Dec 12, 2019

Guam: Hearing on UNPO membership

On 12 December 2019, a public hearing was held at the Guam Legistlature relative to supporting Guam's application for membeship to UNPO. Chaired by Speaker Tina Rose Muña Barnes, the session heard speeches from UNPO General-Secretary Ralph Bunche; Shadow US Senator Paul Strauss on behalf of the District of Columbia and Ms Angely Sema, from the Naga community, among others. Watch the full video of the public hearing here.


Below is an articled by Michael Lujan Bevacqua published by Pacific Daily News, November 21, 2019


Speaker Tina Muña Barnes has proposed a resolution that would seek Guam’s membership in the UNPO, or the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization. Many in Guam may not be familiar with this organization, but it is one that connects marginalized peoples across the world and has an international reach. I am favor of this move. With the right follow-up it could be an important step in helping Guam build its international and national profile.

The UNPO was formally inaugurated in 1991 as a body that could help provide voice to those who are voiceless. It is currently made up of 44 member groups that represent more than 300 million people around the world. It lobbies on behalf of these members and works to build awareness of their issues and needs. The membership in the UNPO is incredibly diverse. It ranges from the Sindhi concentrated in Pakistan, the Sulu in the Philippines, the people of Catalonia in Spain and even the roughly 700,00 people who live in Washington, D.C.

They speak different languages, they have different cultures, inhabit radically different parts of the world. But they are united in the fact that when the current world order was built, they were left out.

They may have been left out because their lands were valuable to corporations. It may have been the strategic value of their homelands. It may have been racism. It may be as simple as the powers that be not wanting to go through the hassle of making new maps or giving long-oppressed people a semblance of sovereignty. For many, it is an issue of self-determination. That their dreams of having the ability to self-govern in their ancestral lands have long been denied.

Not all UNPO members experience oppression in the same way. Some are places where governments are actively suppressing and committing violent acts, such as in West Papua. But others like Guam, are not being violently suppressed, but nonetheless are stuck in a power-dynamic where they are denied a number of basic facets of self-governance.

Part of this marginalization is that you are cut off from mechanisms of power. You cannot vote for those who make the overarching laws. Your resources are controlled in ways that governments, militaries or corporations have less oversight. You exist in a system where for one reason or another, you are not supposed to have a voice. This group was formed to try to give a space of solidarity and a louder voice for those who are stuck in these marginalized states.

Speaker Barnes learned of this organization when she was recently in Washington, D.C., and met with one of the District of Columbia’s “Shadow Senators.” It has been a tactic of territories of the U.S. seeking greater rights or equality with the U.S. Like the District of Columbia, they elected Shadow Senators or Congresspeople, who can lobby on the issue of their political status to the federal government. This has been known as the Tennessee plan. You fake it, until you make it.

Joining organizations such as the UNPO would accomplish this, albeit at an international level. It would help push the issue of decolonization into conversations in the U.S. and elsewhere and connect our struggle to other struggles for self-determination and justice elsewhere.