9 October 1997


Press Release
GA/SPD/109



TRANSFER OF DECOLONIZATION UNIT TO NEW DEPARTMENT WILL NOT DIMINISH IMPORTANCE OF ITS WORK, FOURTH COMMITTEE TOLD

19971009
Under-Secretaries-General for Political, Assembly Affairs, Stress Close Coordination, No Reduction in Decolonization Budget or Staffing

The transfer of the decolonization unit from the Department of Political Affairs to the newly established Department for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services in no way diminished the importance of the United Nations work on decolonization, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services Jin Yongjian said this afternoon. He was addressing the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization), as it continued its general debate on decolonization issues.

Mr. Jin said a Disarmament and Decolonization Organs Servicing Branch had been created within his Department, freeing senior staff to devote even more time to the Special Committee on decolonization. Neither budgetary resources allocated to the Committee nor divisions of labour within the unit were affected by the transfer. Substantive decolonization issues would still be handled by the Department of Political Affairs.

Also addressing the issue, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast said there was no sinister political motive behind the transfer of the decolonization unit. It was not viable to maintain a unit comprised of only six staff members as a Division within his Department, where they would be unable to respond adequately to the Special Committee's needs. Along with Mr. Jin, he stressed that there would be close coordination between the two Departments on decolonization issues.

At its meeting yesterday, the representative of Papua New Guinea introduced a draft resolution by which the General Assembly would urge the Secretary-General to maintain the decolonization unit in the Department of Political Affairs. The presence of Mr. Jin and Mr. Prendergast at today's meeting was in response to a request by representatives, following introduction of that text.

The representative of the United States today proposed deferring action on the draft resolution pending outcome of General Assembly consideration of the Secretary-General's reform proposals. The representative of Luxembourg, speaking on behalf of the European Union, also called for deferral of the


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matter, as did the representatives of Portugal and Romania. The representative of Papua New Guinea said he would seek action on the draft at the Committee's meeting tomorrow.

Statements on the transfer of the decolonization unit were also made by the representatives of Syria, New Zealand, India, Côte d'Ivoire, Argentina and the Russian Federation.

Also this afternoon, the Committee heard statements by a petitioner on the implementation of the Declaration on decolonization, and by four petitioners on the question of Western Sahara. The representative of Morocco spoke in response to statements on Western Sahara. The Chief Minister of Gibraltar also spoke.

In other business, the Committee decided that it would take action on draft decisions and resolutions on decolonization matters on 27 October.

The Fourth Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 10 October, to conclude its general debate on decolonization issues.


Committee Work Programme

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to continue its consideration of decolonization issues (for background, see Press Release GA/SPD/107 of 6 October). It was also to hear statements from the Chief Minister of Gibraltar and from petitioners on the question of Western Sahara and on implementation of the Decolonization Declaration.

In addition, the Committee is to hear statements by the United Nations Legal Counsel, the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.

The Committee has before it a draft decision submitted by the Chairman on the question of Gibraltar (document A/C.4/52/L.3). By its terms, the General Assembly would urge the Governments of Spain and the United Kingdom to continue their negotiations towards a definitive resolution to the problem of Gibraltar. The Assembly would recall a 1984 statement in which both Governments accepted that sovereignty would be discussed during those negotiations.

Also before the Committee is a 20-Power draft resolution on implementation of the Declaration on decolonization (document A/C.4/52/L.4). By its terms, the Assembly would urge the Secretary-General to maintain the United Nations "decolonization branch" and all its functions pertaining to the Fourth Committee and to the Special Committee on decolonization in the Department of Political Affairs. Reaffirming the political nature and substance of the Special Committee's mandate, the Assembly would express concern that related administrative changes proposed by the Secretary-General could jeopardize, downgrade and undermine the United Nations decolonization programme. It would urge that he avail the decolonization branch of all necessary and adequate resources until completion of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism in the year 2000.

The draft resolution is sponsored by Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Cuba, Fiji, Grenada, Iran, Mali, Marshall Islands, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Portugal, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Spain, Syria, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

Hearing of Petitioners

CARLYLE CORBIN, Representative for Eastern Affairs of the United States Virgin Islands, expressed pleasure that the United States Virgin Islands was included in the omnibus draft resolution on the 12 Non-Self-Governing Territories approved by the Special Committee on decolonization. That text should be adopted by consensus.


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Stressing the importance of political status options for the Territories, he said the options of integration, free association or independence should be upheld. Although the remaining Territories were small, those principles continued to apply.

He stressed the importance of the holding of regional seminars, which were the most dynamic activity undertaken by the Special Committee. Those seminars represented the only opportunity for most Territories to interact with the United Nations and for the United Nations to accurately assess local needs. The results should be widely disseminated so the views of the Territories' people might be known.

Drawing attention to the situation in Montserrat, he said its people had continued to suffer from recent volcanic explosions, which had rendered parts of the island uninhabitable. A draft resolution on emergency assistance to Montserrat should be introduced as quickly as possible.

PETER CARUANA, Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said that the people of Gibraltar had a long tradition of democracy and self-government, and therefore rejected Spain's claim to regional sovereignty. Gibraltar therefore rejected the aspirations of those, even from within the European Union, who did not embrace those principles. As a Non-Self-Governing Territory recognized by the United Nations, Gibraltar's future could not be decided by outsiders. Contrary to remarks Spanish Foreign Minister Abel Matutes had made to the General Assembly on 26 September, there was no basis under United Nations doctrine or international law for his assertion that the people of Gibraltar were not entitled to the right of self-determination.

Under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which had been extended in 1976 to apply to Gibraltar, all peoples had the right to self- determination, he said. Could a territorial claim defeat fundamental human rights on the eve of the twenty-first century? Gibraltar was not part of Spain; it had not been part of Spain since that country alienated it forever to Great Britain by treaty in 1713.

Whatever one thought of it, the history of the world could not be rewritten, he went on to say. Still less could it be rewritten in order to deny human rights. Spain's position, which it based on the principle that there could be no partial or total disruption of the territorial integrity and political unity of a sovereign State, was therefore based on a grave misconception, and a misrepresentation of the principle of territorial integrity. Gibraltar was the first and only colony in Europe. Its people were proud of their heritage. They were self-governing and politically mature and were ready to determine their own destiny.


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The recent announcement by the United Kingdom of a comprehensive review of its dependent territories was welcome and dovetailed well with Gibraltar's plans for modernizing its constitutional relationship with the administering Power, he said. Gibraltar was ready to table proposals for constitutional development by which it would retain a close but non-colonial relationship with the United Kingdom. While Gibraltar did not wish to preclude friendly coexistence with Spain, that the matter could not be decided in bilateral talks between Spain and the United Kingdom.

EL HASSANE ZAHID (Morocco), speaking on a point of order, asked whether Jean-Paul LeCoq, forthcoming petitioner on behalf of 14 elected French officials, was aware that the Moroccan press had reported that his request for a hearing was an individual request and that the signatories to his letter had been coerced into signing it.

MACHIVENYIKA TOBIAS MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, said the request for a hearing which he received from Mr. LeCoq had contained signatures; he did not know whether they were forged. He asked whether the Committee should give credence to Moroccan news reports.

JEAN-PAUL LECOQ, Mayor of Gonfreville l'Orcher, France, speaking on behalf of 14 elected French officials, said that the rights of the people of Western Sahara should be defended. They denounced the incompetence of the United Nations for some failures in the region, but were encouraged by the appointment of the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, James Baker III. An important stage had been crossed, and Mr. Baker had been able to make progress on a seemingly deadlocked process. The presence of Algeria and Mauritania as observer countries was also welcomed.

He welcomed the progress made with respect to the identification of referendum voters, the code of conduct and the release of prisoners. Also welcomed was the extension of the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO). Recent United Nations action had been firm, tough and encouraging. However, a heightened vigilance must be maintained. A mission of elected officials, organized by both Morocco and by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO), should be sent to the region.

Would the United Nations be the exclusive authority during the transition phase in the Western Sahara and receive the necessary resources? he asked. Would it control access to the media and implement conditions of the code of conduct, including freedom of expression and movement? Would there be independent referendum monitors? The French signatories would make every effort to support Sahrawis' right to self-determination.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) asked whether Mr. LeCoq had read the referendum plan or the recent Houston agreements on the question of Western Sahara.


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Mr. LECOQ said he had read the Houston agreements and had praised Morocco for its contributions to them. His questions were directed to the United Nations, not to Morocco.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said that it was Morocco which had initiated the concept of a referendum.

FELIPE BRIONES VIVES, of the Federación Estatal de Instituciones Solidarias con el Pueblo Saharaui, said there were many Spanish institutions which supported the Sahrawi people. Morocco had no historical claim to the area. In 1974, Spain undertook a census in the region. In 1975, it adopted a decolonization law on the Sahara, by which there would be a self-determination referendum. On what basis had Morocco invaded the southern half of Western Sahara at that time? It was not known what Morocco meant by administration. Did it include genocidal acts in the region? Almost by magic, Morocco had made itself one of the two parties which would decide the future of the people.

The Secretary-General intended to break the deadlock in the area, he said. That explained his appointment of Mr. Baker, he said. There had been progress because the principles of the Western Sahara settlement plan had been followed. The referendum was unique, because one of the parties involved had for years been undertaking acts of torture. The Moroccan police had remained immobile during negotiations; MINURSO must be cautious in light of that fact. During the transition period, would MINURSO make it possible for eminent persons to enter the region? "Would MINURSO become a perpetrator in the staging of a farce?"

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said that petitioners should assist the Committee in its work. Mr. Vives' allegations had not done so.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, asked Morocco to reserve its remarks to statements in right of reply at the end of the meeting.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said it was the practice that representatives be allowed to make comments in response to petitioners' statements.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, said a brief comment would be allowed.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said Mr. Vives' statements included untruths. Did the petitioner know that the International Court of Justice had decided that there were ties of allegiance between Morocco and the Sahara? Mr. Vives' was therefore a "partial testimony". At the time of the 1974 census, the majority of the Sahrawi people had fled into Morocco. The settlement plan addressed that fact, enabling all people who claimed to be Sahrawi to approach the Identification Commission.


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He asked whether Mr. Vives had read a 1975 report of the Secretary- General on the matter of Western Sahara. If he had read newspaper reports of Sahrawi people who had fled, he would have known that they were not fleeing Morocco, where there had been no violations of human rights. Also, rights of authority in the region had been outlined in the settlement plan and the Houston agreements. Had Mr. Vives read those documents?

Mr. VIVES said the decision of the International Court of Justice had established Morocco's links to the surrounding region and upheld the rights of the people there. The 1974 Spanish census had focused not on ethnicity but on demography. Spanish colonization of the Western Sahara was not effected until 1934. Some groups had struggled against a colonial presence in the region. Not all people who fled the area had fled to Morocco.

Mr. ZAHID (Morocco) said Mr. Vives had recognized that the 1974 census was not exhaustive. Many people had indeed fled the region.

AHMED BOUKHARI of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el- Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO) said that after the dangerous impasse which for so long deadlocked the peace process in Western Sahara, new perspectives had emerged. There were solid reasons to believe that the decolonization conflict in the region could be ended in a just and definitive manner.

In part because of a renewed interest by the United Nations, sombre perspectives had been overcome, he said. The POLISARIO had welcomed the appointment of the Secretary-General's Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, James Baker III, and had reaffirmed its willingness to cooperate to ensure that his mission would be successful. As a humanitarian gesture, POLISARIO had released 85 Moroccan prisoners of war. Unfortunately, they had not as yet been able to return home.

As a result of direct talks administered by Mr. Baker, POLISARIO and Morocco had reached agreements capable of overcoming the problems that had been preventing implementation of the peace plan. However, past experience showed that it was important to remain vigilant. The United Nations, in cooperation with the Organization of African Unity (OAU), should provide leadership in that process and not be led by either of the parties.

TERESA K. SMITH DE CHERIF, of the Sahara Fund, said she had been in West Saharan refugee camps when the United Nations flag was raised. However, most of those refugees, including women and children, were still in the Tindouf camps. Thanks to direct talks between POLISARIO and Morocco, progress had been made. However, it was important to determine whether there would be a climate of fairness or intimidation in the upcoming referendum. Vigilance was necessary. The identification of prospective voters had to be monitored closely. Further, there must be no change in Western Saharan demographics, as a drive to repopulate Western Sahara would manipulate the outcome of the referendum.


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The pre-electoral atmosphere in the region could validate or invalidate the outcome of the election, she went on to say. Several conditions existed which must be met in order to ensure a fair and equitable result. Among other things, Sahrawi returnees and residents of the region must feel safe. Also, mechanisms for the timely and just redress of violations must be instituted. The international community must be determined to stop any attempt to undermine the referendum process.

Transfer of Decolonization Unit

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, drew attention to the draft resolution introduced yesterday by the representative of Papua New Guinea, by which the General Assembly would urge the Secretary-General to maintain the United Nations decolonization unit in the Department of Political Affairs. At the request of several representatives at that meeting, the Under-Secretary- General for General Assembly Affairs and Conferences Services and the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs would now address the Committee.

JIN YONGJIAN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, said the Chairman of the Special Committee on decolonization had in May written to the Secretary-General expressing concern that the proposed transfer of the decolonization unit represented an attempt to diminish the political essence of the Special Committee's mandate. In his July response, the Secretary-General said he had concluded that it would be in the best interests of the efficient operation of the United Nations that the decolonization team be moved to the new Department of General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services. That decision in no way diminished the importance of the work of decolonization. His Department would collaborate closely with the Department of Political Affairs on all decolonization matters, particularly in the preparation of substantive reports. The Secretary-General was committed to ensuring that all intergovernmental and expert bodies were provided with services of the highest standard.

The mandate of the Special Committee would not be at all affected, he said. The Secretary-General was wholeheartedly committed to the cause of decolonization. The transfer would not diminish the political importance of the Special Committee and was only of an administrative nature.

A Disarmament and Decolonization Organs Servicing Branch had been created in the Department, freeing senior staff to devote even more time to the Special Committee. Budgetary resources allocated to the Committee would not change.

KIERAN PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said there had been confusion, misinformation and disinformation about the transfer of the decolonization unit. The substantive foreign policy work of the Fourth


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Committee and of the Special Committee would remain within the purview of the Department of Political Affairs. When representatives wished to discuss Special Committee matters with the Secretary-General, their requests would be handled by the Department of Political Affairs. There would be close collaboration between the two Departments.

The Secretary-General had concluded that it would be in the best interest of the Organization that the Special Committee be moved to the new Department, he said. The three Professional and three General Service staff devoted to decolonization issues, if moved out of the new Department, would not be able to respond adequately to the Special Committee's needs. Where in the Department of Political Affairs would that small unit be located? It could not be attached to its regional divisions. Suggestions of an analogy to the Palestinian Rights Division were lacking, as that Division was large, was responsible for one specific concern, and was engaged in mostly substantive work. The substantive work of the Special Committee and of the Fourth Committee would still be handled by the Department of Political Affairs. Suggestions that the transfer represented a downgrading were, therefore, confusing.

UTULA U. SAMANA (Papua New Guinea), Chairman of the Special Committee on Decolonization, asked to respond to the statements of Mr. Jin and Mr. Prendergast.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, asked the Committee not to delve into debate, but rather to ask questions.

Mr. SAMANA (Papua New Guinea) said he would reserve his comments for a later date.

ANTONIO GAMITO (Portugal) asked Mr. Jin and Mr. Prendergast to explain the rationale behind the transfer of the decolonization unit. Was it motivated by financial concerns? If so, were savings accrued? Did the transfer send an erroneous message to the international community about efforts for decolonization? The Secretary-General's reform proposals were not at stake. Did the process of decolonization include a political dimension?

Mr. JIN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, said the Secretary-General had pointed out in his letters to the Chairman of the Special Committee that he attached great importance to that body's work. The transfer was not intended to diminish its political essence but to raise administrative efficiency. The establishment of the Disarmament and Decolonization Organs Servicing Branch would provide the Special Committee with even more resources, and potentially more staff when necessary. The resources allocated to the decolonization programme would not change.


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Mr. PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the correct question was what the losses would be if the transfer was not undertaken? A Division in the Department of Political Affairs, having only three Professionals and three General Service staff, was not viable. The budget for the unit had not changed. The transfer was undertaken now according to the Secretary-General's reform proposals. Three units had required decision on their status: decolonization, disarmament and Palestinian rights. With regard to the decolonization unit, the entire unit had to be moved because it was so small. The Centre for Disarmament was large enough to be divided. Did that mean a downgrading of the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security)? That was not the case. There was no sinister political motive behind the transfer of the decolonization unit, he said.

FAYSSAL MEKDAD (Syria), Rapporteur of the Special Committee, said that if the Under-Secretaries-General were "in our seats, they would have expressed the same concerns". The possible downgrading of the Special Committee was of concern. It was not a question of reform. That sort of change sent the wrong kind of signal. It would be better to go back to the previous situation.

PETER RIDER (New Zealand) said the fragmentation of the decolonization unit was surprising. To which Department would the Special Committee provide reports? What were the actual efficiencies that had been obtained by the transfer?

SYED AKBARUDDIN (India) asked why the General Assembly had not been informed that its resolution 51/219 -- which concerned the decolonization unit and was valid until the year 2001 -- had been overlooked in the process of reforms. The reforms had actually increased the number of United Nations Departments and had cross-referenced responsibilities among them. How did that increase efficiency? Other changes had adversely affected the servicing of Committees. All Committees reporting to the Fourth Committee should receive equal treatment.

Mr. JIN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, responding to New Zealand, said that information was to be submitted first to the Secretary-General and then go to the departments concerned. That process would function as in the past. Divisions of labour had not been affected by the transfer of the decolonization unit -- substantive issues would be handled by the Department of Political Affairs. Issues such as the political aspects of the situations in East Timor and Western Sahara would also be handled by that Department. In principle, the proposals of the Secretary-General would not affect the activities of the United Nations programme.

Mr. PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, said the decolonization programme would still be implemented by the Secretariat. He asked for time to reflect on representatives' other questions.


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BERNARD TANOH-BOUTCHOUE (Côte d'Ivoire) said that it was impossible to find the decolonization unit in the organigram in the programme budget for the 1998-1999 biennium. How could the battle against decolonization continue in the face of such a fact?

FRANK GUARINI (United States), speaking on a point of order, said the issue of United Nations reform was currently being considered by the plenary of the General Assembly. It would be prudent to postpone action on the draft resolution introduced by Papua New Guinea until after that discussion was completed. The Fourth Committee was not the proper forum for such a proposal.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, said that the representative of the United States should repeat his question of procedure when the Committee addressed the matter of the decolonization unit.

Mr. GUARINI (United States), speaking on a point of order, said it was pertinent to ask whether the Committee was competent to consider the matter.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, said that when Committee was next seized of the matter, the United States could then pose its question.

ANA MARIA RAMIREZ (Argentina) asked for an explanation of the benefits of the transfer of the decolonization unit. Also, what criteria, beyond the number of staff, were used to differentiate the transferred units?

Mr. GAMITO (Portugal) asked if the Secretariat had conceded that, despite the transfer, decolonization issues were of a political nature.

Mr. JIN, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs and Conference Services, responding to Côte d'Ivoire, said the Disarmament and Decolonization Organs Servicing Branch was newly established, and so had not been reflected in the programme budget for the biennium 1998-1999. No changes had been made in the resources allocated to the decolonization unit. As to the benefits of the transfer, he said it was the Secretary-General's aim to improve the efficiency and quality of the servicing of Committees.

Mr. PRENDERGAST, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, responding to Portugal, said that decolonization was, of course, a political issue. Fourth Committee issues were of a broad spectrum. A decolonization unit of three people was not viable in the Department of Political Affairs.

Mr. SAMANA (Papua New Guinea), Chairman of the Special Committee on decolonization, said the co-sponsors of the resolution intended to seek action on it tomorrow.

Mr. GAMITO (Portugal) said he had not had a chance to confer with the co-sponsors. Decolonization issues must not be undermined. The Chairman of


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the Special Committee and the co-sponsors should meet with the Secretary- General. Until then, consideration of the draft resolution should be deferred.

Mr. RIDER (New Zealand) asked that his delegation's name be added to the list of co-sponsors.

YURIKO BACKES (Luxembourg), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the Union supported deferring consideration of the draft resolution to a later date. It was important that delegations had time to consider it. A vote on Friday, 10 October, would preclude full consideration of the draft. There was no justification for a hasty vote.

Mr. MAPURANGA (Zimbabwe), Committee Chairman, proposed that 16 October be the deadline for delegations' submission of amendments to the draft resolutions and decisions before the Committee, and that action on the drafts be taken on 27 October.

The Committee approved his proposal.

OLEG N. CHTCHERBAK (Russian Federation) said he welcomed the Chairman's proposal.

Mr. SAMANA (Papua New Guinea) endorsed the Chairman's proposals. He then announced that Namibia, Bolivia, Iraq, United Republic of Tanzania and New Zealand had been added as co-sponsors of the draft resolution.

PETRU DUMITRIU (Romania), Committee Vice-Chairman, said his country supported deferring consideration of the draft resolution on the transfer of the decolonization unit.

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