Larsen v. Hawaiian Kingdom

#91 in the Moʻolelo series

Responses to the Larsen case have been enigmatic: many dismiss the case, being as it is under international law. In the opinion of some, perhaps many, international law simply does not exist. As shown in the video below, however, (which I show to my UH students studying military occupation), international law is both invisible and everywhere at the same time:

The facts of the case are fairly well-known at this point, but in case our dear readers are not up to speed: it all began in Hilo. A Hawaiian, Lance Larsen, who considered himself a national (citizen or subject) of the Hawaiian Kingdom, drove around without license plates. When he was arrested (and later put in solitary confinement), he claimed that jurisdiction over him was only held by the Hawaiian Kingdom. As there was a group called Acting Hawaiian Kingdom government, he sued them for failing to protect his rights as he was technically, or at least in theory, their subject.

Attorney Ninia Parks noted in the final phase of the Larsen case, in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (in The Hague, Netherlands), that “denial of his citizenship was so extreme in the State of Hawaiʻi” that they were forced to resort to a world court. There are three main world courts: The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

In the proceedings, presided over by the highly regarded international lawyer and professor James Crawford (of Cambridge University), Keanu Sai led the Acting Kingdom defense (called the Respondant) and Parks was attorney for the plaintiff (called the Claimant). In many ways, the parties agreed: they agreed that Hawaiʻi was an occupied state, and that was really what was at issue, more than the offense itself. As far as the PCA was concerned, the issue was whether the United States – a third party – had to be present for the proceedings to continue. (The US was invited, but declined to enter the proceedings. I mentioned in my analysis of the William Schabas opinion that this case is now a precedent case for this question, and was cited in the South China Sea case).

On its face, the case was inconclusive – or at least it only concluded that the US did have to be present for proceedings to continue. But the underlying issue, it should be obvious, is whether the premise of both sides was true – does Hawaiʻi continue to exist and is it occupied? This was partly (or entirely) answered by the fact that Hawaiʻi was allowed to enter the court at all. Years later, it was found that the record for the case lists Larsen as a “private entity” and the Hawaiian Kingdom as a “state” i.e., a country (see images below) – this is certainly not the State of Hawaiʻi, it says “The Hawaiian Kingdom!”

One outcome of the case was the suggestion that the parties return in the form of a Fact Finding commission. This was the intention in 2017, when, as Iʻve mentioned, the parties were set to return to the PCA, But, as I wrote, that plan was blocked soon after Trump entered the White House.

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