As the Hawaiian Kingdom approaches the celebration of its most important national holiday Lā Ku‘oko‘a (Independence Day) on November 28—Saturday, it is important to understand just what the term “independence” really means. Common misunderstandings are statements such as “independence advocates” or “people who want Hawaiian independence.” These statements assume Hawai‘i is not independent, where independence is a political aspiration and not a legal reality. It is also evidence of denationalization through Americanization that has nearly obliterated the national consciousness of the Hawaiian Kingdom in the minds of the people.
In international relations and law, independence reflects the status of a State whereby the international community recognizes that only the laws of that particular State apply over its territory “independent” of other laws over other States and their territories. Only independent States are subjects of international law or members or the Family of Nations. In other words you can be a State, but not be independent, such as the State of New York, which once was an independent State but is no longer today.
After the American Revolution, the State of New York became an independent State along with the other former twelve British colonies, who were all member States of a political union called the United Stated States of America, which was a confederation since 1777. A confederation is a political union of independent States, such as today’s European Union, which is a commercial union of independent States.
Article 1 of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the American Revolution, specifically states, “His Brittanic Majesty acknowledges the said United States, viz., New Hampshire, Massachusetts Bay, Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia, to be free sovereign and Independent States.” For the next six years, the international community recognized that only New York law applied over the territory of New York to the exclusion of any foreign States’ laws, such as the laws of Great Britain and France.
In 1789, New York would lose its independence of its laws when it chose to join an American Federation whereby all thirteen American independent States would relinquish their independence to a Federal government thereby creating the United States of America as the world knows it today. This is when the United States of America replaced the former thirteen independent States as the single independent State under international law. No longer being an independent State, New York has two separate laws that apply with equal force within its territory—United States Federal law and State of New York law.
When Great Britain and France jointly proclaimed on November 28, 1843 that both States recognized the Hawaiian Kingdom as an Independent State, it meant that only Hawaiian law would apply over Hawaiian territory, which signified Hawaiian independence. Even more surprising was that the Hawaiian Kingdom was the only non-European Power admitted into the Family of Nations with full recognition of its independence of Hawaiian law over Hawaiian territory.
Other non-European Powers such as Japan were not admitted as independent States into the Family of Nations until 1899, and since 1858, Japan had unequal treaties whereby independent States, such as the United States of America, applied their own laws within Japanese territory over their citizenry. Under the 1858 American-Japanese unequal treaty, American citizens could only be prosecuted in Japan under American law and tried by the American Consulate serving as the Court. The Hawaiian Kingdom also had an unequal treaty with Japan. Under the 1871 Hawaiian-Japanese Treaty, Hawaiian subjects in Japan could only be prosecuted under Hawaiian law by the Hawaiian Consulate in Tokyo.
Since the American occupation began, Hawaiian independence is at the core of the law of occupation. This means only Hawaiian law must be temporarily administered by the occupying State. No other law can be administered in an occupied State because it is independent. The laws of occupation would not apply if Hawai‘i was not an independent State.
In international arbitration between the Netherlands and the United States at the Permanent Court of Arbitration (Island of Palmas case) from 1925-1928, the arbitrator explained independence. Judge Huber stated, “Sovereignty in the relations between States signifies independence. Independence in regard to a portion of the globe is the right to exercise therein, to the exclusion of any other State, the functions of a State.”
Independence refers to “political” independence and not “physical” independence from another State. Oppenheim, International Law, Vol. 1, 177-8 (2nd ed. 1912), explains: “Sovereignty as supreme authority, which is independent of any other earthly authority, may be said to have different aspects. As excluding dependence from any other authority, and in especial from the authority of the another State, sovereignty is independence. It is external independence with regard to the liberty of action outside its borders in the intercourse with other States which a State enjoys. It is internal independence with regard to the liberty of action of a State inside its borders. As comprising the power of a State to exercise supreme authority over all persons and things within its territory, sovereignty is territorial supremacy. As comprising the power of a State to exercise supreme authority over its citizens at home and abroad, sovereignty is personal supremacy. For these reasons a State as an International Person possesses independence and territorial and personal supremacy.”
Occupation does not extinguish independence/sovereignty, but rather it is protected and maintained under international law. U.S. Army FM-27-10, The Law of Land Warfare, acknowledges this. Chapter 6 covers occupation. Section 358 states, “Being an incident of war, 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. The exercise of these rights results from the established power of the occupant and from the necessity of maintaining law and order, indispensable both to the inhabitants and to the occupying force. It is therefore unlawful for a belligerent occupant to annex occupied territory or to create a new State therein while hostilities are still in progress.”