UN DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE DISCUSSES AMERICAN SAMOA

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Annual meeting taking place in Cayman Islands

By Fili Sagapolutele PAGO PAGO, American Samoa, (Samoa News, April 13, 2011) - The United Nations has prepared working papers on American Samoa and the other Non-Self Governing Territories, as the UN’s Special Committee on Decolonization is set to convene next month in the Caribbean Region for the annual seminar which rotates between the Pacific and Caribbean regions.

The working papers released early last month came after the first meeting of the 2011 substantive session of the Special Committee where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the members for "concrete results" in the quest for self-determination by the world’s 16 remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories, according to a UN news release in mid February.

"On a case-by-case basis, those Territories have to be given the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination," Mr. Ban added, emphasizing that dialogue aimed at improving cooperation between the Special Committee and the administering Powers continued to be "of utmost importance."

The UN also announced that this year’s decolonization seminar will be in the Caribbean Region, set for May 24 to 26 at George Town, Cayman Islands. Last year’s seminar was in the Pacific, hosted by New Caledonia.

In preparation for the upcoming seminar, the UN released on March 7 working papers on American Samoa, which outline a wide range of issues - such as economy, health, telecommunications, utility and recent developments such as last year’s Constitutional Convention.

According to the working papers, the Constitutional Convention proposed amendments or revisions to the current Constitution, including those related to the prohibition of further individualization of communal lands in the Territory, the establishment of an impartial jury in all criminal prosecutions, the enhancement of the Samoan language and culture in the educational system, the management and preservation of the natural resources of the Territory in accordance with local laws, and the provision for an impeachment of the Territory’s leaders.

However, at the November 2010 general election, the voters overwhelmingly defeated the proposed changes, it says.

Also cited in the working papers is part of Gov. Togiola Tulafono’s statement to the Pacific Regional Seminar in Nouméa, New Caledonia, on May 19, 2010 where he recalled that in the past the Territory had requested the Special Committee to remove it from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories because its "unincorporated" and "unorganized" status was akin to that of a self-governing Territory.

Togiola continued by saying that while the Territory held the same position, the time had come for a more definitive work-plan to force a more collaborative approach between the Territory and the administering Power in moving forward on issues of political status, local autonomy, self-governance and economic development.

The governor further noted the "special affinity of the people of American Samoa" with the administering Power (the U.S.), manifested in the significant number of them serving in the United States armed forces, and the trust which allowed the Territory to maintain its authority over immigration and customs.

However, there was cause for concern that said authority was being exercised by the federal government at the Territory’s expense and that furthermore, American Samoa was being restricted in its use of land and its freedom to dispose of the grants allocated to it by the U.S., the governor says, according to the UN papers.

Togiola also voiced concerns over federally mandated minimum wage increases which "caused serious, perhaps irreparable, economic damage."

"The absence of federal technical assistance and expertise to help American Samoans truly understand the effect of federal laws on the Territory’s economy and form of government was also lamented," it says.

He stressed that those issues could be resolved by applying a clearly specified, consistent principle as to how the Territory would be treated in the future. He underlined the importance of providing assistance and training on issues critical to the Pacific region.

According to the working papers, Togiola also extended an invitation to the Special Committee to send a visiting mission to the territory and the Special Committee called on the U.S. to facilitate such a mission if the territorial Government so desires.

Many of the issues and topics dealing with other recent events cited in the working papers were widely covered by the Samoa News.

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