On 30 March 2021, independent UN experts made public a joint allegation letter (JAL) submitted by three UN Special Rapporteurs to the US Government concerning ongoing human rights violations suffered by the indigenous CHamoru people of Guam at the hands of the United States government and military. The letter highlights the lack of free, prior and informed consent afforded to Guam’s indigenous inhabitants in connection to the ongoing military expansion, and “express additional concerns that the Government of the United States of America has not supported self-determination for the Chamorro people of Guam”. The letter issued followed submissions by UNPO and Blue Ocean Law on behalf of the CHamoru people and Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian (PLSR), a community-based organization dedicated to defending sacred sites and protecting Guam’s natural and cultural resources.
The response of the US government to the communication of the Special Rapporteurs on 21 October 2021, rather than genuinely addressing the Special Rapporteur’s explicit concerns, presents a categorical denial of an indigenous people’s right to self-determination. It is strikingly clear throughout the United States response that indigenous and minority rights protections do not apply in Guam. Likewise, Davis v Guam saw the United States Supreme Court refuse to grant the native inhabitants of Guam a say in their political status, the United States has made clear again throughout this letter that it has no intention of facilitating the CHamoru people’s right of self-determination.
Throughout the letter, the United States continually attempts to downplay its colonial relationship with Guam, white-washing guilefully its history of constitutionally embedded discrimination and disenfranchisement. Recognizing Guam’s status as a U.S-administered, non-self-governing territory both under domestic and international law, the response still paradoxically asserts that “Guam is governed by Guamanians”. To be clear, Guam remains today one of the 17 non-self-governing territories recognized by the UN, with the United States, as Guam’s administering power, having made inconsequential progress in terminating this status.
Assertions that Guam is self-governing not only contradict its de jure status, but also show a disconnect to sentiments on the ground. As expressed by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues following its mission to the United States in November 2021: “As federal laws are superior to the local laws of Guam and other territories, the local people feel powerless. I met with people who expressed great concern that they have no control over their society, their way of life, their land, culture and heritage”. Attempts administered by local government to effectuate CHamoru self-determination within the US legal system have been thwarted time after time.
Furthermore, the conflation of the CHamoru people with all other Guamanian residents presents another troubling aspect of the response, illustrating a fundamental misunderstanding of the very nature of minority and indigenous rights. That there exists no protections covering the right to self-determination of the CHamoru people independently of the right to self-determination that exist for the entirety of the population of Guam runs in clear contravention of the international system governing the rights vested in colonized peoples. The CHamoru people of Guam have multilayered rights that are to be protected: as colonized people, as citizens of the United States, as minorities in the overall demographic makeup of the United States, and as indigenous people. The United States cannot selectively choose which rights it will recognize and apply.
The explicit assertion that the right of self-determination can only be exercised by the people of Guam as a whole without distinct consideration of the CHamoru population also fails to take into account the United States’ immigration policy that has allowed an unnecessarily high number of permanent immigrants into the island, contravening international self-determination principles regarding immigration to non-self-governing territories. Migration policies to assume control over the peoples of occupied territories or to assimilate their populations is a tactic of control and repression historically employed by colonial regimes. As seen in territories such as Tibet and the Crimean Peninsula, policies of population transfer continue to be utilized by authoritarian states at the grave detriment of minority and indigenous peoples. The United States neglecting its demographic changes orchestrated in Guam when discussing questions of self-determination for the CHamoru people not only obstructs its international obligations domestically, but represents a harmful precedent in justifying similar tool of oppression around the world.
The United States has - from the initial occupation up until the present day - continually committed acts contravening the CHamoru people’s inalienable rights. The letter makes efforts to recognize and acknowledge its past colonial wrongdoings and current obligations under international law, but ultimately falls short in providing any genuine pathways to remediation. As the administering power of Guam, the United States is obligated under international law to support the self-determination of the CHamoru people, but must not dictate the manner in which such self-determination is exercised.
The submission to the Special Rapporteur is specific to the ongoing human rights violations under U.S. colonization and militarization and the continued disregard for the CHamoru people’s right to free, prior, and informed consent in regard to the transfer of thousands of military personnel and the construction of the Live-Fire Training Range Complex and other installations on sites of great significance to the CHamoru people.
Quote from PLSR:
“The response from the Biden administration emphasizes our colonial realities and blatantly disregards the enduring violations of our indigenous and human rights here in Guam. Our people have never been at the center of the planning for the transfer of U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam and years of protest and opposition continue to go ignored by the U.S Government and the U.S military. As our island continues to struggle in the face on the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic, the U.S. military has pushed forward its destructive activities including the construction of the Live Fire Training Range Complex and new Marine base and they continue to carry out these actions without sufficient consultation from our community and in complete disregard to our right to free, prior, and informed consent. These actions have led to the desecration of at least 26 ancestral burials, the destruction of thousands of endangered native plants and trees, and the magnified vulnerability of our islands sole source aquifer. Furthermore, the U.S. Air Force plans to conduct open burning and open detonation along Guam’s northern coastline, releasing hazardous toxic waste near our ocean and just above our sole source aquifer and adjacent to the island’s two most populated villages. Such actions will forever impact fishing grounds and contaminate ancestral lands. Our organization has dedicated countless hours and resources to fight against the destruction and desecration of our lands, waters, and all that we hold sacred at the very hands of the United States government.”
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