Mar 30, 2021

"USA has not supported self-determination for the Chamorro people of Guam" say UN Experts

On 30 March 2021, independent UN experts made public a joint allegation letter (JAL) submitted by three UN Special Rapporteurs to the US Government concerning ongoing human rights violations suffered by the indigenous CHamoru people of Guam at the hands of the United States government and military. The letter was issued following submissions by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and Blue Ocean Law on behalf of the CHamoru people and Prutehi Litekyan: Save Ritidian (PLSR), a community-based organization dedicated to defending sacred sites and protecting Guam’s natural and cultural resources.

In their letter, UN experts express “serious concern over the U.S. military buildup in the absence of adequate consultation with the Chamorro people and the associated threats to indigenous lands, resources, environmental and cultural rights.” The letter highlights the lack of free, prior and informed consent afforded to Guam’s indigenous inhabitants in connection to the ongoing military expansion, and “express additional concerns that the Government of the United States of America has not supported self-determination for the Chamorro people of Guam.”

In the letter, the Rapporteurs request clarification from the U.S. government on what measures are being taken to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of indigenous peoples in Guam, including information on current or planned measures to “ support and promote the Chamorro peoples’ right to self-determination” and to “ensure the participation of the CHamoru people in all decision-making affecting them”. The U.S. Government has not submitted any responses to the Rapporteurs.

The Rapporteurs urge “that all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person(s) responsible for the alleged violations.”

In response, UNPO General Secretary Ralph Bunche remarks, “It is heartening to see the challenges faced by the indigenous CHamoru people recognized by the United Nations. In May 2020, the US courts denied the ability of the government of Guam to hold a non-binding referendum of the CHamoru people on their desire for the ultimate status of Guam, which we must remember is one of the few remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories in the United Nations decolonization agenda. We are hopeful, at a time of national renewal in the USA, with a government so outwardly dedicated to advancing the rights of indigenous and minority communities, that the concerns of the UN experts will result in tangible positive change for the Chamoru.”

Julian Aguon, Blue Ocean Law Attorney adds “We could not be more pleased with this outcome. It is deeply validating that not one, not two, but three Human Rights Council mandate holders agree that the way the U.S. military has rolled out this military buildup is wrong. It says to the world, not just to the U.S., that might does not make right, that many of us have been right all along, that the Chamorro people have the right to self-determination, free, prior and informed consent, a clean environment, culture, health and life—rights that should be respected.”

In reaction to the news, PLSR’s Monaeka Flores, Maria Hernandez, and Jessica Nangauta, issued a statement on their social media pages, announcing: “For the first time in our history, the United Nations is communicating to the United States Government on behalf of the CHamoru people citing numerous violations against our human and indigenous rights - the desecration of our sacred places and ancestors, the destruction of our environment, our history of contamination, adverse effects on Guam’s main source of clean drinking water, risks to the health and safety of our people and future generations of Guåhan, and resulting barriers to our right to self-determination. We are humbled by and deeply grateful for the incredible partnership, commitment, and vision of BOL and UNPO.”

The special procedures of the Human Rights Council are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advice on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The endorsers of the allegation letter on the case of Guam and it’s indigenous CHamru people are:

Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People (Francisco Calí Tzay)

Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights (Karima Bennoune)

Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment (David R. Boyd)

In addition to the JAL, a petition was sent to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by UNPO and Hope Alvarez Cristobal, a leading campaigner for the right to self-determination of the Chamoro people of Guam. Having exhausted all domestic remedies for self-governance within the United States, the petition alleges systematic violations of the Chamoro People’s right to self-determination arising from the injustices of American colonization. The petition seeks formal proceedings against the United States in light of the recent U.S. federal court case of Davis v. Guam, which had effectively denied the native inhabitants of Guam the right to take even a symbolic first step toward self-determination by denying them the opportunity to have a non-binding plebiscite.

The joint allegation letter and attention of the Special Rapporteurs is evidence of the serious human rights violations inflicted on the indigenous people of Guam. In light of the severe and ongoing harms against the CHamru people by Guam’s administering power, we urge the entire international community to pressure the government of the United States to respond appropriately to this letter and to cease the ongoing human rights violations being committed in the territory of Guam. Additionally, we urge the US Government to promote and protect human rights as enshrined in the international human rights standards and respect procedures of the UN Human Rights Council including Special Procedures.

Photo: Prutehi Litekyan - Save Ritidian