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Hawaii and Crimea

In 1898, Hawaii was officially annexed to the US illegally under a joint resolution of Congress, with the US using the excuse of ‘military necessity’ in the advent of the Spanish-American War.

Timothy Smith
16 April 2014

The United States government and the United States press have been up in arms over what they perceive to be Russia’s illegal annexation and occupation of Crimea, formally part of Ukraine. .The US Press Secretary summed up the official line ,‘’The United States has steadfastly supported the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Ukraine since it declared its independence in 1991.’’

The US and the EU are looking for ways to discredit the secession of Crimea on the grounds that the referendum held was illegal. Whilst this is all well and good in presenting the US as a benevolent world power, dedicated to upholding the integrity of international law and defending the sovereignty of fellow nations, there are clearly other factors at play apart from the self-determination of the Crimean people.

The use of the word sovereignty by the US government and also their references to occupation are both interesting and hypocritical. Not only does the US’s foreign policy contradict this stance but their domestic policy is also in contravention of their own official stance with regards to the current occupation of the sovereign Kingdom of Hawaii, which is a de facto colony of the United States.

The US occupation of Hawaii

Whilst most people outside of the US recognize Hawaii as a state of America, an idyllic holiday destination and the place of birth of current US President Barack Obama, few people are fully aware of how all this happened.

According to international law professor Mathew Craven, the Hawaiian state still exists and thus the extension of US law onto Hawaii is a contravention of international law. Craven extensively shows in his study that Hawaii fulfilled all the requisite criteria to be regarded as a sovereign state during the nineteenth century, citing various diplomatic agreements that the Kingdom of Hawaii had at the time (that are technically still in existence) as well as the fact that Britain and France declared in 1843 that Hawaii (The Sandwich Islands) was an independent state.

Despite that, in 1898 the islands were officially annexed to the US illegally under a joint resolution of Congress, with the US using the excuse of ‘military necessity’ in the advent of the Spanish-American War. The rogue Republic of Hawaii (that attempted a coup in 1893) accepted the ‘’annexation’’ and Hawaii has been under US occupation ever since.

The movement to reclaim Hawaii

In 1993 the US stoked the fires of independence through issuing the ‘Apology Law’ which admitted to the fact that the US illegally participated in the seizure of the Hawaiian Kingdom back in 1893. The joint resolution "acknowledges that the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawaii occurred with the active participation of agents and citizens of the United States and further acknowledges that the Native Hawaiian people never directly relinquished to the United States their claims to their inherent sovereignty as a people over their national lands, either through the Kingdom of Hawaii or through a plebiscite or referendum." This clearly indicated an acceptance of wrongdoing on the US’ part and furthered claims for Hawaiian independence, by accepting the fact that Hawaii was a sovereign state prior to the illegal annexation. That being said, the US have never built on this apology or assisted attempts to reconcile past wrongs through consideration of ending the occupation.

The movement have been going down a legal route in an attempt to regain their state recognition. In 2000 for example a case that was heard at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague (the World Court) which involved a subject of the Hawaiian Kingdom and the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom itself. In the words of Leon Sui, the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Kingdom of Hawaii, this ‘established that both parties - the subject and the government - had standing in an international court’ essentially, the World Court regarded the Hawaiian Kingdom to be a sovereign state under international law, which set a precedent for wider debate on the legality of Hawaii.

Currently, the State of Hawaii remains an administrative branch of the United States government, rather than a means for the indigenous Hawaiian people to gain sovereignty. The critical point is that the Kingdom of Hawaii never ceased to exist and thus has been under occupation since the illegal annexation that the US subsequently apologised for.

US hypocrisy 

Obama has spoken about the illegality of Russia’s occupation and subsequent annexation of Crimea, yet he, Hawaiian born, has failed to acknowledge his own hypocrisy in ignoring the US’ own illegal annexation and continued occupation of Hawaii. The US claim they will never recognize Crimea’s secession, despite the fact that there is an argument to be made that people in Crimea do feel closer to Moscow than Kiev, which adds some legitimacy to the case for Crimean secession, even in spite of Vladimir Putin’s heavy handed tactics and irrespective of his motives.

The double standard seems lost on the President and on the United States press. The media in the US are singing from the same hymn sheet in support of the US government position and spouting anti-Putin rhetoric, without ever picking up on the case of the Hawaiian people and the obvious breach of their right to self-determination. Some might of course argue that this shows some consistency, as the US clearly seem to be against the Crimean right to self-determination, whilst also being against the right to self-determination of the Hawaiian people.  This is despite the fact that article I of the UN Charter notes that the purpose of the UN is to ‘develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples’ something alluded to by former Republican Representative for Texas, Ron Paul.

What is clear is that the USA are not concerned with the sovereignty of fellow nations, nor are they fussed about extending the right to self-determination to people of all over the globe. In the interim period there needs to be more attention given to the occupation of the Hawaiian people and the failure of the US to respond in the light of the 1993 apology. 

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