Apr 26, 2021

CHamoru Self-Determination: Development, democracy and decolonization in Guam amid a military build-up

The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has made a submission to the Inter-American Commission highlighting the violation of the right to self-determination of the CHamoru people of Guam. The submission comes in response to a request for input on the self-determination rights of indigenous populations in America. It follows a recent letter of allegation sent from three UN experts to the government of the USA expressing concern that the rights of the indigenous CHamoru people, including their rights to self-determination, are being violated, and a petition to the Inter-American Commission by an indigenous CHamoru leader.

In May 2020, the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by the government of Guam to a lower court decision that it would violate the U.S. Constitution to hold a non-binding referendum of the indigenous population of Guam, the CHamoru people, on their views of the future status of Guam. The lower courts had found that such a referendum would be discriminatory of the rights of the non-indigenous population, primarily American citizens from the continental U.S.A.

The US courts’ decision, under the guise of equality, effectively enshrines constitutional inequality in the U.S.A. The indigenous CHamoru people, while technically citizens of the U.S.A. (unilaterally granted), have long been denied equal rights to participate in the US Federal system. They now must live with that inequality, while not being allowed a remedial right to be directly consulted on their vision for the future of their island.

The court decision came amid an unprecedented build-up of the U.S. military forces in Guam. The military presence in Guam has long had a major impact on basic indigenous rights, including through the expropriation and development of indigenous land, and the pollution of the water and land resources central to indigenous life.

A primary cause of the military build-up in Guam – a Non-Self-Governing Territory under the UN Charter – was the successful campaign by indigenous Okinawans of the US military presence on their island. Thus, in order to allay the risks of their activities presented to one indigenous population, the US military decided to offload that risk to an indigenous population over which they have more direct control.

Together, these two factors – the categorical denial of an indigenous population’s right to choose, and the military occupation and destruction of indigenous lands – present perhaps the most alarming denial of the rights to self-determination of an indigenous population in the Americas.

The CHamoru people represent a distinct indigenous group whose rights to self-determination are guaranteed by, among others, the human rights standards of the Organization of American States (OAS). Yet, through jurisprudence and military development, these rights have been summarily denied.

The denial of these rights has begun to be recognized at the international level, as the environmental, social and cultural toll of the continued military build-up of the U.S. military on the island of Guam has become clear. To that end, three UN experts – the Special Rapporteurs on the Rights of Indigenous People, Cultural Rights, and Human Rights and the Environment – have recently submitted a “Joint Allegation Letter” to the US government in which they 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” and “that the Government of the United States of America has not supported self-determination for the Chamorro people of Guam.”

This report details this situation with regards to the self-determination of the CHamoru people and urges the Inter-American Commission to lend its weight in support of the UN experts.  Presently, the Commission has a distinct opportunity to do so, both through the forthcoming thematic report of the Rapporteurship on the Rights of Indigenous People on the right to self-determination of indigenous people, and through the petition, Hope Alvarez Cristobal and the Chamoru People v United States (petition no.: P-2410-20) filed on 18th December 2020.

Photo: Guam Bulldozers, Pixabay