American Samoa Senators Object To Being Called ‘Colony’

Details of testimony at UN Decolonization Committee requested

By Fili Sagapolutele

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (The Samoa News, August 18, 2016) – During a Senate committee hearing this week, some senators insisted that using the word “colony” does not sound good at all when its used to label American Samoa, which has a special relationship with the United States and “colony” should be removed from United Nations’ documents when it comes to American Samoa.

The Senate Government Operations Committee hearing Tuesday was called based on a request by Sen. Tuaolo Manaia Fruean, who voiced his concerns over the continuous used of the word “colony” to describe American Samoa — which is considered by the UN as one of the remaining 16 non-governing territories on the globe.

Tuaolo, along with the committee, also wanted to know details of what American Samoa presented at this year’s UN Decolonization Committee’s Pacific seminar in Nicaragua, where the territory was represented by Tapa’au Dr. Daniel Mageo Aga, executive director of the Office of Political Status, Constitution and Federal Relations.

As Samoa News reported several times, Tapa’au attended the seminar to observe whether or not there are decolonization strategies worth considering by the territory, after Attorney General Talauega Eleasalo Ale presented American Samoa’s official position at last year’s Caribbean seminar.

At the Senate committee hearing, Tapa’au informed senators that he attended the Pacific seminar to find out issues that would be beneficial to American Samoa but he didn’t deliver a speech.

Additionally, on June 22nd the UN committee passed a resolution on the question of American Samoa, “with regard to the implementation on the granting of independence to colonial countries and peoples”. (See Samoa News edition Aug. 3rd for details on the resolution, which was approved late last month by the UN General Assembly.)

Further, it’s the wishes of the UN for residents of the world’s non-self governing territories to get “self-determination”, which means, “recognizing that the specific characteristics and aspirations of the people of American Samoa require flexible, practical and innovative approaches to the options were self determination.”

Tapa’au explained that the UN committee understands American Samoa’s special political status with the US and it’s difference compared to other non-self governing territories. And although the committee pushes for self-determination, there are “specific characteristics” of the people of American Samoa taken seriously by the UN committee, which is not saying for American Samoa to be independent.

Asked by Tuaolo to explain more on the “specific characteristic”, Tapa’au said that to his understanding, it’s the protection of land, natural resources and culture.

Another concern of Tuaolo and other senators is the UN committee’s action that would affect the Senate, who’s 18-members are traditional leaders selected by county leaders. Tapa’au emphasized that nothing the UN committee resolution or other issues deals with the Senate.

Tuaolo asked if Tapa’au told the UN committee that American Samoa is not a “colony”, a word that the senator says is not good especially for the fact that American Samoa has a special relationship with the US.  Additionally, the UN committee should be told not to discuss American Samoa anymore and to “leave us alone”.

Tapa’au agreed to the concerns with using the word “colony” which he said is popular to use by newspapers and in people’s discussions. He stressed that the UN committee uses “non-self governing territories”.

And while he didn’t deliver a speech at the Pacific seminar this year, Tapa’au said officials there had asked him several times about the territory’s political situation and the response was always the same, “The people of American Samoa wants to keep their relationship with the United States strong, and to remain a territory of the United States.”

“Equally important to the people of American Samoa is the protection of lands, culture and natural resources,” he said, adding that the use of the word “self-determination” surprises people who would immediately think that American Samoa wants to be independent but that’s not the case.

Sen. Magalei Logovi’i says the word “colony” continues to come up over the years and this has also been the case in the previous administrations of former governors Tauese P.F. Sunia and Togiola Tulafono. Magalei asked if there is any way to maker sure that “colony” does not come up again in the future.

Tapa’au responded that he posed the same question to the UN committee and he is waiting for an official reply.

He told senators the US State Department’s answer to the UN committee when it comes to American Samoa is this is an “internal issue” of the US government and not under the UN committee’ purview.

Upon arrival at the Pacific seminar, Tapa’au said he went looking for the US government representation to the meeting but no one was there. He said the US no longer sends representation to these meetings because of the US’ stand that its “an internal issue”, when it comes to the political status of American Samoa.

BACKGROUND

The US State Department in a Nov. 2, 2006 letter, responding to then Congressman Faleomavaega Eni’s request for the federal government’s official position on American Samoa before the UN committee, 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.

And in the message delivered by Talauega at the Caribbean seminar last year, 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 political status.

Other issues covered in the governor’s official statement are those which deal with “political aspirations and the progressive development of free political institutions” for American Samoa.

“... Whether the territory is delisted 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 D.C. that are beyond our control,” it says.

The Samoa News
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