Aug 07, 2020

The Legal Obligation to Protect the Rights of the Chamorro People


Today [7 August 2020] the UNPO and Blue Ocean Law submitted a document to the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Francisco Calí Tzay, arguing that the U.S government and its military have violated numerous international laws and indigenous rights in Guam against the Chamorro people. The submission highlights that the military buildup now underway in Guam violates the rights of Chamorros under international law in several respects. UNPO and Blue Ocean law request the Special Rapporteur to investigate these harms and to take action, within his authority, to urge the United States to prevent the further erosion of those rights.

 

This submission details the ongoing human rights violations suffered by the indigenous Chamorro people of Guam at the hands of the United States government and military. Guam is currently a U.S.-administered non-self-governing territory, whose decolonization process has been stymied for 122 years and counting. Guam has been inhabited for over 3,500 years by the Chamorro people, who have suffered numerous harms since the United States took colonial control over the island in 1898, including racist and discriminatory treatment by naval authorities; negative health outcomes resulting from the storage and usage of nuclear weapons, radioactive vessels and toxic chemical agents; and massive land seizures to make way for U.S. military bases and installations, among other things. The United States has also denied the Chamorro people their fundamental right to self-determination, thwarting their decolonization process in domestic and international fora, and denying them the ability to express their desires regarding their future political relationship with the United States. 

Far from being remedied, these harms are aggravated today by a massive military buildup and expansion of the U.S. military footprint in Guam. With insufficient consultation of the entire island population and total disregard for the Chamorro people’s right to free, prior, and informed consent, plans to transfer thousands of military personnel and associated workforce to the island have proceeded, along with the construction of live-fire training ranges and other installations on sites of great significance to Chamorros. Construction has begun around some of the island’s most sacred, sensitive habitats, including in the Litekyan/Ritidian area, home to ancient villages and traditional medicine-gathering and fishing grounds. Moreover, the buildup has unearthed human remains and cultural artifacts at no less than five construction sites. Rather than halt work, as requested on multiple occasions by Guam’s legislature and local activists, the military has continued to excavate, destroying much in its wake. 

Meanwhile, the United States has yet to address longstanding environmental contamination in Guam, and continues to create new health risks for local populations as U.S. military servicemen break local ordinances respecting COVID-19. Moreover, the treatment of Guam and its peoples as a sacrificial bargaining chip in the war games of superpowers has been clearly demonstrated by President Trump’s cavalier attitude towards Guam throughout escalated hostilities with North Korea and China. 

The Chamorro people, through community-based organizations such as Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian, are fighting the loss of their traditional lands, territories, and resources, and the suppression of their self-determination and their right to transmit their traditional and customary practices to future generations. As the submission shows, the military buildup now underway in Guam violates the rights of Chamorros under international law in several respects. The document requests the Special Rapporteur to investigate these harms and to take action, within his authority, to urge the United States to prevent the further erosion of those rights.

Photo: A US naval base is located at Guam's Apra Harbor.(US Navy)