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Activist ponders U.S. steps in U.N. issue

Burgess looks at the ways the federal government could head off re-listing

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
August 12, 1998

By Pat Omandam
Star-Bulletin

The United States has several tactics it can use to resist any efforts by the United Nations to place Hawaii back on a U.N. List of Non-Self Governing Territories, says attorney Hayden Burgess, also known as activist Poka Laenui.

Burgess yesterday responded to a U.N. report released July 30 which recommends "reinscription" of Hawaii to a list of indigenous peoples who were colonized by another country.

For example, he said, the U.S. could argue that the situation with native Hawaiians is an internal domestic matter that doesn't fall under U.N. jurisdiction, or that America has among the highest world standards for its treatment of indigenous peoples and therefore doesn't need U.N. intervention. Moreover, he said, the U.S. could push to eliminate the U.N. committee that handles decolonization issues, which it has tried over the past two years.

Committee approval is one way Hawaii could be returned to the list.

"It would make the problem more difficult to resolve, but the issue -- even if the U.S. kills the entire United Nations -- is not going to change the historical fact of the illegality and all that stuff," said Burgess, who has appeared before the U.N. many times to ask that Hawaii be re-listed as a colony.

The final unedited report -- compiled by Cuban Miguel Alfonso Martinez of the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations -- also contends Hawaii's annexation to the U.S. could be declared invalid, partly because it appears to be an unequal treaty that violated international law when it was passed.

Also pivotal was President Clinton's November 1993 Apology Resolution to native Hawaiians for the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.

Attorney Mililani Trask, governor of Ka Lahui Hawaii and a candidate for trustee at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said on Monday that re-listing Hawaii could be done through a resolution passed by the U.N. General Assembly.

Trask said a handful of nations first would be needed to introduce the resolution, after which lobbying and debate would continue until there were enough votes to pass it.

If Hawaii returns to the list -- it was placed on it in 1946 but removed in 1959, at statehood -- it could then seek a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite to give Hawaiians and possibly others a chance to vote on a form of self-governance.

"We re-list Hawaii and the next question is a U.N. plebiscite, a supervised vote," Trask said.

"And on that vote there will be, under U.N. regulations, many options, not just statehood, which is all they gave us (in 1959)."

Both Trask and Burgess say the issue needs to be one of human rights and social justice, not of racism. And Hawaiians here need to be clear what they want before they seek international help.

"The Hawaii discussion, until more recently, has been one heavily based on race, and the media has also played a role in seeing it only as race rather than as human rights," Burgess said.

"But now, as I listen to the discussions going on in the last month, you're hearing more and more people saying this is not a race issue, this is a human rights issue, it's multi-racial," he said.

1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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