The United Nations (U.N.) Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) at its Seventh Session held in New York ended its two-week session on 2nd May 2008 with the adoption of recommendations to implement the U.N.’s dormant decolonisation agenda. These recommendations were based on the conclusions of the half-day discussion on the Pacific region where a host of non-governmental organisations expressed concerns for the lack of implementation of the United Nations decolonisation mandate, and offered solutions to jump-start the process.
Relevant Recommendations on Decolonisation adopted at the Seventh Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
• The Permanent Forum recommends that an expert seminar be held, without financial implications, and invites the participation of the Committee on the Elimination of racial Discrimination and the Special Committee on Decolonisation to examine the impact of the United Nations decolonisation process on indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories which are now or have been listed on the United Nations list of Non Self-Governing Territories. The Permanent Forum requests that independent experts and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples be invited to participate in the seminar. Furthermore, the Forum requests that indigenous peoples under non self-governing territories status also be invited.
• The Permanent Forum expresses its concern for the human rights of indigenous peoples in the non self-governing territories in the Pacific region and calls on the Human Rights Council to designate a Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Indigenous Peoples of those Territories.
• The Permanent Forum invites the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples to examine and report on the situation of the human rights of indigenous peoples in non self-governing territories of the Pacific region and urges relevant States to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur for that purpose.
• The Permanent Forum invites the Chairman of the Special Committee (on Decolonisation) to report on the decolonisation process within the Pacific region to the Permanent Forum at its eighth session in 2009.
The momentum of the successful Pacific initiative leading to the adoption of the Permanent Forum recommendations was given great impetus following the adoption by the by the United Nations General Assembly on 13th December 2007 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Article 3 of the Declaration confirmed that “Indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination (and) by virtue of that right freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” Article 4 of the Declaration indicates that in exercising this right, indigenous peoples “have the right to autonomy or self-government in matters related to their internal and local affairs, as well as ways and means for financing their autonomous functions.”
An extensive paper presented to the Seventh Session of the Forum by Mililani Trask, Director of the Indigenous World Association and a coalition of Pacific indigenous organisations, expressed the dilemma faced by indigenous peoples over United Nations reluctance to enact the measures its General Assembly had adopted for decades in the areas of self-determination and decolonisation. The paper, which was also endorsed by a number of Caribbean indigenous organisations, was published in its entirety in the May edition Overseas Territories Report (OTR), and can be obtained from OTR at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In her statement, Director Trask pointed out that ‘international law concedes that the peoples of the non self-governing territories are denied the most important of all human rights, the right of self-governance,” and that (U.N. member) “states were to assist these peoples in attaining a full measure of self-government.” She recalled that since the Cold War ended, only on non self-governing territory (Timor Leste) had achieved this full measure of self-government, and that a number of territories “remain in a state of political disenfranchisement as colonies of the Administering States.” In this connection, Trask listed Guam and American Samoa under United States administration, Kanaki – New Caledonia under French jurisdiction, Pitcairn under United Kingdom control, and Tokelau under New Zealand supervision as indications of the existing colonial arrangements formally recognised by the United Nations. Also recognised by the U.N. are the Caribbean colonial territories including the U.S. Virgin Islands under U.S. administration, and Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands and Anguilla under United Kingdom jurisdiction.
Trask also made reference to territories such as French Occupied Polynesia, Easter Island, Hawaii and Alaska which had been removed from UN list of non self-governing territories, but whose situation nevertheless had been raised both in the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and in the Human Rights Council. She made specific reference to the failure of the U.N. Decolonisation Committee to respond to requests from the CERD for information related to racism in the territories “for 19 consecutive years,” and commented that “it appears that we are dealing with a situation of institutionalized racism.”
The Pacific statement went on to recount the different U.N. bodies which have ignored the legislative mandate from the General Assembly on decolonisation including the Special Committee on Decolonisation, various specialised agencies and technical organs, and other U.N. bodies. A plan of implementation to this effect had even been endorsed repeatedly by the U.N. General Assembly, but its implementation has been ignored by the wider U.N. system, giving substance to the adage that “all U.N. resolutions are equal, but some resolutions are more equal than others.” The Pacific statement recalled that “for ten years, the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had repeatedly requested that the (U.N.) Secretariat of the Special Committee produce reports related to the implementation of the U.N. decolonisation resolutions,” pursuant to repeated resolutions of the General Assembly. The statement went on to recount in detail the many failures of the U.N. system to live up to its international obligations.
The Pacific statement also brought to the attention of the meeting that the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII) had adopted in 2004 a recommendation which “request(ed) the Special Rapporteur on the human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples (to) undertake a study on the United Nations decolonisation process and the Special Committee on Decolonisation to assess its historical and current impact on the human rights of indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories.”
The 2004 recommendation of the Permanent Forum also “request(ed) the U.N. Secretary-General to undertake a mid-decade review on the Second Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism to determine whether substantial progress (had) been made in achieving the goals of the Second Decade and to identify proposals for addressing obstacles in achieving (those goals).” Similar to the recommendations in the UN General Assembly resolutions, these decisions of the Permanent Forum have not been undertaken.
Other statements supported the concerns expressed by Ms. Trask. Speaking on behalf of the Pacific Caucus, Malia Nobrega, a member of the Indigenous World Association, Na Koa Ikaika o ka Lahui Hawaki’i and the Waikiki Hawaiian Civic Club focused considerable attention on human rights issues. In this connection, she noted that “much of the human rights deprivations in the Pacific (loss of cultural integrity, inability to protect our ancestor’s remains, alienation from traditional lands, etc.) are inextricably linked to our international personalities as non self-governing territories (both presently and formerly listed NSGTs).”
Ms. Nobrega ermphasised that “the human rights ‘situation’ in these territories is abhorrent and serves as the most powerful challenge to U.N. legitimacy.” She expressed deep concern that “the U.N. engages in ‘colonial accommodation,’ as it is well known that the Special Committee on Decolonisation remains at best lamentably ineffective and at worst an active participant in the systematic denial of the indigenous peoples of the non self-governing territories to the most basic human right of self-determination.”
Kai’opua Fyfe, Director of the Koani Foundation, also addressed the Permanent Forum on behalf of the Hawai’i Caucus and Affiliated Organisations on the same matter. Director Fyfe began with emphasizing that the objective of his presentation was to “overcome the obstacles that have blocked progress in achieving the goals of the Second Decade of Eradicating Colonialism, particularly as they applied to Hawai’i Ka Pae’ Aina.” He proceeded with a chronology of events related to the history of the annexation of Hawai’i including its placement on the U.N. list of non self-governing territories in 1946, and the events which led to the removal of the territory from the U.N. list in 1959 – one year before the adoption by the U.N. General Assembly of the landmark Decolonisation Declaration. The presentation favoured the re-inscription of Hawai’i to the U.N. list of non self-governing territories. Reference was also made to U.S. Public Law 103-150 of 1993 in which the U.S. officially apologized for its 1893 overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, and to the shadow report on the violation of human rights of Native Hawaiians submitted to the 86th Session of the Human Rights Committee “refuting assertions by the USA that it had fulfilled its international obligations regarding the Kingdom of Hawai’i.”
Director Fyfe advised that the Human Rights Committee in its concluding observations and recommendations on the adherence to the right to self-determination under Article 1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) expressed “regret that it had not received sufficient information on the consequences on the situation of Indigenous Hawaiian Peoples for the illegal overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii which resulted in the suppression of the inherent sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.” He also made reference to the petition of the Koani Foundation presented to the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) on the recommendation of the experts of the Human Rights Committee.
Yet another statement from the Pacific was presented by Julian Aguon on behalf of the Indigenous Chomoru People’s Nation and Affiliated Indigenous Chomoru Organisations. Mr. Aguon’s presentation forces on the impact of the United States military build-up in Guam following the closing of the operations in Okinawa, Japan. Aguon argued that the “massive military expansion exacts devastating consequences on (the Chamoru people…who already suffer the signature maladies of a colonial condition.” He went further to explain that “this aggressive militarization of our homeland endangers our fundamental and inalienable right to self-determination, the exercise of which our administering power, the United States, has strategically denied us – in glaring betrayal of its international obligations under the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; UN General Assembly Resolution 1514, to name but some.”
He also made reference to the fact that representatives from Guam had come to the UN Headquarters in New York “year after year, at great personal cost, appealing to the UN to follow through with its mandate,” (but after) almost thirty years of testimony, (there had been) nothing to show for it.” He went on to say that “the failure of the U.S. to honour its international obligations to Guam and her native people, the non-responsiveness of the UN Special Committee on Decolonisation to our rapid deterioration and the overall non-performance of relevant US and UN Decolonisation organs and officials combine to carry our small chance of survival to its final coffin.”
Focus now shifts to the implementation of the Permanent Forum recommendations.