Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles sent a letter to the CEO of The Queen’s Health Systems stating the state’s largest private employer “may have committed the international crime of genocide against aboriginal Hawaiians.”
The reference line of the Sept. 20 letter to Art Ushijima, sent by registered mail on Hawaii County Council letterhead, reads: “War crimes committed against aboriginal Hawaiians by Queen’s Health Systems.” The alleged war crime is not following the original 1859 charter of then-Queen’s Hospital which provided for free medical care for Native Hawaiians.
The 11-page letter by Ruggles refers to a Feb. 25 memorandum from Alfred M. deZayas, a United Nations independent expert, who called Hawaii “a nation-state that is under a strange form of occupation by the United States resulting from an illegal military occupation and a fraudulent annexation.”
“As such, international laws (the Hague and Geneva Conventions) require that governance and legal matters within the occupied territory of the Hawaiian islands must be administered by the application of the laws of the occupied state (in this case, the Hawaiian Kingdom), not the domestic laws of the occupier (the United States),” deZayas wrote.
According to Ruggles, since the Hague and Geneva conventions were ratified by the Senate, they became U.S. law, “and Hawaiian subjects of aboriginal blood, both pure and part, are protected persons whose rights during the U.S. occupation are protected under the Geneva Convention.”
Ruggles also cited the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Native Hawaiian Fact Sheet 2017, which stated, “Today, Native Hawaiians are perhaps the single racial group with the highest health risk in the state of Hawaii. This risk stems from high economic and cultural stress, lifestyle and risk behaviors, and the late or lack of access to health care.”
“The ‘lack of access to health care’ is what troubles me knowing that the Queen’s Hospital was specifically established, under Hawaiian Kingdom law, to provide for their health care, free of charge,” Ruggles wrote. “… In this case the war crime of omission and abrogation of the Queen’s Hospital’s free health care to aboriginal Hawaiians as protected persons, and as mandated in your charter before the occupation is a violation of … the (Geneva Convention) and therefore would constitute a war crime.”
Ruggles has abstained from voting on council measures since Aug. 21 on the grounds that her votes could, in themselves, potentially be war crimes, because of the occupation of Hawaii. She cited a letter Keanu Sai of the Kingdom of Hawaii sent to elected officials, which included the deZayas memo. Ruggles rejected a written opinion by county Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela assuring her council votes will not violate international law.
Ruggles didn’t run for re-election this year and her term expires in December.
Ruggles on Thursday described the letter to Ushijima plus additional letters she told an audience she would send to “every agent in the United States in Hawaii concerning the rights of protected persons” during a town hall meeting Monday on war crimes, “are legal acts I am legally required to take in accordance with my oath of office and an agent of the United States.”
“Because I am an American and I took an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution, it is within my sworn duty to ‘ensure respect for the conventions in all circumstances’ as required in article 29 of the Geneva Convention,” Ruggles said. “Again, the Hague and Geneva conventions I am complying with are treaties ratified by the United States, and the United States Constitution Article VI says treaties are the supreme law of the land of which I am bound to uphold.”
Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung, who urged Ruggles to reconsider her position on voting with the council, said he’s perplexed by Ruggles’ letter.
“I don’t think anyone on the County Council doubts her sincerity or disrespects her opinions and her views on this particular subject. She’s entitled to her views in that regard,” Chung said. “It’s not improper, under normal circumstances, for a member to use County Council letterhead to advance their support, objections, thoughts or whatever on a certain subject, as long as they don’t represent that it’s on behalf of the entire council.
“What becomes problematic — in my view, anyway — is that she took an oath of office, and that’s required of all individuals assuming office in the county of Hawaii, per the County Charter. That oath of office requires us to uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and the state of Hawaii. Implied in that is recognition of the state of Hawaii and its counties. Instead of deferring to the county council as a legitimate body, she has taken the position she is going to defer to this other opinion that she has received from her private attorney relating to the Hawaiian Kingdom and the illegality of the County Council. Because she did that, I believe she’s abdicated her position, de facto, and I think it’s now improper for her to use the County Council letterhead, because she’s doing it under color of the authority of the County Council.
“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too. It’s either one or the other. You can’t object to the legitimacy of something and still operate under the color of it, of the same thing you’re actually objecting to. She’s siding against the legitimacy of the County Council. Therefore, I find it very confusing that she would use her title in the County Council to advance a particular position.”
Kamelamela, who told Ruggles she’s not allowed to assume her position on the dais during council meetings if she doesn’t vote, said, “Just because somebody said something appears to be a war crime doesn’t make it a war crime.”
“Was there a U.N. resolution saying there was a war crime?” Kamelamela asked, rhetorically. “As I said before, publicly, the Hawaiian Kingdom is not a recognized sovereign entity.
“A council member has a right to an opinion and to express that opinion, but it’s not representative of the Hawaii County Council as a whole.”
Unsurprisingly, Ruggles’ message has resonated among those who favor Hawaiian sovereignty. An estimated 140, including Sai, packed Keaau Community Center Monday for Ruggles’ town hall. In addition, at least 20 residents showed solidarity with Ruggles during a Sept. 5 council meeting, uttering the words, “As a Hawaiian subject, I am a protected person … This body illegally enacts United States laws in violation of the Hague and Geneva conventions, and as a victim of war crimes that stem from this unlawful legislation, I demand that this body immediately cease and desist.”
According to Todd Belt, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, even though Ruggles is leaving office soon, her stance has raised her political profile “in some circles, certainly.”
“For the segment of the population for whom this is an important issue, it may set her up in a leadership position in terms of other types of representation if she does decide she wants to work within the system,” Belt said. “She needs to decide whether she wants to work inside or outside the system, the state and local system, such as it is — the de facto system of government. … The only thing she could run for is in context of the de facto system. It could enhance her profile among some political movements.
“Other than that, it doesn’t enhance any electoral prospects, if she’s not going to be working within the system.”
Cedric Yamanaka, a spokesman for The Queen’s Health Systems, said the company has no comment.
Efforts by the Tribune-Herald to contact council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter were unsuccessful by deadline Friday.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.