Synopsis   History "Lance Paul Larsen vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom"
Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague
News   Arbitral Log

Kingdom Come

Citizens of an occupied nation seek international justice at the World Court

Honolulu Weekly
April 18-24, 2001

by Anne Keala Kelly

From an occupied kingdom to the land of international laws, questions over legitimacy and jurisdiction in Hawai'i made their way to the World Court's Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Netherlands, on December 7, 2000. A series of traffic citations issued to Lance Paul Larsen in Hilo may one day be known as the tickets heard 'round the world. But for now, Larsen's refusal to display a license plate and safety tag and the subsequent 30 days of jail time he did should be looked upon as an act of civil disobedience powerful enough to bring the international court's attention to the subject of Hawaiian independence. And what may distinguish this path from others followed by Hawaiian sovereignty and independence advocates is the fact that tying these citations to the illegal overthrow of a government is actually a legitimate avenue to take in the arena of international law.

To understand the Hawaiian Kingdom's standing in the international courts, one has to look at history in Hawai'i since Western contact. Arguably one of the most famous events in Hawai'i is referred to as the "illegal overthrow." Following that, two attempts were made to annex the islands to the United States in 1893 and again in 1897. Both were unsuccessful.

During the Spanish-American War a year later, the United States Congress passed an internal law, Joint Resolution #55, which, under U.S. laws, annexed Hawai'i. In 1959, Hawai'i was admitted to the union. For most Americans, that's the end of the discussion. But for many Native Hawaiians it remains an unresolved history.

"The U.S. enacted their internal joint resolution, but under international law that means nothing," says Keanu Sai, acting minister of interior for the Hawaiian Kingdom.

"There is a provision, Article 27 of the Vienna Convention, that codified what had been accepted as international law since the 1800's. It states, 'A party may not invoke the provision of its internal law as justification for its failure to perform a treaty.'"

Broken down, that means when a nation, such as the United States, has a treaty with another nation, such as the Kingdom of Hawai'i, the United States cannot impose its own domestic laws. Which is to say, it's illegal for one country to go to another country - say, Switzerland - and put up its own flag just because it has the military and economic might to do it.

The civil and criminal codes of the Hawaiian Kingdom are still intact, even if they aren't being adhered to.

"There's been a lapse of time," says Sai, "but under international law the presumption is that a lapse of time does not effect independence. It's simply called 'prolonged occupation.'"

Sai continues: "The Hawaiian Kingdom was an established state with many treaties, and as such it is protected by international law. The only way an independent state can give itself away is by consent."

And as we all know, the vast majority of subjects of the Hawaiian Kingdom protested America's presence (the Ku'e Petitions), the provisional government, and the Republic of Hawai'i, whose sole purpose was to transfer itself to the United States. Queen Lili'uokalani protested at home and in Washington, D.C., and entered into an estoppel agreement with President Grover Cleveland, wherein the president asked the queen effectively to pardon the traitors who were calling themselves the provisional government. In return for this, the United States would support the reinstatement of the Hawaiian monarchy. She agreed; however, to this day, the United States has not lived up to its end of the agreement.

The potential interpretation of that history in the international courts is that the government of the kingdom has been under siege - held hostage, if you will. And hence, the presence of the United States in Hawai'i is defined in international law as occupation. "The mandate under international law," says Sai, "is that the occupying powers must administer the laws of the land. They can't change them."

Which brings us back to Lance Paul Larsen. Following his incarceration, Larsen filed suit against the Hawaiian Kingdom, because under its laws the kingdom is responsible for protecting his rights as a subject. He alleges that the failure on the part of the kingdom resulted in his imprisonment by an occupying force.

"We are at the World Court to determine liability of the Hawaiian Kingdom's government in relation to one of its nationals," says Sai.

"Under international law, the existence of the kingdom is the presumption, not the claim. Its existence as an independent state is a matter of international law. We already have sovereignty," says Sai. "We are working to end the occupation."

In February of this year, the "award" from the court was announced. The entire text can be read at, but the sticking points of the award have opened the door for a promising path to justice. In brief, one such point says, "A belligerent occupation, per se, does not extinguish the state." As pursuant to options offered in the World Court's award, Larsen's attorney, Ninia Parks, and the Hawaiian Kingdom have responded with a request that the Arbitral Tribunal be reconstituted into a commission for fact-finding in order for the merits to be heard, exercising independence as a kingdom again may become inevitable. And economic reparations both locally and internationally will eventually become part of the discussion.

Why reparations? Because the ethical questions of occupation lead to questions about the economic substance for that occupation. One point of contention is that the U.S. tariffs on goods are far higher than those of the Hawaiian Kingdom, and businesses that export goods to Hawai'i have been overpaying for a hundred years.

The bottom line for the Hawaiian Kingdom is that even if U.S. leaders chose to ignore the convoluted way the United States has come to call these islands part of "America," international law still applies in matters of occupation - even a hundred years after the fact. The Hawaiian Kingdom's road is all about those laws, not America's perceptions.

Synopsis   History "Lance Paul Larsen vs. the Hawaiian Kingdom"
Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague
News   Arbitral Log