Dec 18, 2020

Guam: UNPO petition highlights violations of right to self-determinaton of CHamoru People

On 18 December 2020, the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and a leading campaigner for the right to self-determination of the CHamoru people of Guam, Hope Alvarez Cristobal, filed a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights alleging systematic violation of the right to self-determination of the CHamoru people by the government of the United States of America. At the heart of the petition was the refusal of the US federal courts to allow a non-binding referendum of the native inhabitants of Guam on their status. 

Guam is currently a U.S.-administered non-self-governing territory, whose decolonization process has been obstructed for over a century in violation of international law. Inhabited for over 3,500 years by the indigenous CHamoru people, Guam’s native inhabitants have suffered numerous harms since the United States took colonial control, including racist and discriminatory policies by U.S. naval authorities denying the CHamoru people’s basic rights; disastrous health impacts from the storage and usage of nuclear weapons, radioactive vessels, Superfund toxicwaste sites, and hazardous chemical agents; and massive land seizures to make way for U.S.military bases and installations with no or insufficient compensation by the United States, resulting in the dispossession of CHamorus from their ancestral lands and further devastation of their health and economy.

These harms are exacerbated by the complete absence of suffrage afforded to the inhabitants of Guam, who lack any effective representation in federal governance structures of the United States, despite the territory’s subjugation to the plenary power of Congress. The United States has continually denied the CHamoru people their fundamental right to self-determination, which guarantees all people the right to choose their status in the international system and the ability to control their economic, social and cultural development without outside interference. Despite being a colonial possession of the United States subject to United Nations-mandate decolonization process, the CHamoru people have never been given the opportunity to express their desires for the status of Guam. 

The government of Guam had sought to remedy this, at least in part, through a non-binding referendum of the CHamoru people and passed an act through their legislature to that effect. The government was, however, preventing from holding this referendum by a series of decisions by the US Federal Courts that held that a referendum of only the native inhabitants of Guam, however non-binding it may be, violated the U.S. Constitution. The government had sought to appeal these decisions to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, in the case Davis v. Guam, but in May 2020 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

Ultimately, these decisions appear to indicate that the current Constitutional order in the United States will never permit the CHamoru people from being given the opportunity, guaranteed them under international law and a fundamental human rights, to decide on their ultimate destiny, threatening the permanent colonization of Guam. This has left the people of Guam with no recourse but to seek to enforce their internatioally protected rights through the international system. The petition to the Inter-America Commission on Human Rights seeks the Commission's intervention on this issue, specifically asking the Commission to uphold the civil and political and indigenous peoples' rights guaranteed by the United States as part of its membership of the Organization of American states and its ratification of the human rights treaties promulgated thereunder.

The petition highlights the systemic harms caused to the CHamoru people by their continued disenfranchisment and lack of self-determination and, through the lived experience of Hope Alvarez Cristobal, shows how those systemic harms have real consequences for CHamoru individuals and society.