23 June 2010

US Virgin Islands Constitutional Convention President Updates United Nations

Statement by Gerard Luz Anwar James II
Fifth Constitutional Convention of the U.S. Virgin Islands
to the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization
United Nations Headquarters
New York, N.Y.

22nd June 2010

Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, members of the Special Committee,

I am Gerard Luz Anwur James II, President of the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It is my distinct honor to address this Committee to provide an update to the United Nations on the drafting of the Constitution of the U.S. Virgin Islands since I addressed the Fourth Committee on behalf of the Constitutional Convention last October.

As the Committee is aware, this is our fifth attempt to draft a locally written Constitution to replace the Revised Organic Act of 1954 which was written for the territory by the administering Power, and serves as the governing document of the territory in lieu of a Constitution. The present proposed constitution was adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention last May following an extensive fact gathering process included public meetings throughout the territory where testimony was presented from hundreds of persons, and formal presentations, background documents and position papers were reviewed.

Following this extensive process, our proposed Constitution was adopted by the required two/thirds majority vote of the 30 delegates, and presented to the elected governor of the territory who expressed misgivings with certain provisions of the text. Contrary to law, the Governor initially refused to forward the proposed Constitution to the administering Power, and only complied last December following a decision of our courts. Needless to say, this delayed the process significantly, along with the insufficiency of territorial government resources available to the Convention which did not allow for adequate public education. We acknowledge, once again, the UN resolutions on the US Virgin Islands which support such assistance from the administering power and relevant United Nations bodies, and remain hopeful that such assistance will be forthcoming.

It is important to emphasize at this point that a Constitution written by the territory under the present non self-governing territorial status is not intended to alter that status, but merely meant to organize our “internal governance arrangements.” This was accurately reflected in the Omnibus Resolution on the small territories adopted by the General Assembly last December, and hopefully the resolution of this Committee can be further updated with the information we are providing to you today. As I pointed out to the Fourth Committee last October, a constitution adopted by the people of the territory in referendum, under our present political status, would not serve as a basis for removing the territory from the United Nations list, since the status of the territory would not have changed.

Our proposed Constitution acknowledges this fact explicitly, stating that the adoption of the constitution “shall not preclude or prejudice the further exercise by the people…of the right to self-determination regarding the attainment of a permanent political status.” Consistent with this understanding, our proposed constitution has a relevant provision which would create a political status mechanism to examine future political status options, to convene following the entering into force of our Constitution.

Mr. Chairman,

It is within this context that our proposed Constitution was submitted to the administering Power which has the authority to determine what additional powers and competencies are allowable under our present non self-governing status. Since the submission, the administering Power has issued a memorandum outlining its views on our proposed Constitution, including its objections to specific provisions which would grant additional autonomy to the territory in a number of areas. Our Convention subsequently issued a reply to the administering Power memorandum addressing the objections raised, and providing sound historical and legal precedent for the retention of the provisions in the proposed constitution.

In this light, I had the honor to lead a delegation of the Fifth Constitutional Convention to Washington this Spring to present the proposed Constitution before two U.S. Congressional committees. A presentation by the administering Power expressing its views was also made at that time. I have held subsequent consultations with U.S. Congressional officials since that time, and most recently, the Convention has been asked by the Congress to re-convene to consider the administering Power objections. I will endeavor to keep the United Nations informed of new developments.

Mr. Chairman,

I wish to emphasize several points which I had made during my May 19th statement to the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on behalf of the Convention:

* The proposed constitution was drafted by the people and for the people of the US.Virgin Islands. It is not a proposal to govern any other people. A number of negative comments have been ade on certain provisions of the document by people who have not worn the shoes of those who have suffered the indignation of being governed externally. They have not examined the evidence that led the Convention to adopt provisions in this constitution that are so necessary to keep life going for those whose parents, grandparents, and great-grand parents have worked hard in order to own property that would provide life for themselves and their future generations. The critics have not reviewed the evidence that shows that those whose ancestry lies in the Virgin Islands, primarily of African descent, have been devastated by the lack of support. A few examples illustrate the context in which I address you today:

* Half of the population of the U.S. Virgin Islands has left the territory. This exodus must stop, or the Virgins Islands’ life blood will cease to exist. Extinction of the native people of the Virgin Islands is not an acceptable option.

* The life blood of any people lies in its young. The young people of the Virgin Islands are leaving because their parents cannot pass on to them the home or business that had been in their family for decades. The values of the homes in the Virgin Islands have vastly increased due to external factors, causing the taxes on the ancestral home to be well beyond the ability of many families to pay. Their homes, as well as their businesses, have been subsequently taken from them.

* One of the objections to our proposed Constitution opposes any meaningful reference to the native population. Such recognition should not bring suspicion or challenge as being improper, however, since it was the administering Power itself which recognized and defined the native population, pursuant to the 1917 treaty transferring the territory from Denmark to the United States. Subsequent laws of the administering Power in 1927 and 1940 dealing with citizenship and nationality confirmed this recognition, and other laws conferred a distinct legal status with certain rights, which have yet to be realized.

Thus, the provisions in our proposed Constitution that afford certain benefits to the native population is consistent with- and in accordance with- policies, agreements and treaties executed by the administering Power which are designed to provide for self-government, and preservation of culture and land of native populations under its administration. Even as we are confident that our position is on sound legal ground – that, in fat, we are “a recognized people” - the provisions in our proposed Constitution embrace all persons born in the territory, including the children born of parents born elsewhere, and who have made the US Virgin Islands their home.

Mr. Chairman,

My final point relates to the provisions of our proposed constitution which provide for the ownership by the people of the territory of their marine resources. This is one of the key points of difference between our Convention and the administering Power, which regards the natural resources as their own. This is inconsistent with the relevant resolutions of the General Assembly, and of the Law of the Sea, which have reaffirmed, for decades, that the ownership, control and disposal of the natural resources, including marine resources, lie with the people of the non self-governing territory.

This issue of natural resources is but one of a number of inconsistencies between the resolutions of the General Assembly and the unilateral applicability of administering Power laws to the territories. This inconsistency must be reconciled, as a matter of priority of the United Nations.

In conclusion, on behalf of the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the U.S. Virgin Islands, I wish to thank the distinguished members of the Special Committee on Decolonization for this opportunity to update you on developments in our constitutional process.

I am prepared to answer any questions which the distinguished delegates may wish to pose.

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