Usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation was listed as a war crime in a 1919 report by the Commission on Responsibilities of the Paris Peace Conference that was established by the Allied and Associated Powers at war with Germany and its allies in the First World War. The Commission was especially concerned with acts perpetrated in occupied territories against non-combatants and civilians.
Usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation is the imposition of the laws and administrative measures of the Occupying State over the territory of the Occupied State. Usurpation, according to Black’s Law dictionary, is “The unlawful encroachment or assumption of the use of property, power or authority which belongs to another.”
The Commission did not indicate the source of this crime in treaty law but it would appear to be Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations, which states, “The authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country.” Article 43 is the codification of customary international law that existed on January 17, 1893, when the United States unlawfully overthrew the government of the Hawaiian Kingdom and began its prolonged belligerent occupation.
In the annex of its 1919 report, the Commission charged that in Poland the German and Austrian forces had “prevented the populations from organising themselves to maintain order and public security” and that they had “[a]ided the Bolshevist hordes that invaded the territories.” It said that in Romania the German authorities had instituted German civil courts to try disputes between subjects of the Central Powers or between a subject of these powers and a Romanian, a neutral, or subjects of Germany’s enemies. In Serbia, the Bulgarian authorities had “[p]roclaimed that the Serbian State no longer existed, and that Serbian territory had become Bulgarian.” It listed several other war crimes committed by Bulgaria in occupied Serbia: “Serbian law, courts and administration ousted;” “Taxes collected under Bulgarian fiscal regime;” “Serbian currency suppressed;” “Public property removed or destroyed, including books, archives and MSS (e.g., from the National Library, the University Library, Serbian Legation at Sofia, French Consulate at Uskub);” “Prohibited sending Serbian Red Cross to occupied Serbia.” It also charged that in Serbia the German and Austrian authorities had committed several war crimes: “The Austrians suspended many Serbian laws and substituted their own, especially in penal matters, in procedure, judicial organisation, etc.;” “Museums belonging to the State (e.g., Belgrade, Detchani) were emptied and the contents taken to Vienna.”
The crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation was referred to by Judge Blair of the American Military Commission in a separate opinion in the Justice Case, holding that “This rule is incident to military occupation and was clearly intended to protect the inhabitants of any occupied territory against the unnecessary exercise of sovereignty by a military occupant.” Australia, Netherlands and China enacted laws making usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation a war crime. In the case of Australia, the Parliament enacted the Australian War Crimes Act in 1945 that included the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation.
The war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation has not been included in more recent codifications of war crimes, casting some doubt on its status as a crime under customary international law. And there do not appear to have been any prosecutions for that crime by international criminal tribunals of late. However, the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation is a war crime under “particular” customary international law. According to the International Law Commission, “A rule of particular customary international law, whether regional, local or other, is a rule of customary international law that applies only among a limited number of States.” In the 1919 report of the Commission, the United States, as a member of the commission, did not contest the listing of the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation, but rather only disagreed, inter alia, with the Commission’s position on the means of prosecuting heads of state for the listed war crimes by conduct of omission.
The Hawaiian Kingdom Royal Commission Inquiry views usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation as a war crime under “particular” customary international law and binding upon the Allied and Associated Powers of the First World War—United States of America, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan, principal Allied Powers and Associated Powers that include Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, China, Cuba, Ecuador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Liberia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Thailand, Czech Republic, formerly known as Czechoslovakia, and Uruguay. Great Britain, as an empire at the time, included Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa who also fought in the First World War. Therefore, as an international crime under particular customary international law, these countries are obligated to prosecute this war crime in their courts.
In the Hawaiian situation, usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation serves as a source for the commission of other war crimes within the territory of the Hawaiian Kingdom, which includes the war crimes of compulsory enlistment, denationalization, pillage, destruction of property, deprivation of fair and regular trial, deporting civilians of the occupied territory, and transferring populations into an occupied territory. The reasoning for the prohibition of imposing extraterritorial prescriptions or measures of the occupying State is addressed by Professor Eyal Benvenisti:
The occupant may not surpass its limits under international law through extraterritorial prescriptions emanating from its national institutions: the legislature, government, and courts. The reason for this rule is, of course, the functional symmetry, with respect to the occupied territory, among the various lawmaking authorities of the occupying state. Without this symmetry, Article 43 could become meaningless as a constraint upon the occupant, since the occupation administration would then choose to operate through extraterritorial prescription of its national institutions.
Usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation came before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (“PCA”) in 1999. In Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom, the Permanent Court of Arbitration convened an arbitral tribunal to resolve a dispute where Larsen, the claimant, alleged that the Government of the Hawaiian Kingdom, by its Council of Regency, the respondent, was liable “for allowing the unlawful imposition of American municipal laws over the claimant’s person within the territorial jurisdiction of the Hawaiian Kingdom.” The PCA accepted the case as a dispute between a “State” and a “private party” and acknowledged the Hawaiian Kingdom to be a non-Contracting State in accordance with Article 47 of the 1907 Hague Convention. The PCA annual reports of 2000 through 2011 specifically states that the Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom proceedings were done “Pursuant to article 47 of the 1907 Convention.” According to Bederman and Hilbert of the American Journal of International Law:
At the center of the PCA proceeding was the argument that … the Hawaiian Kingdom continues to exist and that the Council of Regency (representing the Hawaiian Kingdom) is legally responsible under international law for the protection of Hawaiian subjects, including the claimant. In other words, the Hawaiian Kingdom was legally obligated to protect Larsen from the United States’ “unlawful imposition [over him] of [its] municipal laws” through its political subdivision, the State of Hawai‘i [and its County of Hawai‘i].
In the situation of Hawai‘i, the usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation would appear to have been total since the beginning of the twentieth century. This is an ongoing crime where the criminal act would consist of the imposition of legislation or administrative measures by the occupying power that goes beyond what is required necessary for military purposes of the occupation. Since 1898, when the United States Congress enacted an American municipal law purporting to have annexed the Hawaiian Islands, it began to impose its legislation and administrative measures to the present in violation of the laws of occupation.
Given that this is essentially a crime involving government action or policy or the action or policies of an occupying State’s proxies such as the State of Hawai‘i and its Counties, a perpetrator who participated in the act would be required to do so intentionally and with knowledge that the act went beyond what was required for military purposes or the protection of fundamental human rights.
Usurpation of sovereignty has not only victimized the civilian population in the Hawaiian Islands for over a century, but it has also victimized the civilians of other countries that have visited the islands since 1898 who were unlawfully subjected to American municipal laws and administrative measures. These include State of Hawai‘i sales tax on goods purchased in the islands but also taxes placed exclusively on tourists’ accommodations collected by the State of Hawai‘i and the Counties.
The Counties have recently added 3% surcharges to the State of Hawai‘i’s 10.25% transient accommodations tax. Added with the State of Hawai‘i’s general excise tax of 4% in addition to the 0.5% County general excise tax surcharges, civilians who are visiting the islands will be paying a total of 17.75% to the occupying power. In addition, those civilians of foreign countries doing business in the Hawaiian Islands are also subjected to paying American duties on goods that are imported to the United States destined to Hawai‘i. These duty rates are collected by the United States according to the United States Tariff Act of 1930, as amended, and the Trade Agreements Act of 1979.
The far reach of the victims of war crimes committed in the Hawaiian Islands includes civilians throughout the world in various countries.
At the United Nations World Summit in 2005, the Responsibility to Protect was unanimously adopted. The principle of the Responsibility to Protect has three pillars: (1) every State has the Responsibility to Protect its populations from four mass atrocity crimes—genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing; (2) the wider international community has the responsibility to encourage and assist individual States in meeting that responsibility; and (3) if a state is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take appropriate collective action, in a timely and decisive manner and in accordance with the UN Charter. In 2009, the General Assembly reaffirmed the three pillars of State’s Responsibility to Protect their populations from war crimes and crimes against humanity under resolution A/63/308, and in 2021, the UN General Assembly passed resolution A/75/277 on “The responsibility to protect and the prevention of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
Rule 158 of the International Committee of the Red Cross Study on Customary International Humanitarian Law specifies that “States must investigate war crimes allegedly committed by their nationals or armed forces, or on their territory, and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects. They must also investigate other war crimes over which they have jurisdiction and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects.” This “rule that States must investigate war crimes and prosecute the suspects is set forth in numerous military manuals, with respect to grave breaches, but also more broadly with respect to war crimes in general.”
Determined to hold to account individuals who have committed war crimes and human rights violations throughout the territorial jurisdiction of the Hawaiian Kingdom, the Council of Regency, by Proclamation on April 17, 2019, established a Royal Commission of Inquiry in similar fashion to the United States proposal of establishing a Commission of Inquiry after the First World War “to consider generally the relative culpability of the authors of the war and also the question of their culpability as to the violations of the laws and customs of war committed during its course.”
In mid-November of 2022, the Royal Commission of Inquiry published War Criminal Reports no. 22-0002, 22-0002-1, 22-0003, 22-0003-1, 22-0004, 22-0004-1, 22-0005, 22-0005-1, 22-0007, and 22-0007-1 that provides the evidence that U.S. President Joseph Biden, Jr., Vice-President Kamala Harris, Admiral John Aquilino, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, Senator Charles Schumer, Representative Nancy Pelosi, State of Hawai‘i Governor David Ige, Commissioner Ty Nohara, Tax Director Isaac Choy, Hawai‘i County Mayor Mitchell Roth, Hawai‘i County Council Chairwoman Maile David, Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, Maui County Council Chairwoman Alice Lee, County of Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami, and Kaua‘i County Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro have committed the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation. Accomplices to this war crime include: U.S. Attorneys Brian Boynton, Anthony Coppolino, and Michael Gerardi; State of Hawai‘i Attorneys Holly T. Shikada and Amanda J. Weston; County of Hawai‘i Attorneys Elizabeth Strance, Mark Disher and Dakota Frenz; County of Maui Attorneys Moana Lutey, Caleb Rowe and Iwalani Mountcastle; and County of Kaua‘i Attorneys Matthew Bracken and Mark Bradbury.
The reports have documented the necessary evidence that satisfies the elements of the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation: (1) the perpetrators imposed imposed or applied legislative or administrative measures of the occupying power going beyond those required by what is necessary for military purposes of the occupation, which is the actus reus or the criminal act; (2) the perpetrators were aware that the measures went beyond what was required for military purposes or the protection of fundamental human rights, which is the mens rea or the guilty mind; (3) their conduct took place in the context of and was associated with a military occupation; and (4) the perpetrators were aware of factual circumstances that established the existence of the military occupation.
With regard to the last two elements listed for the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation: (1) there is no requirement for a legal evaluation by the perpetrator as to the existence of an armed conflict or its character as international or non-international; (2) in that context there is no requirement for awareness by the perpetrator of the facts that established the character of the conflict as international or non-international; and (3) there is only a requirement for the awareness of the factual circumstance that established the existence of an armed conflict that is implicit in the terms “took place in the context of and was associated with.”
According to Professor Dietrich Schindler, “the existence of an [international] armed conflict within the meaning of Article 2 common to the Geneva Conventions can always be assumed when parts of the armed forces of two States clash with each other. … Any kind of use of arms between two States brings the Conventions into effect.” Dr. Stuart Casey-Maslen, author of The War Report 2012, further concludes that an international armed conflict “also exists whenever one state uses any form of armed force against another state, irrespective of whether the latter state fights back.”
The Hawaiian Kingdom has been in an international armed conflict with the United States since January 16, 1893, when U.S. troops invaded the city of Honolulu. The Hawaiian Kingdom has been under military occupation since January 17, 1893, when Queen Lili‘uokalani conditionally surrendered to the United States forces. For a comprehensive legal narrative and analysis of this international armed conflict download the Royal Commission of Inquiry’s ebook The Royal Commission of Inquiry: Investigating War Crimes and Human Rights Violations Committed in the Hawaiian Kingdom (2020).
The 123 countries who are States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court have primary responsibility to prosecute war criminals under complementary and universal jurisdiction. This type of jurisdiction gives State Parties the first responsibility before the International Criminal Court can initiate proceedings and authority to prosecute individuals for international crimes to include the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation without regard to the place the war crime was committed or the nationality of the perpetrator. With the exception of the United States, China, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, and Thailand, the Allied Powers and Associated Powers of the First World War are State Parties to the Rome Statute.
In this situation where the citizenry of these countries have become victims of the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation, they can seek extradition warrants in their national courts in order for their governments to prosecute these war criminals under the passive personality principle. The passive personality principle provides countries with jurisdiction for crimes committed against their nationals while they were abroad in the Hawaiian Islands. This has the potential of opening the floodgate to lawsuits from all over the world.
The commission of the war crime of usurpation of sovereignty during military occupation can stop when the United States, the State of Hawai‘i and the Counties begin to comply with Article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations and administer the laws of the Occupied State—the Hawaiian Kingdom.