Monday, October 23, 2017

My Testimony Before the UN Fourth Committee

Testimony to the Fourth Committee of the United Nations
From Michael Lujan Bevacqua, Ph.D.
Co-Chairperson, Independence for Guam Task Force
October 3, 2017

Buenas yan håfa adai todus hamyo ko’lo’ña si Maga’taotao Rafael Ramirez Carreño i gehilo’ para i kumuiten Mina’Kuåtro, gi este na gefpå’go na ha’åni. Magof hu na gaige yu’ guini på’go para bai hu kuentusi hamyo yan kuentusiyi i taotao Guåhan put i halacha na sinisedi gi islan-måmi. (Hello to all of you on this beautiful day. I am grateful to be here now so that I can speak to you, in particular H.E. Rafael Ramirez Carreño, Chair of the C24, and speak on behalf of the people of Guam about recent events that transpired in our island home.)

My name is Michael Lujan Bevacqua and I am a professor of Chamorro Studies at the University of Guam. I am also the co-chair for the Independence for Guam Task Force, a community outreach organization tasked with educating our island about the possibilities should we at last achieve self-determination and become an independent country of our own. I have testified before this body once before in 2007 and I have provided interventions as an academic and expert on affairs in Guam to the Committee of 24 in its most recent regional seminars in Ecuador (2013), Nicaragua (2015 and 2016) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (2017).

Today I will discuss the ways in which the administering power of our island, the United States has not faithfully sought to fulfill its sacred trust to assist Guam and in particular its indigenous people the Chamorros, on a process towards decolonization. This has manifested most prominently around the administering power ignoring resolutions and calls from the United Nations to refrain from implementing immigration and militarization policies in their territories that would likely become impediments towards meaningful decolonization.  

Guam has been a territory of the United States for 119 years now and on the list of non-self-governing territories for 71. The administering power’s policies have continually delayed, deferred or minimized efforts by local activists and the Guam government to make progress in this regard. As we come to the close of the Third International Decade of the Eradication of Colonialism, it is more important than ever that the administering powers be willing to work with their territories, other nations and the UN to bring about an end to this wicked period of human history. This can only happen if administering powers are willing to cooperate and also recognize that certain policies delay or inhibit these efforts.

Calls by the UN on administering powers to not pursue particular immigration or militarization policies in their territories represent one of the guiding principles of he UN. Namely that international cooperation and restraint in the name of peace and the protection of the most foundational rights that humans have come to recognize and cherish, must take priority over narrow national interests. Should administering powers implement policies that increase the number of settlers in a non-self-governing territory or increases its military presence, it creates the conditions by which that same administering power will resist fulfilling its sacred duty to support decolonization. It may claim that such a process cannot happen because of new populations that have settled in the non-self-governing territory or because of the role the territory now plays in its strategic interests.

Guam has been used as a port of entry to the United States since World War II and in that time tens of thousands of migrants from Asia and other islands in Micronesia have made the island their home. In 1946 when Guam was listed with the UN by the US, the population of the island close to 20,00 with 90% being Chamorro. Today Chamorros have become a minority and now represent 37% out of a total population of 166,000.

All on Guam, Chamorros included are proud of the multicultural tapestry that our island has become. We do not begrudge anyone who came to Guam seeking a new or a different life. But the government of the administering power has recently come to use the diversity of the island as a means of depriving the Chamorro people of their basic human rights. In the past year federal courts and agencies have begun to try to erase the rights of Chamorros in their own land. This began in March when a federal court ruled that any decolonization plebiscite must include the participation of all US citizens on island, even if they have only been on the island for a few days or weeks. Current Government of Guam law had sought to limit participation in this non-binding albeit important plebiscite to native inhabitants. The Government of Guam is currently appealing this decision in US federal courts. 

Secondly, just this past week the Government of Guam is being sued by the US Department of Justice in an attempt to eliminate a Guam program meant to provide land to landless Chamorros. This program, the Chamorro Land Trust was created as an attempt to fix the injustices created when the US military displaced thousands of Chamorros in the years following World War II. In both examples the US government claims that these activities or programs violate the US Constitution and that the only rights allowed in Guam for Chamorros are those determined by the US Congress.

The problem with this position should be apparent to anyone, even absent any legal training.  In general, a process of decolonization that must follow the rules of the colonizer is not decolonization: it is an extension of colonization. It is a transformation of colonization into a seemingly different form, while protecting the same structures of power and inequality.

A similar situation has emerged in terms of Guam’s military value to the US. Since WWII the island has been referred to as Fortress Guam, an unsinkable aircraft carrier, the world’s largest gas station and most recently The Tip of America’s Spear. With current proposals to transfer US Marines stationed in Okinawa to Guam and the construction of new training areas in cultural and environmentally treasured sites, the US has been keen on sharpening its spear.

Taking advantage of Guam’s non-self-governing status, the US enjoys Guam’s harbor, airways, location and proximity to Asia, without the people having any representation in the halls of Congress or these stories chambers at the UN. It is part of Guam’s strategic value to the US, is that it has no voting politicians to meddle or foreign governments to interfere.

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally in particular territories or something acknowledged by the administering powers themselves. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all administering powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to deemphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. Current proposals by the administering power to expand their training areas and in the process destroy or cut off public access to environmentally and culturally rich locations are exactly the type of activities the United Nations has long cautioned against.

In light of recent threats to Guam from North Korea, we must also recall that the United Nations has long called upon member states such as the US to refrain from using their colonies in offensive wars or aggression actions against other nations as could lead to retaliation against the people in the colony and could also potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization.

Community members in Guam have regularly informed the US Department of Defense about these concerns and the way their attempts to increase their military presence on Guam affect the basic human rights of Chamorros. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

The most compelling evidence for why military value and militarization negatively impacts decolonization efforts can be found in this building and this body. Namely the flags of those countries from Micronesia that can be found here and those that cannot. Guam’s strategic military value has long affected what we can and cannot get from our administering power. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

The more the US increases its presence, the troops it moves, buildings it constructs and vehicles it stations, the less likely it is to take seriously its obligation, its sacred trust to faithfully assist the colonized people through their process of decolonization. The more it militarizes, the less likely it is to take seriously its own alleged ideals of liberty, democracy or freedom.

In conclusion, I offer the following two recommendations.

1. Considering the escalating tensions between the United States and North Korea, which continue to put the people of Guam's lives at risk and a lack of meaningful engagement from the United States in Guam's decolonization process, it is imperative for the United Nations to send a UN visiting mission to Guam as was requested by Guam Governor Eddie Calvo in a letter dated August 1, 2017 to Chairman Ramirez Carreño. The UN must use its influence to engage the United States in Guam's decolonization process in a way that ensures genuine decolonization and cooperation. 

2. We offer our support of the draft resolution on the Question of Guam and ask that this body approve it in full with the inclusion of language specifically condemning the serious, irrevocable damage that the administering power is planning in the Northern part of Guam to build facilities and firing ranges for U.S. Marines. The U.S. intends to destroy over 1,000 acres of limestone forest, prevent access to an incredibly significant historic, cultural and sacred site, and will contaminate the island's largest source of drinking water for their military interests and without our consent. This threatens our natural resources and the health of our community and violates international law and our human rights. We urge you to take a strong position against these destructive plans. 

Si Yu’us Ma’åse para i tiempon-miyu.

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