Despite the prolonged nature of the occupation and 130 years of non-compliance to the law of occupation, there are two fundamental rules that prevail: (1) to protect the sovereign rights of the legitimate government of the Occupied State; and (2) to protect the inhabitants of the Occupied State from being exploited. From these two rules, the 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention circumscribe the conduct and actions of a military government, notwithstanding the failure by the occupant to protect the rights of the occupied government and the inhabitants since 1893. These rights remain vested despite over a century of violating these rights. The failure to establish a military government facilitated the violations.
The law of occupation does not give the occupant unlimited power over the inhabitants of the Occupied State. As President McKinley interpreted this customary law of occupation under General Orders No. 101 (July 18, 1898), that predates the 1899 and 1907 Hague Regulations during the Spanish-American War, the inhabitants of occupied territory “are entitled to security in their persons and property and in all their private rights and relations,” and it is the duty of the commander of the occupant “to protect them in their homes, in their employments, and in their personal and religious beliefs.” The Order also stated that “the municipal laws of the conquered territory, such as affect private rights of person and property and provide for the punishment of crime, are considered as continuing in force” and are “to be administered by the ordinary tribunals, substantially as they were before the occupation.”
United States practice under the law of occupation acknowledges that sovereignty remains in the Occupied State, because according to the U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10, “military occupation confers upon the invading force the means of exercising control for the period of occupation. It does not transfer the sovereignty to the occupant, but simply the authority or power to exercise some of the rights of sovereignty” through effective control of the territory of the Occupied State.
The prolonged occupation did not diminish Hawaiian State sovereignty and the continued existence of the Hawaiian State was acknowledged by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 1999 in Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom. On March 22, 2023, the United Nations Human Council, at its 49th session in Geneva, was made aware of the Hawaiian Kingdom as an Occupied State and the commission of war crimes and human rights violations within its territory by the United States and the State of Hawai‘i and its Counties.
International humanitarian law is silent on a “prolonged occupation” because the authors of 1907 Hague Regulations viewed occupations to be provisional and not long term. According to Professor Scobbie, “The fundamental postulate of the regime of belligerent occupation is that it is a temporary state of affairs during which the occupant is prohibited from annexing the occupied territory. The occupant is vested only with temporary powers of administration and does not possess sovereignty over the territory.”
The effective control by the United States since Queen Lili‘uokalani’s conditional surrender on January 17, 1893, did not transfer Hawaiian sovereignty. As Professor Benvenisti explains, “Effective control by foreign military force can never bring about by itself a valid transfer of sovereignty. Because occupation does not transfer sovereignty over the territory to the occupying power, international law must regulate the inter-relationships between the occupying force, the ousted government, and the local inhabitants for the duration of the occupation. From the principle of inalienable sovereignty over a territory springs the basic structural constraints that international law imposes upon the occupant.”
Despite the prolonged nature of the American occupation, the law of occupation continues to apply because sovereignty was never ceded or transferred to the United States by the Hawaiian Kingdom. At a meeting of experts on the law occupation, that was convened by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the experts “pointed out that the norms of occupation law, in particular Article 43 of the Hague Regulations and Article 64 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, had originally been designed to regulate short-term occupations. However, the [experts] agreed that [international humanitarian law] did not set any limits to the time span of an occupation. It was therefore recognized that nothing under [international humanitarian law] would prevent occupying powers from embarking on a long-term occupation and that occupation law would continue to provide the legal framework applicable in such circumstances.” They also concluded that since a prolonged occupation “could lead to transformations and changes in the occupied territory that would normally not be necessary during short-term occupation,” they “emphasized the need to interpret occupation law flexibly when an occupation persisted.” The prolonged occupation of the Hawaiian Kingdom is, in fact, that case, where drastic unlawful “transformations and changes in the occupied territory” occurred.
As the occupant in effective control of 10,931 square miles of Hawaiian territory, the State of Hawai‘i, being the civilian government of the Hawaiian Kingdom that was unlawfully seized in 1893, is obligated to transform itself into a military government in order “to protect the sovereign rights of the legitimate government of the Occupied State, and…to protect the inhabitants of the Occupied State from being exploited.” The military government has centralized control, headed military governor, and by virtue of this position, according U.S. Army Field Manual 27-5, the military governor has “supreme legislative, executive, and judicial authority, limited only the laws and customs of war and by directives from higher authority.”
The reasoning for the centralized control of authority is so that the military government can effectively respond to situations that are fluid in nature. Under the law of occupation, this authority by the occupant is to be shared with the Council of Regency, being the government of the Occupied State. As the last word concerning any acts relating to the administration of the occupied territory is with the occupying power, “occupation law would allow for a vertical, but not a horizontal, sharing of authority [in the sense that] this power sharing should not affect the ultimate authority of the occupier over the occupied territory.”
By virtue of this shared authority, the Council of Regency, in its meeting on August 14, 2023, approved an “Operational Plan for Transitioning the State of Hawai‘i into a Military Government.” International humanitarian law distinguishes between the “Occupying State” and the “occupant.” The law of occupation falls upon the latter and not the former, because the former’s seat of government exists outside of Hawaiian territory, while the latter’s military government exists within Hawaiian territory.
This operational plan lays out the process of transition from the State of Hawai‘i government to a Military Government in accordance with international humanitarian law, the law of occupation, and U.S. Army regulations in Field Manuals 27-5 and 27-10. The 1907 Hague Regulations and the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention shows there are four essential tasks of the Military Government. This operational plan addresses these essential tasks with their implied tasks for successful execution despite the prolonged nature of the occupation where the basic rules of occupation have been violated for over a century. The operational plan lays out governing rules of maintaining a Military Government until a peace treaty has been negotiated and agreed upon between the Hawaiian Kingdom and the United States of America.
The insurgents, who were not held to account for their treasonous actions in 1893, were allowed by the United States to control and exploit the resources of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its inhabitants after the Hawaiian government was unlawfully overthrown by United States troops. Some of these insurgents came to be known as the Big Five, a collection of five self-serving large businesses, that wielded considerable political and economic power after 1893. The Big Five were Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, C. Brewer & Company, American Factors (now Amfac), and Theo H. Davies & Company. One of the Big Five, Amfac, acquired an interest in Pioneer Mill Company in 1918, and in 1960 became a wholly owned subsidiary of Amfac.
Pioneer Mill Company operated in West Maui with its headquarters in Lahaina. In 1885, Pioneer Mill Company was cultivating 600 of the 900 acres owned by the company and by 1910, 8,000 acres were devoted to growing sugar cane. In 1931, the Olowalu Company was purchased by Pioneer Mill Company, adding 1,200 acres of sugar cane land to the plantation. By 1935, over 10,000 acres, half-owned and half leased, were producing sugar cane for Pioneer Mill. To maintain its plantations, water was diverted, and certain lands of west Maui became dry.
The Lahaina wildfire’s tragic outcome also draws attention to the exploitation of the resources of west Maui and its inhabitants—water and land. West Maui Land Company, Inc., became the successor to Pioneer Mill and its subsidiary the Launiupoko Irrigation Company. When the sugar plantation closed in 1999, it was replaced with real estate development and water management. Instead of diverting water to the sugar plantation, it began to divert water to big corporations, hotels, golf courses, and luxury subdivisions. As reported by Hawai‘i Public Radio, “Lahaina was formerly the ‘Venice of the Pacific,’ an area famed for its lush environment, natural and cultural resources, and its abundant water resources in particular.” Lahaina became a deadly victim of water diversion and exploitation. It should be noted that Lahaina is but a microcosm of the exploitation of the resources of the Hawaiian Kingdom and its inhabitants throughout the Hawaiian Islands for the past century to benefit the American economy in violation of the law of occupation.
Considering the devastation and tragedy of the Lahaina wildfire, transforming the State of Hawai‘i into a military government is only amplified and made much more urgent. It has been reported that the west Maui community, to their detriment, are frustrated with the lack of centralized control by departments and agencies of the federal government, the State of Hawai‘i, and the County of Maui. The law of occupation will not change the support of these departments and agencies, but rather only change the dynamics of leadership under the centralized control by the military governor. The operational plan provides a comprehensive process of transition with essential tasks and implied tasks to be carried out. The establishment of a military government would also put an end to land developers approaching victims of the fire who lost their homes to purchase their property. While land titles were incapable of being conveyed after January 17, 1893, for want of a lawful government and its notaries public, titles are capable of being remedied under Hawaiian Kingdom law and economic relief by title insurance policies. It is unfortunate that the tragedy of Lahaina has become an urgency for the State of Hawai‘i to begin to comply with the law of occupation and establish a military government. To not do so is a war crime of omission.