragua supported Chile’s proposal.
Question of New Caledonia
CAROLINE MACHORO-REIGNIER, Front de lib ération nationale kanak socialiste, said the Kanak people were on the path towards achieving their destiny. While it had been difficult and bloody in light of revolts, war and assassinations, the Kanak people had also experienced victories, noting that New Caledonia was becoming financially autonomous and economically viable. The 1998 Nouméa Accord towards a transfer of power from France to New Caledonia had led to a territorial government based on solidarity and dialogue, she said.
Despite the positive progress made, however, major issues remained, she said, highlighting the substantial economic and social imbalances that had led to the overdevelopment of the Southern Province and the underdevelopment of the Northern Province. Moreover, high unemployment rates had begun to attract private interests that could potentially call into question certain policies aimed at emancipating the Territory’s indigenous people, she said, noting that considerable migration, primarily of people from Europe, could lead to social destabilization. Such issues could have a negative impact, particularly on the transfer of competencies and the related training, and on the establishment of the people’s citizenship and employment priorities.
Expressing concern that the Nouméa process was not moving as rapidly as expected, she underscored the Territory’s willingness to confront all challenges, including the need for regular evaluation of public policies conducted within the Nouméa framework. An independent New Caledonia was inevitable, she stressed, expressing hope that the United Nations would continue to support the Territory and to help it achieve its goals. She requested legal assistance from the Special Committee to help the Territory develop a constitution.
Responding to a question from the representative of Cuba concerning economic and social imbalances, she cited several examples, noting that 85 per cent of total mining revenue was generated in the South. In that social context, 85 per cent of households in the south had access to running water, as compared to 65 per cent in the north, she said, adding that efforts were being made to reduce those serious geographical imbalances.
Also making statements on the question of New Caledonia were the representatives of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.
Question of Guam
RIMA ILARISHIGH PETER MILES, Women for Genuine Security, called for immediate United Nations action to advance the protection and fulfilment of the right to self-determination of Guam’s Chamoru people. That right was currently under threat in light of the continuing avoidance of the issue on the part of the United States, as well as recent actions which contradicted the terms of that administering Power’s obligation to the Chamoru people.
She said the presence of the United States Navy in Guam had brought about extremely negative impacts, including environmental deterioration, the drying up of major freshwater sources and a population boom of 80,000, which had created a financial burden for the territorial government. Such challenges warranted the Special Committee’s support in demanding that the United States take no further action in militarizing the Mariana Islands, she said.
“The United States does not care what it destroys as long as no one knows about it,” she stressed, noting that the militarization of Guam was a direct impediment to the right of self-determination. As for the severe health implications of militarization for the Chamoru people, she tearfully called upon the United Nations to send a visiting mission to survey the situation and to challenge protocol in such matters when the administering Power was non-cooperative. It was critical, to protect Guam’s land and resources, and to help the Territory achieve the highest possible level of economic self-reliance, environmental protection, as well as social and educational development, she said.
HOPE ANTOINETTE CRISTOBAL said Guam’s indigenous people continued to suffer social, cultural and environmental annihilation at the hands of their United States oppressors. The Chamorro people were dying and suffering at disproportionate rates in comparison with their United States counterparts, she said, noting that their health concerns were similar to those in New Caledonia, which suffered “an overrepresentation” of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, and violence. Guam had some of the world’s highest suicide rates, and the hyper-militarization plans of the United States would exacerbate those problems. As the administering Power for more than six decades, the United States must bear responsibility for Guam’s tragic invisibility, which had resulted in inadequate public-health resources.
She recalled that, in 2005, the people of Guam had been notified through the media that some 7,000 United States marines were being transferred to the Territory from Okinawa, Japan. The United States Department of Defense had refused to give any further information on the matter, citing its plans as “tentative” until the release of a draft environmental impact statement. The people of Guam had been given only 90 days to study and comment on the 11,000-page document, she said. Six months after its release, the territorial government was struggling to get United States funding to deal with the anticipated impact on water, power and sewer infrastructure, as well as seaport facilities contained in the plans.
Emphasizing that it behoved the Special Committee to study the document, which was in direct violation of various international human rights instruments, including United Nations resolutions and declarations, she said the United States was making plans to dredge 287,327 square metres of coral reefs in Apra Harbour, Guam’s only natural deep-water harbour, which already contained high traces of arsenic, lead, copper, mercury and tin, among other harmful chemicals.
She went on to say that traditional lands comprising a recently designated national historic preservation site and sacred areas near Mount LamLam had been scheduled for land takeovers through coercive procedures or outright purchase. There was no indication that the United States would adhere to its responsibilities under United Nations resolutions and treaties, and Guam’s people would suffer irreparable damage as a result, she added.
She asked the Special Committee to declare, unequivocally, that the militarization of Guam was a major impediment to the Decolonization Declaration, and that Guam’s separate and distinct status under the United Nations Charter should exist until the Chamorro people had exercised their right to self-determination, without external interference. She asked the Special Committee to request a United Nations visiting mission to Guam as soon as possible.
JULIE GILGOFF, a Guam journalist, read out a statement on behalf of Senator Vicente Cabrera Pangelinan, saying that the people of Guam wanted to resolve their political relationship with the United States before ceding any more control of their lands and oceans, or the rights of the people. The Special Committee must advance the self-determination process immediately, because recent decisions by the administering Power diluted that right daily. The decision to increase the population base in Guam, a Non-Self-Governing Territory, contravened the principles of decolonization, and was being carried out in a disingenuous, secretive manner. In the United States own words, the planned increased military presence was the most massive military undertaking in the movement of military personnel since the Second World War.
She said that, in the past couple of years, the Senator’s office had been registering native inhabitants and their descendants. In an effort to increase the number of eligible voters for a decolonization plebiscite, the Senator had sponsored legislation and public law 30-102 to accept the registration rolls of participants in the land trust programme, which had the same eligibility criteria as the decolonization registry. Guam was seeking financial and technical resources from the administering authority to implement an education campaign to adequately inform the Chamorro about the plebiscite vote, she added.
Calling on the United Nations to give the petition to Member States, particularly the United States, and to demand the administering Power’s compliance with it, she said Guam’s inalienable right to self-determination must be upheld in the face of the threat posed by military expansion. The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) must immediately seek the full support of its Members and the international community. It must be allowed to send a visiting mission to Guam to affirm the wishes of the Chamorro people for a decolonization plebiscite and attest to the urgency of those wishes.
TRESSA DIAZ, Fuetsan Famalao’an, expressed concern about the impact of militarization on the island’s social infrastructure and the livelihood of its women and children. The United States Department of Defense was working behind closed doors to prepare a final impact statement, with view to adopt it at the end of August. Congress had refused to hold an open hearing to air the concerns of people whose lives would be affected forever by the military expansion, she said.
Emphasizing that the United States military had long since displaced generations of Chamorro families and replaced much of their agricultural, hunting and ranching activities with Government and military employment, she said many local people were unaware that Guam’s land, water and food were still contaminated. Mustard gas, PCBs and radiation continued to plague the area and its food supply, especially the waters off Orote Point in southern Guam and the surrounding Cocos Islands, due to military dumping. She urged the Special Committee to conduct a hearing on Guam to see the substandard living conditions of the island’s people. The United Nations must not allow more negative impacts to precede determination of the island’s political status.
Congressional appropriations and more military projects should be put on hold until past injustices were remedied, current adverse impacts were negated and the potential for future adverse impacts completely removed, she stressed, calling on the Special Committee to give top priority to the Chamorro people’s right to self-determination. It should investigate the administering Power’s compliance or non-compliance with its Charter obligations under Article 73 to promote the socio-economic development and preserve the cultural identity of Non-Self-Governing Territories. She also asked the Special Committee to recommend that the General Assembly pass a resolution authorizing a United Nations visiting mission to examine the impact of the military on the Special Committee’s work, as well as a resolution reaffirming that the Question of Guam was one of decolonization that remained to be completed.
ANDREA SANTOS, We Are Guahan, said her organization was deeply alarmed by the injustices proposed under United States militarization plans. The Guam Environmental Protection Agency had given the military’s impact statement its lowest possible rating, calling it the most poorly constructed impact statement it had ever evaluated. Noting that United States plans had rendered the people of Guam powerless over their destiny, she said: “The political freedom, environmental safety and cultural legacy we leave to future generations is one that is ultimately decided by those who view their home as nothing more than a gas station or military training ground in the Pacific.”
The basic necessities for maintaining or creating a self-sustaining, empowered, healthy population were threatened by the United States plans, she said, adding that militarization would create a water shortfall of 2.3 million gallons per day for people living outside the properties controlled by the Department of Defense. The island’s already underfunded and understaffed education system would not be able to absorb the projected influx of 8,000 students.
According to local economists, United States projections of economic gains due to militarization had been inflated by more than 118 per cent, she said. Projected tax revenues would not be enough to support the 80,000 new residents who would arrive in 2014. Moreover, already low living standards would deteriorate further, and the predicted housing shortage through 2014 would drive up house prices while increasing homelessness and overcrowding. The impact on the coral reefs protecting the island from storms and earthquakes would be impacted in an unprecedented way, she said, adding that noise and pollution would also increase. The decolonization of Guam should take place without the administering Power and with the cooperation of the United Nations, she stressed, calling for an investigation into the administering Power’s compliance with the Charter.
The representative of Bolivia asked the extent to which the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was known among Guam’s population.
Ms. CRISTOBAL said only a few people were aware of it, and for decades Guam’s residents had had a “colonial mindset”. They had only become aware of their island’s true status when the United States had announced plans for hyper-militarization, she said, emphasizing that it was imperative that the United Nations establish a presence in Guam and show its people that there was international concern to decolonize the Territory.
Mr. ST. AIMEE (Saint Lucia), Special Committee Chair, said United Nations agencies could disseminate information on the Declaration, adding that they had a mandate to provide assistance to local populations, such as the inhabitants of Guam.
Question of Turks and Caicos Islands
BENJAMIN ROBERTS, Turks and Caicos Forum, noted that, while the islands had experienced unprecedented growth in the last 40 years, rapid development had led to increased crime, social ills and corruption. Financial challenges had been caused by a lack of accountability on the part of elected officials and civil servants, as well as “horrendous oversight by the British”, he said, noting that since the administering Power’s installation of an interim territorial government, more people had experienced financial hardship and felt disempowered.
While the United Kingdom was not entirely to blame, he stressed that it had not taken the necessary actions to remedy the Territory’s situation, as it had initially proposed. Recently, the interim territorial government had contracted a constitutional consultant to catalogue the people’s ideas for constitutional reform. The resulting document would be a constitution that would in turn become the law of the land prior to the end of the two-year interim government period, making way for fresh elections, he said.
He said major concerns had emerged about the United Kingdom’s use of a constitutional consultant, with many fearing that she would answer only to her employer rather than champion the islanders’ interests. The United Kingdom could then simply decree the document, which would be a blatant violation of the people’s human rights. The document must not become law until it had been ratified by the elected territorial government, ensuring the consent of the people, he stressed.
WENDAL SWANN, Chairman of the All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform, Turks and Caicos Islands, said certain challenges facing the islanders were a result of the current constitutional state of affairs. The Governor was considered a “constitutional dictator”, holding all authority on the basis of a decision by the United Kingdom. By the same decision, parts of the Turks and Caicos constitution had been suspended, he said, adding that Robin Auld — a former Chief Justice appointed by the administering Power to conduct a Commission of Inquiry into possible ministerial corruption — had recommended the suspension without citing any perceived constitutional failures.
Following that recommendation, the United Kingdom had appointed Kate Sullivan to run consultations with the people, he continued. Referring to certain provisions of the constitution that would definitely be changed, Ms. Sullivan had excluded the media from her meetings, thus proving the process of consultation to be “more a sham than anything reliable”. He stressed that, unless such a process was challenged, its acceptance by the administering Power as a legitimate consultation with the people would nullify their voices. To prevent that, the Territory’s political leaders had appointed an independent commission to reflect the views of the people. The Governor did not and could not represent the interests of the people, he emphasized, pointing out that the suspension of the constitution had only served to make the people leaderless.
When asked how elections could be held without a constitution, Mr. Swann reiterated that public consultations were being held, and it was to be hoped that afterwards, the United Kingdom would consider the independent Commission’s report as well as Ms. Sullivan’s. Noting that the current constitution was simply an order in Council, he said he hoped all parties involved could eventually accept a new one. With regard to the elections, Mr. Roberts called on the Special Committee to provide the Territory with assistance to ensure that the new constitution was ratified by the people. The Special Committee’s support in that matter could help prevent an undesired decree by the United Kingdom, he said.
Question of United States Virgin Islands
GERARD LUZ AMWUR JAMES, President of the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the United States Virgin Islands, updated the Special Committee on the Territory’s constitution-making efforts, saying it was making its fifth attempt to draft a locally written charter to replace the 1954 Revised Organic Act, which had been written by the administering Power and served as the governing document in lieu of a constitution. The proposed constitution had been adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention last May following extensive fact gathering in public meetings throughout the Territory.
The proposed constitution had been adopted by the required two-thirds majority vote, and had been forwarded in December to the administering Power, he said. Written under the present non self-governing territorial status, the document was not intended to alter that status, but rather to organize “internal governance arrangements”, he said, adding that he had recently led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to present the document to two congressional committees, followed by a presentation of the administering Power’s views. Congress had asked the Convention to reconvene and consider the administering Power’s objections, he said.
He recalled that, during his statement to the United States Senate’s Energy and Natural Resource Committee, he had noted that the proposed constitution had been drafted by and for the people of the United States Virgin Islands, and was not a proposal to govern other people. Several negative comments had been made about certain provisions of the document, he noted, by people who had not “worn the shoes” of those who had suffered the indignity of being externally governed. They had not examined the evidence that had led the Convention to adopt the necessary provisions to maintain generations of local people working hard to own property that would provide life for themselves and their descendants.
The critics had not reviewed the evidence that showed that those with Virgin Islands ancestry, primarily people of African descent, had been devastated by the administering Power’s lack of support, he continued. For example, half of the local population had left the Territory, an exodus that must stop, he said, stressing that the extinction of the native people was not an acceptable option. Young people were leaving because their parents could not afford to pass on to them homes and businesses that had been in the family for decades. Home values had increased exponentially due to external factors, causing tax hikes well beyond the ability of local families to pay.
One of the objections to the proposed constitution had been over any meaningful reference to the native population, he recalled. However, such recognition should not cause suspicion or be challenged as improper, since it was the administering Power that had recognized and defined the native population, pursuant to the 1917 treaty transferring the Territory from Denmark to the United States. Subsequent citizenship and nationality laws of the administering Power imposed in 1927 and 1940 confirmed that recognition, he said, adding that the provisions of the proposed constitution granting certain benefits to the native population were consistent with policies, agreements and treaties executed by the administering Power. The document went further, however, by embracing all those born in the Territory, including the children of people born elsewhere who had made the Virgin Islands their home.
A key area of difference between the Convention and the administering Power had been over the local people’s ownership of the Territory’s marine resources, he recalled, noting that the administering Power regarded the islands’ natural resources as its own. That was inconsistent with relevant General Assembly resolutions and with the Law of the Sea, which had affirmed for decades that the ownership, control and disposal of natural resources, including marine resources, lay with the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territory in question. That inconsistency must be reconciled as a matter of priority in the United Nations.