Statement by US Congress Hon Eni F. H. Faleomavaega
BEFORE THE UNITED NATIONS SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON DECOLONIZATION (C-24) AT THE CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TO REVIEW THE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONDITIONS IN THE SMALL ISLAND NON-SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES
MAY 23, 2001
I want to thank you, Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency Julian R. Hunte, and the members of the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization (C-24) for the formal invitation extended to me to participate in this session of the Special Committee. My compliments also go to the leaders and the Government of Cuba for their hospitality in hosting these meetings.
I am honored to join the Governor of American Samoa, the Honorable Tauese Sunia, our President of the Senate, High Chief Lutu Fuimaono and Speaker of the House, High Chief Matagi Mailo McMoore, whom I believe will also submit statements for the record.
Due to time constraints, I will just present an overview of my statement, with the full text to be made part of the record.
In reviewing the history of the United Nations, it is clear that this institution has played an important and indispensable role in helping to eradicate colonialism throughout the world. Since the inception of the United Nations in 1945, over 748 million people have thrown off the brutal yoke of colonialism. Today, 80 former colonies have become independent, sovereign countries, which now constitute two-thirds of the Member States of the U.N. This progress has been facilitated by the U.N. Trusteeship Council and the work of the U.N. Special Committee on Decolonization, the C-24.
While this is an admirable record of accomplishment, it is disturbing that the United Nations has mistakenly assumed that the Territory of American Samoa is a colony of the United States, and that we should undergo a process of decolonization. Earlier this year, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan expressed his concern regarding the political status of American Samoa, being advised that the Special Committee should pursue a work program for American Samoa’s decolonization. I believe Secretary General Annan has been misadvised on this matter. And may I ask, Mr. Chairman, why the Special Committee has singled out only American Samoa and Pitcairn Island for consideration?
Contrary to past criticisms of the United States by some members of the United Nation and this Special Committee, the people of American Samoa have never had their rights suppressed nor denied by the United States relative to greater self-government and self-determination. Too often, the Special Committee of 24 has been used as a platform to unfairly attack the United States to score cheap political points, and we resent American Samoa being manipulated and used for this purpose. I do not find it surprising that for reasons such as this, the U.S. State Department does not officially participate in the meetings and agenda of the Special Committee.
As a representative of the people of American Samoa to the U.S. Congress, I can assure you that this mischaracter-ization of Samoa as a colony has been perceived as an outrage and insult in the Territory. The people of American Samoa treasure their relationship with the United States, are immensely proud to be part of the U.S. political family, and have not requested that our status as an U.S. Territory be changed in any way.
The Oxford English Dictionary refers to colonialism as a policy of exploitation by a large power over backward or weak peoples in hostile or newly conquered countries.
I submit, Mr. Chairman, if this Special Committee and the United Nations are serious, really serious, about eradicating colonialism, then the matter of West Papua New Guinea should be revisited. While East Timor’s struggle for self-determination has received worldwide publicity, scant attention has been paid to the people of West Papua New Guinea who have similarly struggled in Irian Jaya to throw off the yoke of Indonesian colonialism. West Papua New Guinea cannot and should not be treated differently from East Timor.
If there is a classic example of colonialism in the world today, it is West Papua New Guinea. I urge the members of the Special Committee to go back and review how the United Nations tainted its reputation and compromised its integrity by denying the people of West Papua their right of self-determination and self-government.
As with East Timor, Indonesia took West Papua New Guinea by force in 1963. In a truly shameful episode, the United Nations in 1969 sanctioned a fraudulent referendum, where only 1,025 delegates hand-picked, coerced and paid-off by Jakarta were permitted to participate in an independence vote. The rest of the West Papuan people, over 800,000 strong were not allowed to vote and had absolutely no voice in the undemocratic process.
Since Indonesia subjugated West Papua New Guinea, the native Papuan people have suffered under one of the most repressive and unjust systems of colonial occupation in the 20th century. Like in East Timor, where 200,000 East Timorese are reported to have lost their lives, the Indonesian military has been ruthless in Irian Jaya. Reports estimate that over 100,000 West Papuans have died or simply vanished at the hands of the Indonesian military, which has facilitated the economic exploitation and displacement of West Papuans whose lands and mineral resources have been taken against their will and without proper compensation.
Unlike the brutal subjugation of West Papua New Guinea by Indonesia, the unique relationship between American Samoa and the United States cannot, by any measure, be categorized as that of a colony and colonial master.
The people of American Samoa have never suffered from exploitation by the United States. Politically, American Samoans exercise extensive rights of self-government, including the adoption of a territorial Constitution in 1960 and, in subsequent years, the right to elect a Governor, Legislature and Representative to the U.S. Congress. Moreover, American Samoa enacts its own laws, including the power of taxation, and controls its own borders through local immigration statutes and an immigration department. Instead of economic exploitation of American Samoa, the United States contributes significantly to American Samoa’s economic welfare through federal tax and tariff advantages, in addition to providing over 100 million dollars annually in budget assistance for local government operations and programs.
A fact of paramount importance is that, unlike other territories, American Samoa has never been conquered, never been taken as a prize of war, and never been annexed against the will of our people. American Samoa, through the mutual and voluntary agreement of our leaders, joined the United States by Treaties of Cession negotiated and executed in 1900 and 1904.
On that point, I have long believed that the historical events underlying the unique relationship between American Samoa and the United States require comprehensive study and review. For that purpose, in 1995 I introduced legislation in the United States Congress to establish a Commission to study American Samoa’s historical relationship with the United States, and to provide recommendations and guidance for the Territory’s development.
The Territory of American Samoa is the only unorganized, unincorporated territory of the United States. There is no single document which reflects the present unity of the territory. To make matters more confusing, there has been a running debate for decades over the intent of the Samoan chiefs who signed the documents joining American Samoa and the United States into a political union. Whether the intent was to cede the land and people to the United States, or to enter into a bilateral treaty, which would, at some point, be subject to further negotiations, is not clear.
The Commission I have proposed would document and report on exactly what took place a century ago when the Eastern part of the Samoan island group became part of the United States, and what this bilateral relationship has developed into since 1900. The Commission would also be directed to report on the various status options available to American Samoa. The Commission would be composed of five members, three of whom would be appointed by the Secretary of the Interior. Of these three, one member would be appointed from a list submitted by the Governor of American Samoa, and a second from a list provided by our legislature, the Fono. The remaining two members of the Commission would be appointed by the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and the President of the U.S. Senate.
I want to emphasize that this proposal does not, and I want to say this again, this legislation does not establish a political status commission. The Commission will not have the authority to change American Samoa’s political status. The Commission is modeled after the commissions which studied Native Hawaiian, Native American, and Native Alaskan issues. These three commissions provided resource materials which have been of significant benefit to these groups and to those who are interested in the history of these issues.
The establishment of the American Samoa Study Commission has been a topic of discussion in American Samoa ever since I first proposed it several years ago. Some have questioned the need for a federal commission, indicating that there is more than sufficient talent in American Samoa to convene a commission of this nature. In response, let me say that I agree that there are many individuals in Samoa with the knowledge and experience to make excellent members of the Commission I propose, and I am confident that many if not all of the Commission members will be Samoans serving under federal appointment. The key, however, is having access to the resources of the federal government, such as the Library of Congress, and access to the records of the federal departments and agencies, including the material contained in the National Archives. It is only through a federal commission that we can ensure that these resources are made available.
American Samoa has been the subject of two federal study commissions; one was established in 1929 and the other in 1960. Both of the commissions made substantive recommendations which have led to major improvements in American Samoa. The last report was over four decades ago, and it is time again that the people of American Samoa had the benefit of this expertise and different perspective.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, the Special Committee should understand clearly that the people of American Samoa are firmly opposed to any effort to classify or treat the Territory as a non-self-governing colony that needs to undergo a process of decolonization. Through several Constitutional Conventions, the people of American Samoa have spoken consistently on this issue, decreeing that the present status and relationship between the Territory of American Samoa and the United States be protected and preserved. I would urge the Members of the Special Committee to respect the wishes and the will of the people of American Samoa.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to comment on these matters.