18 November 2009

US Congressional Committee Approves Self-Determination Assistance to Territories

Pacific News Center
Guahan (Guam)
19th November 2009

Guam - The House Committee on Natural Resources has approved a bill that would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to extend technical assistance grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program on Guam. It will now go onto the full house for approval. The bill was sponsored by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo.

In a release, Bordallo says the full committee approved her amended bill that would allow for Interior to also extend assistance to American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands for their own political status education programs.

The amended version of H.R. 3940 was voted on by unanimous consent.
The mark up of H.R. 3940 comes two weeks after Congresswoman Bordallo chaired a hearing on the bill in the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife.
H.R. 3940 may be taken up for consideration in the near future.

In a release, “The full committee’s approval of H.R. 3940 signals that political status education for non-self-governing territories is a priority for the committee that has jurisdiction over the territories."

"The amended bill now includes authorization for political status education grants for Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands at the request of Congressman Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa and Congresswoman Donna Christensen of the U.S. Virgin Islands."

"While each territory may approach this issue in a manner appropriate to their circumstances, we can all agree that there is a federal responsibility to assist the territories in self-determination, and that this process cannot be successful without a robust political status education component."

"I also appreciate the testimony of our local leaders including Governor Felix Camacho, who testified in person at the hearing, and Speaker Judith Won Pat and Senator Ben Pangelinan who provided written testimonies. This bill was also supported by a coalition of ten organizations on Guam that support decolonization. The testimonies provided by our local leaders and our indigenous rights community representatives helped to make the case of the importance of a path to decolonization for the people of the U.S. territories that are still listed by the United Nations as non-self-governing." (emphasis added)

"The Obama Administration’s support for this political status education bill was also encouraging, and I will be requesting Assistant Secretary Tony Babauta’s leadership to help Guam and the other non-self-governing territories with this process. I will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress on the issue of political development for our community, and I am hopeful that this bill will help to provide resources to Guam and the other non-self-governing territories for political status education.”

Editor's Note: The Bordallo legislation was also supported by organisations of civil society in Guahan (Guam) which forwarded collective testimony to the US Congress in favour of the measure. Their presentation in support of the bill provides important context to this initiative, and should serve as a guide to the implementation of the measure.

It is to be noted that a number of their recommended amendments have been included in the final version of the bill adopted by consensus in the House Natural Resources Committee, such as the expression of support for the inclusion of the other two US-administered territories presently on the United Nations List of Non Self-Governing Territories, namely American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands. This broader focus is highly commendable, and also has the effect of  heightening its importance as the measure proceeds further through the legislative process in Washington. Congress may now recognise that Puerto Rico is not the only US-administered territory in need of  a self-determination process.

The active participation of civil society sector in the territories is critical to the successful implementation of this measure to ensure an unbiased and fair process of self-determination based on the legitimate status options of political equality confirmed year after year by the United Nations with United States concurrence. The recent forum held in St. Croix by the United Nations Association of the Virgin Islands last month (October) initiated an important public dialogue in that Caribbean territory - for the first time in over a decade - on the political future of that US-administered territory, and  American Samoa's political status commission report completed several years ago and the subsequent initiatives being undertaken by the Governor of that territory, are  further illustration.

OTR will shortly publish the relevant excerpts of the United Nations Fourth Committee resolutions concerning the self-determination of the territories adopted as recently as last month (October).  

The joint testimony of the Guahan (Guam) civil society follows:

Joint Testimony in Support of H.R. 3940
November 11, 2009On behalf of the following organizations:

Chamorro Studies Association
Chamoru Cultural Development and Research Institute
Commission on Decolonization: Independence Task Force
Guahån Coalition for Peace and Justice
The Guahån Youth
Guam Community College's Center for Civic Engagement
I Nasion Chamoru
National Association of Social Workers: Guam Chapter
Taotaomo’na Native Rights Group

The political and social climate of Guam is changing rapidly, yet the island’s people have yet to determine whether or not this change is the future they desire. With an unresolved political status, the people of Guam have been denied the human right to determine their future. This human right to self-determination can no longer be ignored. Therefore, our non-governmental organizations have come together to support H.R. 3940, which “authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to extend grants and other assistance to facilitate a political status public education program for the people of Guam.” We support this bill for the following reasons:

• As noted by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo in her remarks introducing this bill, the political status of Guam remains unresolved. Over the course of Guam’s 111-year relationship with the United States, only few significant changes have been made with regards to the island’s political status. These changes, however, have not been sufficient, as Guam remains in an ambiguous political position, without a path to self-determination. Guam is an organized, unincorporated territory – it belongs to the United States, but it is not a part of the nation.

• The people of Guam have expressed their desire for a new political status in the past; however, our aspirations have not been realized despite efforts by Guam’s representatives, the administration and Congress. H.R. 3940 could provide an important catalyst in terms of reinvigorating the process of self-determination on Guam; first by helping to educate its people about the options available to them in their political evolution, and secondly by placing the issue of self-determination itself back on the Federal agenda in Washington D.C.

• To our knowledge this is the first time that a Guam Delegate has sought to clarify the role and responsibility of the Department of Interior to ensure the economic, social and political development of Guam. As Bordallo notes, federal funding for political status education is not without precedent. We support this bill because federal assistance for political status education has never been provided to Guam despite the legal and moral responsibility of the United States, as a signatory to the United Nation’s charter, to support the movement of its non-self-governing territories towards full self-government via a referendum consistent with international standards for decolonization.

• In recent years the United States Federal government has drifted towards disengagement and silence as to its position on territorial self-determination, and has both metaphorically and physically removed itself from its seat of obligation in the United Nations. This bill can be an important step towards helping the United States towards charting a clear and transparent course of action in order to fulfill its legal and moral responsibility as the administering power of a number of non-self-governing territories as mandated by the United Nations.

• To this end, we recommend that the bill be revised so that the Department of Interior may extend such funding and assistance to American Samoa and the US Virgin Islands, whose political status also remains unresolved.

• At present, the Guam initiated Commission on Decolonization for the Implementation and Exercise of Chamorro Self-Determination (1GCA Chapter 21) has yet to undertake its mission due to a lack of funding for a public information program.

• We believe that the unprecedented military buildup which has been initiated in Guam poses a serious threat to the realization of political self-determination. The plans contained in the bilateral agreement signed by the United States and Japan to relocate US Marines from Okinawa to Guam by 2014 makes the need for political status education funding necessary for this purpose, and a realistic time table for a self-determination plebiscite more critical than ever.

• We believe that the exercise of our human right to self-determination can only be achieved through the concerted and coordinated efforts of the people of Guam, our elected leaders, the federal government and the United Nations. To this end, we are mobilized and committed as non-governmental organizations to seek and support such multilevel action.

• While it is the obligation of the United States, as the administering power that placed Guam in its current political status, to fund a political status education program, it is important to note that the materials and parameters of the program must be made and decided by the people of Guam. The U.S. is mandated under international law to monetarily support and respect the self-determination of the peoples of its non-self governing territories; however, the U.S. must not impose its desired path on the people. Instead, we recommend that Congress make funding for this program available to an unbiased institution like the University of Guam, which can design and carry out an effective and relevant education program.

We commend Congresswoman Bordallo for placing this issue on the Congressional agenda at this critical moment in the shared history of the United States and our island.
We also urge Congresswoman Bordallo and all members of the Committee on Natural Resources to take every opportunity to impress upon all members of Congress the essential links between any plan for increased militarization of our island and the unresolved issue of political status.

In his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama committed to supporting “full self-government and self-determination for the people of Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, and their right to decide their future status.” While we believe that this bill can be a crucial first step towards realizing this commitment, as the United States moves to increase its military presence in this region of the world, it is imperative that the issue of self-determination and political status remain front and center, not an afterthought.

We believe the success of any plan to position Guam as “The Tip of the Spear” for US forward defense in the region must follow, not precede, resolution of Guam’s political status, and the fulfillment of the United States’ legal and moral obligation to promote the inalienable right to self-determination of the people of Guam. This will ensure that any militarization which takes place in Guam or other territories will be based on the principles of genuine security, and on respect for human needs and rights.

Si Yu’us Ma’åse