Analysis by Maria Rodriguez, International Correspondent
Washington, D.C., Nov 16 (OTNS)
International Advisor on Democratic Governance Dr. Carlyle Corbin advised the Chamoru people of Guam (Guahan) that the political evolution of the remaining sixteen non self-governing territories, including the US-administered territory of Guam, should continue to be examined within the context of international law and principles, and is no different than the case of any other territory formally listed by the United Nations.
Corbin offered this assessment during the keynote address on “Self-Determination, Globalization and Militarisation: Thoughts on Non Self-Governing Territories in the 21st Century” delivered last week at the University of Guam Lecture Hall in Mangilao, Guam. Corbin, an international advisor on governance, was formerly the US Virgin Islands Minister of State for External Affairs and the territory’s representative to the United Nations. The President of the University and former Guam Delegate to Congress Dr. Robert Underwood provided the formal introduction to the evening event.
In his address, Dr. Corbin indicated that Articles 1 and 55 of the United Nations Charter serve to confirm the inalienable right of peoples to self-determination, while Article 11 provided the international legal mandate for decolonisation. He noted that “relevant international conventions, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, along with the International Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples are among the applicable international instruments in the decolonisation process."
The governance advisor, who has served as an independent expert to the annual United Nations decolonisation seminars in the Pacific and Caribbean since the 1990s confirmed that the resolutions of the United Nations General Assembly provided further legislative authority for political and constitutional evolution. He has referred to the lack of progress in decolonisation implementation as the “Achilles heel of the United Nations.”
Corbin’s intensive ten-day lecture tour in Guam focused on the political and constitutional evolution of the US-administered territories. The visit coincided with the introduction of legislation introduced in the US House of Representatives by Guam Delegate to the US Congress Madeleine Bordallo which seeks US funding for a public education program on self-determination for the territory. Delegate Bordallo is the Chair of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife.
The visit by the international expert followed a trip to Guam and the neighboring Northern Mariana Islands by a Congressional delegation last August when the Chairman of the full House Committee on Natural Resources Nick Rahall expressed support for a self-determination process for Guam. Delegate Bordallo’s proposed measure for federal funding would have to be approved by the full US House of Representatives and Senate as a separate bill, or attached to another legislative proposal, and subsequently signed by the US President Barak Obama.
Corbin was the independent expert to United Nations missions to the Atlantic/Caribbean territories of Bermuda, and to the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2005 and 2006, respectively, but the visit to Guam was not directly related to any specific United Nations activity. He did indicate that he would offer any relevant findings on the state of the self-determination process in the territory to the relevant United Nations bodies, as appropriate.
He explained in an extensive interview immediately before his departure from the Pacific that a major function of his visit to Guam was to provide some insights on the United Nations self-determination and decolonisation processes through a series of lectures at the University of Guam, and to engage students and faculty in Social Justice and History classes of the university in interactive discussion. He described the dialogue with the undergraduate students and faculty as “intellectually stimulating given their heightened sense of awareness of the need for the future political evolution of Guahan, as well as other territories in the wider Pacific region.”
During his visit, the international advisor also met with Acting Governor Judith Won Pat and members of the Guam Legislature, along with Delegate Bordallo’s Senior Policy Advisor Joaquin Perez, for informal discussions on the international procedures on self-determination, and on various means by which the territory could accelerate the process in view of the Congressional legislation and planned US military build-up in the territory.
Corbin indicated that “further militarisation should not be permitted to distract the territory from pursuing self-determination which remains an inalienable right under international law, and recognised by all member states of the United Nations.”
Corbin also regarded favourably the move by Virgin Islands Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen who has asked for Virgin Islands inclusion in the self-determination legislation which provides assistance for public education in the area of self-determination. The Virgin Islands interest in the measure comes as that territory awaits a decision of its territorial court on whether its draft constitution adopted last May by its Fifth Constitutional Convention would be permitted to go forward to the US Congress for consideration following objections to certain provisions of the draft by the territory’s present elected governor. The President of the Convention requested United States and United Nations assistance for a public education on the territory’s draft constitution during a presentation to the United Nations Special Political and Decolonisation Committee last October.
Corbin, who served as the international advisor to the Virgin Islands Fifth Constitutional Convention, noted that the issue of a permanent political status for the Virgin Islands would remain unresolved even if the territorial court ultimately provides for Congressional review of the draft constitution. “This is the case,” he indicated, “since the constitution to replace the territory’s Revised Organic Act of 1954 would be based on the present territorial status, and it is precisely the democratic deficiencies inherent in the prevailing status which do not provide for a full measure of self-government.” He noted that the territory of Guam is governed by a similar Organic Act, and a constitution based on that status would be viewed in a similar light.
Corbin went on to call for the inclusion of American Samoa in the legislation, as well, especially since that territory “was engaged in a proactive approach in addressing political status and constitutional evolution following its 2007 report of the American Samoa Future Political Status Study Commission of American Samoa.” He recalled that the full Committee on Natural Resources of the US House of Representatives has already adopted the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of 2009 last July providing for a “federally-sanctioned self-determination process for the people of Puerto Rico,” a US-administered commonwealth of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean.
Corbin indicated that the measure regarding Puerto Rico was introduced by Commonwealth Resident Commissioner to the US House of Representatives Pedro Pierluisi, and “sets forth that if the territory votes in referendum to remain in the present status it would have to be consulted again at regular intervals.” The measure is now before the full House of Representatives for consideration.
The advisor noted that under the legislative proposal “if Puerto Ricans vote for a decolonizing option, then the people would vote on the alternatives of independence, free association with the United States or becoming an integrated state of the United States.” He suggested that this approach was consistent with the 2005 and 2007 White House reports on Puerto Rico which called for a similar referendum process, and which identified and provided “parametres for the options, even as the supporters of the legitimacy of the status quo option argue vociferously against the measure which they feel denigrates the prevailing commonwealth status which has been in effect since 1952.”
According to Corbin, “the autonomy exercised by Puerto Rico in its commonwealth status - even as it has been re-defined by successive Washington administrations as lesser autonomous than originally envisaged - was an important interim step in acquiring the necessary capacity to assume real self-government under a valid free association arrangement as defined by Resolution 1541 (XV) of the United Nations General Assembly - if the people choose to go that way.”
He also indicated that key to the Bordallo legislation for Guam self-determination “is the very fact that international law and principles serve as its backdrop and political rationale – a recognition which is usually absent in the rationale for earlier proposed measures on self-determination for the territories, but is nevertheless consistent with the Pierluisi legislation on Puerto Rico self-determination.”
A featured activity of Dr. Corbin’s stay in Guam was a day-long strategic planning workshop on “Chamoru Self-Determination” which was convened by the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice in conjunction with the Division of Social Work of the University of Guam. The session examined in detail the United Nations review process of each territory undertaken at UN headquarters in New York, as well as through its human rights/self-determination component in Geneva.
He advised during the workshop that the UN General Assembly had consistently confirmed that the self-determination process leading to decolonisation was a fundamental human right, “even as many territories may not be as aware of this fact as much as they might.” In this connection, the workshop had benefit of the legal analysis of Chamoru attorney Julian Aguon on a dual legal strategy for the achievement of self-determination encompassing the decolonisation and indigenous rights areas of focus, as set forth in Aguon’s 2008 University of Hawaii Law Review article. The workshop also utilised the United Nations declarations on Decolonisation, and on the Rights of Indigenous peoples, respectively, as key components of the legislative authority for self-determination. Corbin regarded the session as “very dynamic and necessarily interactive in its approach.”
Regarding the future status of the remaining territories, Corbin surmised that a number of them may be well prepared to move towards full independence, or political integration with their present administering power “assuming on the one hand the larger country would agree to the integration of a smaller and culturally distinct jurisdiction, and on the other hand assuming that the people of the territory are willing to agree to an irreversible political arrangement which may have the effect of subordinating their culture to that of the larger country in which it would integrate.” He emphasised that political integration was, in fact, one of the three United Nations-recognised status options of political equality providing for the full measure of self-government for the people of the territory, but he posed the question of whether “cultural subservience” would be worth the price.
Corbin offered that the model of political integration of some territories with a neighboring independent country - where cultural norms might be more compatible - had not been sufficiently explored “owing perhaps to political rivalries and the result of external factors.” “Ironically,” as he stated “remaining in the existing dependency status has its own implications for cultural, as well as political, minoritisation.”
He also referred to the “possibility of integration between two neighboring territories, as has been recently suggested for Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. He noted that such an approach “would certainly meet culturally affinity considerations,” and indicated that “the exact form of the political status of the merged entity would have to be addressed to ensure that the new arrangement would be “politically valid and sustainable.”
On the whole, Corbin suggested that, in most cases, “as many territories evolve politically from dependency governance to more autonomous arrangements, new models of shared autonomy will necessarily have to be created, perhaps building on existing autonomous modes of governance like Greenland and the Faroe Islands, in self-governing political status arrangements with Denmark; the Cook Islands and Niue in free association with New Zealand; or even the former United Nations trust territories of the Pacific Islands which emerged into a particular free associated statehood model with the United States largely with a distinct military strategic dimension.”
In moving forward, the advisor cautioned that territories should be wary of the “sustainability of arrangements” such as the commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands in what turned out in the end as a “far less autonomous political status than originally envisaged by the islanders in the Commonwealth agreement.”
On the issue of militarization of the territories, the self-determination expert submitted that “the necessary negotiating power to influence its nature and extent, as well as in determining just compensation for land use, toxic clean-up and the like, is lacking in a politically deficient non self-governing territorial status where the authority by an administering power is exercised unilaterally, even as varying degrees of consultation might be possible.” He cited the aftermath of the military departure from the islands of Vieques and Culebra (Puerto Rico), as well as from the British territory of Bermuda, as examples of territories where the environmental and other impacts continue to be addressed years after.
On the issue of globalisation, Corbin pointed to “the need for more political autonomy of the territories in order to engage the international marketplace, as well as to access international technical and other assistance such as that offered through borrowing membership in regional development banks.” He pointed to the British territories in the Caribbean which have a certain degree of integration in regional economic and other institutions as evidence of their capacity to more effectively engage the international system, even as their political dependency arrangements are subject to unilateral abolishment, as in the case of the Caribbean territory of the Turks and Caicos Islands whose government was “unilaterally dismantled by the British through extra-constitutional means.” He noted that the United States is significantly less flexible in providing sufficient political space for the territories under its administration to join regional and other international institutions, “even as the terms of reference of many of these bodies provide for the participation of territories.”
“In the final analysis,” Corbin indicated, “each territory has the right to make its own decision in exercise of the right to self-determination based on its own unique set of conditions, which in the case of Guam is quite immediate in view of the immense demographic changes on the horizon as a result of further militarisation.” In other cases,” he said, “the scenario may appear less immediate, but gradual erosion of political power coupled with steady population growth make the situation no less uncertain.”
To address the issue of the future self-determination of the non self-governing territories comprehensively, the international expert called for an independent review of any progress which has been made in each of the remaining Pacific and Caribbean territories, and recommended that the territorial universities be intricately involved since the United Nations had not fulfilled its mandate to undertake such analyses.