By Pat Omandam
Hawaii's annexation by the United States could be declared invalid, according to a United Nations report.
The report said the situation of native Hawaiians now takes on a "special complexion" because of, among other reasons, President Clinton's November 1993 Apology Resolution to native Hawaiians.
The study recommends Hawaii be returned to a U.N. List of Non-Self Governing Territories - a list of indigenous peoples colonized by another country. Such action could make Hawaii eligible for decolonization as well as a U.N.-sponsored plebiscite.
The 73-page unedited final report, submitted after nine years of reviewing treaties, agreements and other constructive arrangements between nations and indigenous peoples, was filed July 30 in Geneva.
For Hawaiian groups such as Ka Lahui Hawaii and Ka Pakaukau, which have pushed the sovereignty issue at the international level for nearly two decades, the timing couldn't be better. Over the next two days, Hawaiians and others will gather at Iolani Palace to observe Hawaii's centennial annexation anniversary.
"Its perfect timing," said Mililani Trask, an attorney and governor of Ka Lahui Hawaii. "I couldn't have asked for anything more."
Trask said this is the first official U.N. document that not only makes reference to Hawaii, but finds against the validity of the treaty of annexation and calls for the United Nations to re-list Hawaii as a colony.
Attorney Hayden Burgess said, "Many of us have been waiting for the report for many years." But it is just the first step in a long process the U.S. government undoubtedly will fight, he said.
"The United States is not going to give up that easily," he said, pointing out that the nation has been trying to abolish the committee that would review the issue.
Burgess has been to the United Nations many times to ask that Hawaii be re-listed as a colony, speaking for local organizations and the World Council for Indigenous Peoples.
Trask said that the report, expected to be posted on the U.N. Web site on Saturday, shows that an international audience is watching with interest how the United States handles its native Hawaiian situation, one which U.S. State Department officials consider a "domestic problem."
"It means that we now have a clear interest being expressed by other states (nations) to support our effort and expressing interest now on receiving the real story about what's happening in Hawaii," she said.
Trask, who received a copy of the report in Geneva, will speak about it tomorrow during the annexation events.
Naysayers, she said, have repeatedly doubted whether Hawaiian activists would be effective in the international arena. But the report goes a long way to show how viable these international claims really are, she said.
Both Ka Lahui and Ka Pakaukau believe there isn't any way to achieve Hawaiian autonomy or independence within the U.S. system. But there is in the international system.
Miguel Alfonso Martinez of Cuba, the special chairman who prepared the report for the U.N. Working Group on Indigenous Populations, wrote that Clinton's apology resolution recognizes the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy took place unlawfully.
"By the same token, the 1897 treaty of annexation between the United States and Hawaii appears as an unequal treaty that could be declared invalid on those grounds, according to international law of the times," said Martinez, who was appointed to head this project by the U.N. human rights commissioner.
"It follows that the case of Hawaii could be re-entered on the list of nonself-governing territories of the United Nations and resubmitted to the bodies in the organization competent in the field of decolonization," he said.
Hawaii was placed on the U.N. list in 1946 as a colony under the United States, but was removed in 1959 when it became an American state. Others on the list include Guam, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico, which was removed from the list previously, but returned, Trask said.
The General Assembly of the United Nations voted to put New Caledonia back on the list in the late 1980s over protests of the United States, France and Great Britain. But the political atmosphere has changed, Burgess said. "Now there is very little opposition to the U.S."
If Hawaii is returned to the list, he said, the first most important question will be: "Who are the people to be decolonized? Is it only native Hawaiians, or is it all of those who suffered as a result of the overthrow?
"The thing Hawaii needs to address is to see itself in the mirror and ask itself, who are we who have been decolonized? I don't think it's going to work to just limit it to the native Hawaiian race. It was a nation that was overthrown, not just native Hawaiians."
Then, if the matter reaches the voting stage, the question will be who votes, Burgess said. "The exercise of self-determination must be done by people who were colonized." And they must be given choices, he said, such as whether they want to maintain state status, or be independent, or have a free association with the United States.
The working group, which recently met, sent the Martinez report to the U.N. Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, where it will accept testimony from U.N. members and indigenous groups.
A final edited version goes to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and to the U.N. General Assembly, for adoption.
So far, the United Nations has accepted three progress drafts as official U.N. documents, including one that contained accounts by Queen Liliuokalani on the push by foreigners to limit the monarchy's power and to seek annexation. Liliuokalani's description of Hawaii's political climate during her time changed the complexion of the issue, Trask said.
Meanwhile, Ka Pakaukau's Kekuni Blaisdell told a U.N. decolonization committee seminar this June in Nadi, Fiji, that 17 colonies remain on the U.N. list, with three in the Pacific pressing for self-determination with an option for independence.
Blaisdell said colonialism in the Pacific, in various forms, has accelerated and intensified rather than declined. The United Nations in 1990 mandated to eradicate colonialism by the year 2000.
"It is imperative," he said, "that we indigenous peoples become more involved in the dominant, western decolonization process, that we generate our own initiatives and that such actions be recognized."
A U.N.-supervised plebiscite would entitle Hawaiians to vote for a form of government, such as incorporation as a U.S. state, free association or an independent or autonomous government.
Hawaiian groups will focus lobbying efforts on U.N. member nations that signed treaties with Hawaii before it became a state.
"We're not saying give Hawaii independence, we're just saying re-list Hawaii," Trask said. "Have the U.N. take a look at it, and give our people the opportunity to make a choice, which we never had in 1959."
Tom Coffman, whose book "Nation Within" about America's annexation of Hawaii has generated widespread discussion, said the U.N. report is "really important because what I've found in my research of the period of 1893 to 1898 . . . was that over and over the question of whether Hawaiians would be allowed to vote on annexation came up, and over and over, the Republic government conspired with annexationists in Washington to prevent Hawaiians from voting."
© 1998 Honolulu Star-Bulletin
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