8 October 1997


Press Release
GA/SPD/108



GENERAL ASSEMBLY WOULD URGE MAINTENANCE OF DECOLONIZATION UNIT IN POLITICAL AFFAIRS DEPARTMENT, UNDER TERMS OF FOURTH COMMITTEE TEXT

19971008
New Zealand Says Unit's Transfer, as Part of Reform, Sends Wrong Signal about Decolonization's Importance

A draft resolution by which the General Assembly would urge the Secretary-General to maintain the United Nations decolonization unit in the Department of Political Affairs was introduced this morning in the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), as the Committee continued its general debate on decolonization issues.

As part of his reform programme, the Secretary-General transferred the unit to the newly established Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services. The Committee agreed to consider the draft resolution which was introduced by the representative of Papua New Guinea during its meeting on Friday, 10 October. Several speakers criticized the transfer of the decolonization unit during the general debate. The representative of New Zealand said such reorganization "sent all the wrong signals" about the importance of decolonization on the world's political agenda.

Also this morning, the representative of the United States told the Committee that the recent adoption by the Special Committee on decolonization of a draft resolution concerning 11 Non-Self-Governing Territories administered by the United States and the United Kingdom represented a key step in informal dialogue between the United States and the Special Committee. Fundamental differences continued to exist between his country and the Special Committee on the issue of the eradication of colonialism, but the United States was ready to continue formal dialogue with the United Kingdom on the matter of the Territories, he added.

Several speakers this morning praised recent efforts by the Secretary- General and his Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, James A. Baker III, to implement the Western Sahara settlement plan. The representative of Paraguay, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the fact that Morocco and the


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Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) had conducted direct talks on the matter was particularly satisfying, and hoped their progress would be translated into practical action.

Statements in response to the introduction of the draft resolution were made by the United States, Bolivia, Cuba, Syria and Portugal, as well as by the Vice-Chairmen and Secretary of the Committee, and the Director of the General Assembly and Economic and Social Affairs Division.

Statements were also made by the representatives of Chile, Algeria, Ghana, Uruguay (on behalf of MERCOSUR), Thailand, Cuba, New Zealand, Iraq, China, Jamaica and Botswana. Statements in right of reply were made by the representatives of the United Kingdom, the United States and Cuba.

In other business, the Committee approved a request for hearing by a petitioner on the question of Guam, as well as three requests for hearing on the matter of Western Sahara and one on the question of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

The Committee will meet at 3 p.m. Thursday, 9 October, to continue its general debate on decolonization issues.


Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this morning to continue its consideration of decolonization issues. (For background information see Press Release GA/SPD/107 of 6 October 1997.)

Statements

JUAN LARRAIN (Chile) said decolonization was an area in which the United Nations had major achievements to its credit. It was an undeniable fact that the Organization's most outstanding activity in its first 50 years had been the significant contribution it had made to the achievement of independence by a large number of its current members. That achievement was also evidence of the anachronistic nature of colonialism. Accordingly, decolonization must continue to retain its place as one of the urgent enterprises in the new phase of the Organization. The United Nations must continue to maintain the validity of the main functions contained in the historic and political mandate assigned to the Special Committee on decolonization.

He said that the transfer of the decolonization unit from the Department of Political Affairs to the recently established Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services had a negative impact, because it drastically altered the political substance of the unit's work. It also potentially lowered the profile of the Special Committee on decolonization. Thus, he regretted that decision.

The new dialogue between Non-Self-Governing Territories and the administering Powers of the United States and the United Kingdom was an outcome of the spirit of cooperation that his country had sought to promote within the Special Committee, he said. He hoped that it would be the first step in a new era of cooperation. He also welcomed the understanding recently reached with the European Union regarding foreign economic activities. That should help to establish a solid and adequate economic base for the preservation and protection of Non-Self-Governing Territories' environments and cultures, so as to permit the exercise of the right to self-preservation.

ABDALLAH BAALI (Algeria) said that debate on decolonization provided an opportunity to assess United Nations accomplishments in the sphere of decolonization. Those achievements were, however, insufficient and would remain so as long as some nations continued to live under foreign occupation. The Organization must urgently complete the decolonization process. The General Assembly and the Committee must remain the privileged forum for people living under colonial domination, so that such people could ask for the moral support they deserved in seeking self-determination.


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The structures entrusted with decolonization issues should continue to receive full support, as long as self-determination had not been granted to all, he said. In Western Sahara, where a people had been claiming their right to self-determination for more than 20 years, there had been some recent progress. In particular, the appointment of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, James A. Baker III, deserved praise, as did the Secretary-General. Five recent rounds of talks had produced global agreement on issues that had previously blocked implementation of the Western Sahara settlement plan. That was promising for all major obstacles to the plan had been overcome and conditions for the plan's implementation were in place. The Government of Morocco and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) were committed to the United Nations mandate to conduct a fair referendum for self-determination. During the transitional period, the Organization would ensure the conditions necessary for a fair referendum. The General Assembly had always supported the Saharawi cause and should continue to remain vigilant on the matter.

His Government would continue to support the Secretary-General and Mr. Baker in their efforts to implement the settlement plan, he said. The Western Sahara situation had reached a crucial point. Recent developments were promising, but the international community must remain cautious. The Committee and the General Assembly must take note of developments and reaffirm the Organization's responsibility to the people of Western Sahara. The people of the Maghreb expected the two parties to loyally implement the recent agreements.

JACOB B. WILMOT (Ghana) said that two years before the turn of the century, the question of 17 Non-Self Governing Territories remained on the Committee's agenda. At a time when human rights and democracy were receiving much international attention, it was astonishing that the main proponents of that trend did not apply their own high standards to the Territories under their administration. The remaining Territories were small islands, but, as the international community had long maintained, population and paucity of resources should not deprive peoples of their inalienable right to self- determination. He, therefore, agreed with the conclusion of the Caribbean Regional Seminar that "the United Nations has a valid ongoing role in the process of decolonization".

He noted with regret that some administering Powers continued to deny the cooperation required of them to make progress with decolonization, he said. Those Powers were, therefore, called upon to follow the example of New Zealand, which through cooperation with the people of Tokelau and the United Nations, had contributed to the socio-economic development of Tokelau.


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In concluding, he offered congratulations to the efforts of the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, James A. Baker III. As his Government had supported his appointment, he was gratified to learn of Mr. Baker's success in brokering a positive compromise agreement between the two parties concerned.

JORGE PEREZ-OTERMIN (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR) (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) and of Bolivia and Chile, said he wanted to underline the continued importance and validity of the United Nations efforts regarding decolonization. It was an area where tangible results had been achieved and there was an opportunity to make progress.

The fact that there were still 17 countries on the decolonization list called for a renewed commitment, he said. At the third meeting of MERCOSUR's political consultation mechanism, held in Montevideo on 29 August, the importance of the Special Committee had been reconfirmed. Believing that it represented a diminishment of the Committee's political mandate, opposition to the recent transfer of the decolonization unit had been highlighted. Further, MERCOSUR wished to reaffirm its position concerning the legitimate right of sovereignty of the people of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas). He called for a prompt resolution to the conflict between the Governments of the United Kingdom and Argentina.

BERNARDINO SAGUIER CABALLERO (Paraguay), speaking on behalf of the Rio Group (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Honduras and Guyana), said that 17 Non-Self- Governing Territories had not yet achieved self-determination. The decolonization process promoted by the United Nations had many achievements. Over the years, 80 States had obtained independence and the Organization had played an important role in implementing the Declaration on decolonization.

He was concerned about the transfer of the decolonization unit out of the Department of Political Affairs. Such a shift would diminish and undermine the mandate of the Special Committee on decolonization, he said. The administering Powers must also be recognized for their contribution to the granting of independence to the Territories, particularly in providing information to the Organization. Regional missions and seminars on decolonization were also helpful. There must be strict respect for Territories' rights to utilize their natural resources.

United Nations efforts to obtain progress on the question of Western Sahara were welcomed, he said. The fact that the parties were conducting direct talks was particularly satisfying. He hoped their progress would be translated into practical action. He also hoped that the good state of relations between Argentina and the United Kingdom regarding the situation in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) would continue to bear fruit.


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CHARIVAT SANTAPUTRA (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said that the decolonization process had yet to be completed, as Non-Self-Governing Territories still existed. The remaining Territories must be permitted to exercise their rights to self- determination. Self-sufficiency through economic development was crucial to that process and should be supported. Newly self-governing States deserved the support of the specialized agencies of the United Nations -- particularly small island States.

Recent agreements on Western Sahara were welcomed, he said. He hoped that the Western Sahara settlement plan would be implemented as soon as possible. Such work was an example of what was required to complete the decolonization process.

FRANK J. GUARINI (United States) said that the adoption last March of the resolution on the 11 Non-Self-Governing Territories administered by the United States and the United Kingdom had been a significant achievement. It represented a key step in the next stage of the informal dialogue between the United States and the Committee on decolonization.

For years, he continued, the United States had expressed dissatisfaction with the Committee's annual reports on the Territories because they had not been even-handed and did not adequately recognize the progress achieved in the Territories. The March resolution, however, had been appropriately balanced. That resolution, passed by consensus, rejected the notion that self- determination was a unitary concept satisfied only by independence. Self- determination involved a broad range of relevant options that could be chosen by the peoples.

Fundamental differences continued to exist between the United States and the Special Committee on the issue of the eradication of colonialism, he said. However, the United States was ready to continue to work. The United States was prepared to continue formal dialogue with the United Kingdom. They were prepared to review the question of the Special Committee's regional seminars and visiting missions.

Economic activity in the Territories, far from being harmful, often directly benefitted the inhabitants of a given region, he said. Further, every State had a right to protect its citizens. In all cases, facts and circumstances unique to concerned Territories had to be considered.

PEDRO NUNUEZ MOSQUERA (Cuba) said that recent discussion of decolonization was especially relevant to the question of reform of the United Nations, as many States had become members of the United Nations after achieving their independence. It was, therefore, important not to stop supporting the rights of peoples to independence.


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The General Assembly had set the goal of achieving an end to colonization by the year 2000, he said. However, the list of Territories remained unacceptably long. The case of Puerto Rico, for example, was an affront to Latin America.

As the United Nations had been engaged in decolonization for several decades, any efforts to undermine it should be rejected, he continued. The General Assembly should reaffirm its support of the Special Committee. Regional seminars held in the Pacific and Caribbean regions were extremely important. The seminars were an invaluable source of updated information. They allowed the Special Committee to obtain information on what was happening in the Territories. Not all the administering Powers, however, provided the required information.

Another issue was that of visiting missions to the Territories, he said. He hoped that soon it would become possible to send missions to certain nations, such as Guam. Each year Guam's petitioners requested a special mission. In regard to the recent transfer of the decolonization unit, Cuba supported the general consensus that the unit remain where it had been, in Political Affairs.

MICHAEL POWLES (New Zealand) said the United Nations and the Special Committee on decolonization deserved praise for their efforts regarding the territory of Tokelau, for which New Zealand had been the administering Power. Tokelau had long derived assurance from its knowledge that the future of its population was of interest to the United Nations. In addition, New Zealand appreciated the fact that Special Committee members from as far afield as the Middle East, Latin America and Africa were concerned about the future of the remaining small Territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.

He said the situation in Tokelau was quite different from the pattern traditionally considered by the Special Committee. In Tokelau there had been no pattern of settlement from outside, the administering Power had never been resident, the style of administration had been notably light-handed and each village had remained largely autonomous. Had self-government in Tokelau developed within a more traditional colonial pattern, the temptation would have been to import a known governmental model, perhaps to allow a certain local input, but never to have begun from basics. Tokelau had to find an alternative approach, drawing upon its own tradition and setting its own timetable for self-determination.

He was pleased by the new compact borne of the constructive negotiations that took place earlier this year between the Special Committee and administering Powers, he said. Consensus was for the first time reached on the omnibus small Territories resolution. Notably, it focused on the contemporary concerns of the Territories themselves.


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During this year of reform at the United Nations, it was appropriate that the Organization's machinery for decolonization was coming under scrutiny, he said. That machinery must meet the needs of the Territories. He shared the concern about the decision to move the decolonization unit from the Department of Political Affairs to the Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services. Such a reorganization sent "all the wrong signals" about the importance of decolonization on the world's political agenda.

ROKAN HAMA AL-ANBUGE (Iraq) said the questions of the Non-Self-Governing Territories must remain on the agenda of the United Nations. His country defended peoples' rights to self-determination. The Special Committee on decolonization had many achievements in 1997, particularly in forging the omnibus resolution on 12 Non-Self-Governing Territories, a resolution on foreign economic interests and in holding a seminar on decolonization in the Caribbean.

He supported the retention of the decolonization unit in the Department of Political Affairs, he said. While not exaggerating the role of the Special Committee, the General Assembly must acknowledge the Special Committee's successes.

LIN ZIEYI (China) said that one of the most important achievements of the United Nations had been in the area of decolonization. The Special Committee had made important contributions. However, the decolonization process was not yet completed, and it was important to continue that effort.

He said his country had long supported the mandate of the Special Committee. The peoples of the Non-Self Governing Territories had an inalienable right to self-determination and a joint effort of the concerned parties was, therefore, needed. He hoped that the administering Powers would cooperate more fully with the representatives of the Territories. Visiting missions to the Territories were an effective means of determining local needs and should be facilitated.

It was important to assist the Territories in their quest for economic development, he continued. The interests of the local peoples should be considered and respected. Reform of the United Nations should not weaken attention to the question of decolonization. He had taken note of the recent transfer of the decolonization unit and assumed that would not substantially weaken support for the Committee. Rather, it should strengthen support.

HILLARY WILLIAMS (Jamaica) called for United Nations support in the emergency situation in Montserrat. The situation in Montserrat was of great concern, and members of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) had offered support. Members of the international community should follow that lead.

Special commendation should be given to the Secretary-General and his Special Envoy for Western Sahara, James A. Baker III. She hoped that progress would continue to be made.


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ROSS SANOTO (Botswana) said he had followed with keen interest recent talks on the situation in Western Sahara, and commended the efforts of the Secretary-General and the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, James A. Baker III. As well, he praised the work of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in working to initiate talks. He urged Member States to support the Secretary-General's efforts to obtain a peaceful settlement in Western Sahara. The people there had a right to choose their future status in freedom and everything must be done to ensure that the settlement plan was implemented.

Right of Reply

KATE SMITH (United Kingdom) said, in response to statements by Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay, that the United Kingdom's position on the question of the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and the Sandwich Islands was well known and had been recently reiterated.

Mr. GUARINI (United States) said, in response to the statement by Cuba regarding the political status of Puerto Rico, that plebescites as recent as 1993 showed that there were few supporters of independence in Puerto Rico. Therefore, the matter had little bearing on the work of the Special Committee on decolonization.

Mr. NUNEZ-MOSQUERA (Cuba) said he had not intended to expand on the matter of Puerto Rican independence. Puerto Rican patriots had been struggling for independence for a century. Presently, 15 Puerto Rican patriots languished in American prisons, only for the crime of struggling for Puerto Rican independence. Each year, Puerto Ricans approached the United Nations on the matter. How could the people of Puerto Rico express their independence in the face of the United States' military presence on the island? The United States should withdraw militarily from the island, then hold a plebescite.

Introduction of Draft Resolution

JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea) introduced an 18-Power draft resolution on the decolonization programme at the United Nations (document A/C.4/52/L.3). By the text, the General Assembly would urge the Secretary-General to maintain the decolonization unit in the Department of Political Affairs.

Mr. GUARINI (United States), speaking on a point of order, said not all delegations had received copies of the draft resolution, and that action on the text should await its receipt.

GUALBERTO RODRIGUEZ SAN MARTIN (Bolivia) requested that his delegation be allowed to co-sponsor the draft resolution.

PETRU DIMITRIU (Romania) said that it would be useful for the Committee


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to hear from the Secretariat on the matter contained in the draft resolution, particularly the ramifications of the transfer of the decolonization unit out of the Department of Political Affairs.

RAVJAA MOUNKHOU (Mongolia), Committee Vice Chairman, said that he would immediately inform the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, Jin Yongjian, about the draft text.

Mr. NUNEZ-MOSQUERA (Cuba) said that he hoped that established procedures regarding action on draft resolutions would be followed. Member States did not have to inform the Secretariat in advance of the introduction of draft texts. He hoped that the draft resolution could be circulated today.

Mr. GUARINI (United States) said that the issue at hand was informing Member States, so that they could obtain guidance from their capitals. He hoped that a vote on the draft text could be put off until such information could be obtained.

Mr. DIMITRIU (Romania) asked for Member States' understanding of small States' need to consult their capitals, and asked for deferral of action on the text.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria) said those delegations which had introduced the draft text had exercised their sovereign rights. He hoped that the Secretariat would diligently distribute copies of the text, in order that a decision might be taken.

MOHAMMAD SATTAR, Committee Secretary, said the Secretariat had not yet received copy of the text from the representative of Papua New Guinea. Once that was done, copies would be distributed.

Mr. OVIA (Papua New Guinea) said he would officially table the draft resolution this afternoon.

Mr. MOUNKHOU, Committee Vice Chairman, said that Committee needed more time to consult on the matter.

VADIM PERFILIEV, Director, General Assembly and Economic and Social Council Affairs Division, said that he had in the meantime spoken to Mr. Jin and Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Sir Kieran Prendergast. Both had said that they would address the Committee tomorrow.

Mr. NUNEZ-MOSQUERA (Cuba) said he hoped that the Secretariat could reproduce copies of the draft text so that all delegations would have copies tomorrow, in order to take action on the draft resolution on Friday.

Mr. GUARINI (United States) said a date for action on the draft should not be finalized, so as to allow intelligent consideration of the text.


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Mr. MEKDAD (Syria) said the issue did not require further consultation, as the resolution's contents were clear. Requests for more time on the matter could be fulfilled in time for action on Friday.

ANTONIO GAMITO (Portugal) said it would be appropriate to listen to forthcoming statements by Mr. Jin and Mr. Prendergast. Action should be taken on the draft 24 hours after it was tabled.

Mr. GUARINI (United States) said, in response to the statement by Syria, that it would be difficult to call the text clear, as most delegations had not seen it.

Mr. OVIA (Papua New Guinea) said it was agreed that 24 hours were needed for the text's consideration. Friday would be an appropriate time for action on the text.

Requests for Hearing

Mr. MOUNKHOU, Committee Vice Chairman, requested Committee approval of a request for hearing by a petitioner on the question of Guam.

Mr. OVIA (Papua New Guinea) asked whether the Committee would consider the question of Guam at dates in addition to the present week's debate, in light of the new request for hearing.

Mr. SATTAR, Committee Secretary, said it was too late to change the schedules of petitioners who were to address the Committee this week on Guam. The Committee, however, might set aside another date for consideration of petitioners' requests for hearing.

The Committee also approved three requests for hearing by three petitioners on the matter of Western Sahara, as well as a request for hearing by a petitioner on the question of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.

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