Am. Samoa Prepares For UN Decolonization Seminar

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Committee welcomes forward movement on political status

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, April 27, 2016) – The United Nations Decolonization Committee will hold the Pacific regional seminar on decolonization from May 31 to June 2 this year in Managua, Nicaragua — a country with both a Caribbean and Pacific coast. It was also Nicaragua that hosted last year’s Caribbean seminar, which is rotated between the Pacific and Caribbean ever year.

American Samoa is considered by the UN as one of the last 16 remaining non-self governing territories on the globe. The Governor’s Office is expected to announce soon as to who will be representing American Samoa at the Pacific seminar, in which officials as well as representatives of government and non-government entities from the Pacific and Caribbean have been invited to attend.

At last year’s Caribbean seminar, Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale, accompanied by Secretary of Samoan Affairs Mauga T. Asuega, delivered Gov. Lolo Matalasi Moliga’s message, in which the governor suggested that the decolonization committee perhaps continue to keep American Samoa on the UN decolonization list until the people of American Samoa determine their own future political status.

Over the years, previous governors and other traditional leaders have reiterated to the Decolonization Committee that American Samoa is not a colony of the U.S. and therefore it should be removed from the decolonization list.

In his executive order issued last week establishing the Office of Political Status, Constitutional Review and Federal Regulations, the governor noted that it’s the goal of American Samoa "to pursue greater self-governance and economic development". It also notes that American Samoa remains on the UN’s decolonization list.

Last month, the Decolonization Committee received the Working Papers on American Samoa prepared by the Secretariat, and this is done every year for all 16-non governing territories of the world. The working paper, or document, provides background information on each non-governing territory.

American Samoa’s 15-page document covers the areas of political and legal issues, the constitution, the current budget, economic conditions (e.g. fisheries, agriculture and tourism) and social conditions such as labor, immigration, education, and public health.

The document also points to the governor’s move for more self-determination by American Samoa when it comes to its affairs. Additionally, it provides highlights of the governor’s message at last year’s Caribbean seminar, where he extended an invitation to the committee to visit the territory.

Most of the information on American Samoa has been cited in previous reports unless there were major changes in the previous year. For example, the document pointed out that American Samoa posted a 40 cents per hour minimum wage hike based on a law enacted last October.

As to the position of the administering Power — which is the United States — the document provided no new position of the federal government. It cited a Nov. 2, 2006 position — the last one made — in a letter from the U.S. State Department.

The letter, addressed to then Congressman Faleomavaega Eni, who sought an official position from the feds, states in part that the status of the insular areas — including American Samoa — regarding their political relationship with the federal government was an internal United States issue, and not one that came under the purview of the Special Committee.

Additionally, the Special Committee had no authority to alter in any way the relationship between the United States and those territories and no mandate to engage the United States in negotiations on their status.

According to the document the UN welcomed the work by the territorial government with respect to moving forward on political status, local autonomy and self-governance issues with a view to making political and economic progress and in particular the announcement of a dialogue among the people of American Samoa on the Territory’s future political status.

It acknowledged the indication by the governor that American Samoa should remain on the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, under the purview of the Decolonization Committee, until such time as its people have exercised their right to self-determination.

The UN expressed appreciation for the invitation extended in 2015 by the governor to send a visiting mission to American Samoa and called on the US to facilitate such a mission if the territorial government so desired.

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