After decades of asking to be removed from the United Nations list of Non-Self Governing Territories, American Samoa yesterday told the UN Special Committee on Decolonization that perhaps it’s best that American Samoa remain on the list until its people determine what its future political status should be.
And some of the political status options that American Samoa’s statement to the UN mentions are full independence, free association, a commonwealth or an organic act.
Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale delivered Governor Lolo’s UN statement yesterday at the first day of the 2015 Caribbean Regional Seminar in Nicaragua.
The seminar is reviewing the status of the 17 territories that are on the UN list of Non Self Governing Territories.
The statement said despite the many benefits in American Samoa’s relationship with the United States, its current political status as an unincorporated and unorganized territory of the United States is neither sustainable nor economically secure.
It notes that the American Samoa Government continues to exist by virtue of delegation of authority from the President of the United Stations to the Department of Interior and then to American Samoa.
The Fono cannot override a veto of a bill by the governor without approval by the Secretary of the Interior and the American Samoa Constitution cannot be changed without the approval of Congress despite Congress never having approved the constitution to begin with.
According to the statement American Samoa’s legal status is indeed a relic of colonial days that needs to be remedied in order for American Samoa to meet “what we believe to be the standards for consideration for de-listing by the UN Committee.”
But whether the territory is de-listed or not, “what is more important to us, is the fact that our current legal status as temporally satisfactory as it may be, leaves us exposed to vagaries in Washington DC that are beyond our control.”
It cites the actons of Congress which affects American Samoa in many ways that were not contemplated because of the territory’s tiny land area and geographic location.
And this exposure is exacerbated by the fact that American Samoa like other US territories does not have appropriate representation in Congress.
American Samoa is also exposed to actions arising out of litigation in the federal courts that may contrive to have a judge in a remote courtroom issue a judgement that could change the legal status of the people under the US Constitution.
The statement cites for example the citizenship lawsuit now pending in the appeals court in DC.
The governor’s statement to the UN also says that the territory’s political status exposes it to “coercive tactics” of federal agencies.
One example is the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to ban ASG from using approximately 325 acres of local government land without prior
approval of the FAA, as a condition to releasing federal funds.
Another is the recent decision by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to amend the Large Vessel Prohibited Area in order to allow longliners to fish within parts of the 50-nautical mile closure.
The statement said, “Until we are able to cast our political status in a concrete fashion, giving us concrete protection, the fact that we live under a delegation of authority from Washington, D.C. make us vulnerable.”
It also points to certain US federal laws having a continued debilitating impact on American Samoa’s ability to achieve sustainable economic growth.
These include the cabotage law and free trade agreements, which can make American Samoa less competitive especially when a free trade deal is between the US and a low wage country with lower environmental and occupational standards.
The governor’s statement to the UN Committee explores political status options for the territory.
American Samoa could maintain the status quo but that causes continuing concern due to future uncertainties.
It can also consider an Organic Act like Guam and the Virgin Islands which would draw American Samoa closer to the United States but on the other hand would likely lock the territory into economically untenable circumstances.
American Samoa could also look to the idea of Commonwealth status akin to Puerto Rico and the CNMI or consider some form of free association with the US as in the case of Palau and the Marshall Islands or American Samoa could seek full independence.
The statement said these choices are possible but not all are viable and these are no easy choices to make.
And while proposed amendments to the Amerian Samoa Constitution failed to get public support, the resulting public discourse suggests that American Samoa is ready to take the next step of entertaining serious discussions about what its future political status should look like.
“However until such time that our people have exercised our right to determine for ourselves our future political status, it is perhaps best that American Samoa remain on the UN Decolonization list.”
Attorney General Talauega said via email from Nicaragua that American Samoa’s statement was well received by the Committee and delegates.
His remarks included a special recognition of Paramount Chief Mauga Tasi Asuega, who is also at the seminar representing the territory’s native or local government as Secretary of Samoan Affairs.