The struggle for independence, self-rule, for the right of a people to be master of its own destiny, was the struggle for human rights, Secretary- General Kofi Annan said this morning, as the Special Committee on decolonization met in observance of the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of All Colonial Territories.
It was the solemn duty of all the new nations, whether in Africa or Asia, to honor their independence by rewarding their peoples with genuine human rights for all, including the right to development and all civil and political rights, the Secretary-General said. Only in that way could they truly honor the long struggle against colonialism and pay tribute to the many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and independence.
The Acting Chairman of the Special Committee, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla (Cuba), said the observance was an occasion to remember the struggle of peoples against colonialism, foreign occupation and domination, and to pay respect to the memory of their gallant heroes. The United Nations and the international community must recommit themselves to ending colonialism in all its forms and manifestations, he said. The peoples of all colonial territories should be assured that their cause had not been forgotten.
Few United Nations endeavours had been as successful as its efforts to eradicate colonialism, the representative of Indonesia said on behalf of the Asian Group of States. As the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism decade drew to a close, it was fitting to recall that many of the decolonization objectives had been achieved. It was hoped that the admirable record of the United Nations would continue to inspire collective efforts against decolonization, in order to complete the task.
The representative of Mauritius, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said the United Nations system should assist several of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories in overcoming their handicaps relating to such
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factors as size, remoteness and susceptibility to natural disasters. He called on the administering Powers to cooperate fully with the Special Committee to close the final chapter of the decolonization process.
Also this morning, the Chief Minister of Montserrat, David S. Brandt, appealed for aid to help address the extraordinary devastation that Territory had been experiencing since the Soufriere Hills Volcano began to erupt in July 1995. Speaking for every Montserratian and for those who loved Montserrat, he thanked all countries, organizations and individuals that had helped them cope with the resulting monumental problems, and acknowledged the vast amount of support received from the United Kingdom.
Statements were also made by representatives of Senegal (as Chairman of the Palestinian Rights Committee), Colombia (for the Non-Aligned Movement), Brazil (for the Latin American and Caribbean States), Portugal and Jamaica, as well as by the Observer for Palestine. The representatives of Indonesia, the United Kingdom, Brazil and Portugal spoke in exercise of the right of reply.
The Special Committee on decolonization will meet again at a date to be announced in the Journal.
Special Committee Work Programme
The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples met this morning to mark the observance of the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of All Colonial Territories Fighting for Freedom, Independence and Human Rights. The observance was established by the General Assembly in 1972 in connection with Africa Liberation Day and expanded in 1982 to include support for peoples of all dependent Territories.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), Acting Chairman of the Special Committee, said today was an occasion for the United Nations and the international community to recommit themselves to ending colonialism in all its forms and manifestations. It was also an occasion to reassert faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.
He said it was an occasion to remember the struggle of peoples against colonialism, foreign occupation and domination, and to pay respect to the memory of their gallant heroes and to the perseverance and sacrifices that their men, women and children had to make along the way to achieve self- determination and freedom. The peoples of all colonial territories should be assured that their cause had not been forgotten, and that their efforts to build a better future for themselves and to resolve the problems facing them would find in the Special Committee support and assistance, as well as a forum where their voices might be heard.
In expressing its solidarity with peoples of all colonial territories, the international community would do so out of the profound conviction that all peoples had the right to self-determination and that by virtue of that right, they should be able to freely determine their political status and their socio-economic development, he said. Their wishes must be safeguarded in examining the options of self-determination available to them.
The success of the past decades in decolonization should inspire and encourage efforts to fulfil the decolonization mandate of the General Assembly, he said. In striving to bring the process of decolonization to a successful conclusion, the international community must recognize the need for flexibility, realism and imagination, and for practical and new solutions to the problems confronting the peoples in the Territories. The international community must redouble its efforts to provide assistance to them for the achievement of the objectives of the Declaration on decolonization.
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KOFI ANNAN, Secretary-General of the United Nations, said he was pleased to pay tribute to the Committee's mission during the Week of Solidarity. Ever since its founding, the United Nations had been a home and haven for the peoples of the world still struggling for independence.
In the 38 years since the adoption of the Declaration on decolonization, some 60 former colonial Territories, inhabited by more than 80 million people, had attained independence and joined the United Nations as sovereign members, he said. The work, however, remained unfinished.
As the final year of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism was reached, efforts must be redoubled in order to see the process through to its conclusion, he said. In the fiftieth anniversary year of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, he wished to recall the centrality of human rights to the struggle for independence.
"Ultimately, the struggle for independence, for self-rule, for the right of a people to be a master of its own destiny, is the struggle for human rights", he said. It must be remembered that while human rights began with independence, they did not end there. It was the solemn duty of all the new nations, whether in Africa or Asia, to honor their independence by rewarding their peoples with genuine human rights for all -- including the right to development and all civil and political rights. Only in that way was it possible to truly honor the long struggle against colonialism and pay tribute to the many men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of freedom and independence.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), Acting Chairman, said the support of the Secretary-General for the work of the Special Committee was an inspiration to people struggling against colonialism everywhere.
IBRA DEGUENE KA (Senegal), Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the Week of Solidarity had been observed by peoples throughout the world for more than a quarter of a century. The accession of dependent Territories to international sovereignty had strengthened the universality of the United Nations. The Organization's efforts in that area had resulted in universally recognized successes.
As its name indicated, the Palestinian Rights Committee sought to study and recommend a programme to enable the Palestinian people to exercise their legitimate international rights and their right of self-determination, he said. The Week of Solidarity was an opportunity to recognize all Palestinians forced into exile who dreamed of going back to the land of the ancestors, as well as all those who had been denied their most basic rights.
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This year's commemoration of the Week of Solidarity came at a time of acute crisis in the Israeli-Arab peace process, he said. Despite many initiatives and the indignation of the international community, the occupying Power continued to deny the most elementary rights to the Arab and Palestinian population. It was time to act to stop the escalation and heed the voice of reason. A return to the negotiating table was the only way to achieve a peaceful resolution of the crisis.
He said the Palestinian Rights Committee would continue to work to promote such negotiations, and called for a new era of peace and security for all in the region. He expressed the hope that the end of the decade might also coincide with the end of the occupation of Palestinian territories.
ALVARO FORERO (Colombia), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, said the United Nations had made great strides in the area of decolonization but it should not rest on its oars. The Organization should continue to pursue the goal of decolonization as long as there were peoples in Non-Self-Governing Territories clamouring for freedom and the right to self-determination. The peoples of colonial Territories should have the right to make their choices and to decide their own future.
There were still 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories, and the Special Committee must continue to do its work because it was irreplaceable, he said. The administering Powers must cooperate with the Committee. The Ministerial Meeting of the Coordinating Bureau of the Non-Aligned Movement, held in Colombia from 19 to 20 May, reaffirmed the principle of self-determination for all peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories, irrespective of their size and resources. It recognized the contributions of the Special Committee and called for it to receive multilateral support. The Committee must be given the resources needed to complete its tasks and realize the goal of making the next century free of colonialism.
TAYE WAH MICHEL WAN CHAT KWONG (Mauritius), speaking on behalf of the African Group of States, said decolonization was one of the greatest success stories of the United Nations. The Special Committee could look back with pride and satisfaction at the long road travelled since its inception. However, there was still some unfinished business on the Committee's agenda.
To accomplish its remaining tasks, the Special Committee would require increased assistance and cooperation from all Member States, he said. African nations pledged their full support to those efforts. The administering Powers must cooperate fully with the Special Committee to close the final chapter of the decolonization process.
He said specialized agencies and other organizations of the United Nations system should assist several of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories in overcoming their handicaps relating to such factors as size,
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remoteness and susceptibility to natural disasters. As the international community approached the end of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, it must resolve and redouble its efforts to draw the decolonization process to a close.
ARIZAL EFFENDI (Indonesia), speaking on behalf of the Asian Group, said today's meeting was being held at an important juncture in the decolonization process. It therefore represented a unique opportunity for States to reconfirm their adherence to the Charter of the United Nations as well the Decolonization declaration.
Few United Nations endeavours had been as successful as its efforts to eradicate colonialism, he said. It could not be denied that the adoption of resolution 1514 (XV) stood out as testimony of a desire to fight injustice affecting the peoples of the world. The United Nations was today at the threshold of achieving its goal of universality.
As the decade drew to a close, it was fitting to recall that many of the decolonization objectives had been achieved, he said. The task, however, had not yet been completed. The majority of peoples in the Territories in question should not be forced to submit to the will of a minority. Also, no two cases of decolonization were alike. It was hoped that the admirable record of the United Nations would continue to inspire the collective efforts against decolonization.
JOSE EDUARDO M. FELICIO (Brazil), speaking for the Latin American and Caribbean Group, said that respect for the principle of self-determination was enshrined in the United Nations Charter as a basic principle. The United Nations commitment to decolonization was unequivocal and its successes had been universally recognized.
To achieve the goal of entering a new century in a world free of colonialism, the international community must create the necessary conditions to guarantee for all peoples the right to freely determine their future. Flexibility and realism should be the guiding tenets. Consideration of the specific characteristics and particular situation of each Non-Self-Governing Territory was a basic element of that process. The participation and cooperation of the administering Powers remained indispensable.
He reiterated the interest of the Latin American and Caribbean region in finding a peaceful and durable solution to the long-standing sovereignty dispute between Argentina and the United Kingdom over the Malvinas islands. On behalf of the Common Market of the Southern Cone (MERCOSUR) and the associated States of Bolivia and Chile, he reaffirmed his country's support for the legitimate rights of Argentina in the sovereignty dispute over the Malvinas.
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He also stressed the need for a fair and internationally acceptable solution to the question of East Timor. Direct talks between the parties involved were important, and Brazil supported the tripartite process under the auspices of the Secretary-General. Brazil attached great importance to the human rights situation in East Timor.
MARWAN A. JILANI, Observer for Palestine, said self-determination was a fundamental human right and was rooted in the principle that all people should determine their own destinies. Many nations had achieved their independence, but others were still struggling for an end to colonialism and foreign occupation.
He said the dispossession of the Palestinian people 50 years ago -- "the catastrophe" -- had just been commemorated. For five decades, an entire people had suffered a great injustice. Half its population had been forced to flee its land, and more than 400 villages had been destroyed. Today, the Palestinian people were still struggling for their right to self-determination and independence. They had maintained and strengthened their identity, waging a sustained resistance to Israeli occupation for over six years.
It was now clear that stability and peace in the Middle East could not be achieved unless the injustice against the Palestinian people was reversed, he said. Most of the time, the Israeli side seemed to be searching to resolve its own internal problems. The Palestinian people had suffered immensely but were ready to make historic comprises in order to realize and exercise their inalienable human rights.
DAVID S. BRANDT, Chief Minister of Montserrat, said his appearance before the Special Committee today was not political but purely humanitarian. Montserrat was in dire need of aid because of the extraordinary devastation it had experienced since the Soufriere Hills Volcano began to erupt in July 1995. Speaking for every Montserratian and for those who loved Montserrat, he thanked all countries, organizations and individuals that had helped them cope with the resulting monumental problems, and acknowledged the vast amount of support received from the United Kingdom.
While a debt of gratitude was owed to the British for helping Montserrat stay alive, it was not enough to merely stay alive, he said. New developments were causing Montserrat to reassess its relationship in positive ways and to collaborate in the search for the best solutions to its problems. Montserrat wished to bring its society to the highest level of spiritual and economic development.
The physical damage caused by the volcanic eruptions was stupendous, he said. What was most to be dreaded, however, were the mental, psychological and social complications that could be anticipated. Some had asked why Montserratians did not simply abandon the island. However, all of the
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scientific studies had concluded that the northern third of the island was relatively safe. It was extremely unlikely there would be eruption that would destroy the whole island. There were those who would not abandon Montserrat unless scientists determined that the north was no longer safe.
The people of Montserrat wished to find ways to transform adversity into advantage, he said. One of the few advantages of the tragedy was the bonanza it was proving to be for science. Scientists from around the world had come to Montserrat to observe, record and study every aspect of the exploding volcano. The prospect of having to build a new Montserrat at the dawn of the twenty-first century presented exciting possibilities for scientists, architects, engineers and particularly those who understood the possibilities of today's advanced technological developments.
Montserrat was not simply looking for hand outs and for charity, he said. It looked forward to being able to meet soon for discussions with various agencies of the United Nations. Many Montserratians had been compelled to retreat and regroup and were grateful for the hands across the Caribbean and around the world that had extended help to them. "We shall survive, we shall rebuild, and we shall never forget", said.
ANA MARTINS GOMES (Portugal) said Portugal had cooperated with the Special Committee since the restoration of democracy in her country in 1974. It had taken an active role in promoting and implementing the right of self- determination for its former colonies, now independent States. Portugal would like once again to reaffirm its commitment to the right of self-determination for the still Non-Self-Governing Territory of East Timor.
Portugal had historical, moral, legal and political responsibilities in accordance with the status of administering Power over the Non-Self-Governing Territory of East Timor and continued to seek the improvement of the human rights situation there, she said. It had been engaged in direct talks with Indonesia under the auspices of the Secretary-General and his Special Representative Jamsheed Marker, aimed at achieving a just, comprehensive and internationally acceptable settlement to the question of East Timor.
She expressed the hope that the winds of change now blowing in Indonesia would not only bring democracy, human rights, rule of law, good government and economic progress to the people of Indonesia as they wished, but would also translate into a willingness on the part of Indonesia to solve diplomatically the question of East Timor. It must end the illegal occupation of that land and allow its people finally to exercise their right to self-determination, which Indonesia proudly exercised half a century ago.
M. PATRICIA DURRANT (Jamaica) said the right of peoples to independence must be guaranteed by the international community. It was of vital importance that Territories be given every opportunity to achieve independence if that
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was their wish. Her country appreciated the support given by States to Montserrat and recognized the role played by the administering Power. The statement of the Chief Minister of Montserrat made it clear that the spirit of Montserratians would remain undaunted. As long as their were Territories that were not independent, the inalienable rights of their people must be ensured by an independent broker. The United Nations had played that role well.
Mr. RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA (Cuba), Acting Chairman, said the statements today had clearly demonstrated the international community's respect and solidarity for peoples still under colonial domination. As the end of the millennium and of the International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism approached, the Committee hoped and believed that its efforts would ensure fulfilment of the promise of freedom and lasting peace for all the peoples of the remaining Non-Self-Governing Territories. That was completely in accord with the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Right of Reply
TITO DOS SANTOS BAPTISTA (Indonesia), speaking in exercise of the right of reply, said he wished to address the mention that had been made of East Timor. As an East Timorese and an Indonesian, he was surprised by it. He said Portugal had abandoned East Timor in 1975 with tragic consequences; East Timor had therefore never recognized Portugal as its administering Power.
KATE SMITH (United Kingdom) said the position of the United Kingdom on the Falkland Islands was well known and had been most recently stated by the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom in September 1997 at the General Assembly.
Mr. FELICIO (Brazil) said the aim of his comments regarding East Timor had been to support the efforts of the Secretary-General. He would be happy to provide a copy of his remarks in English. With regard to the Malvinas, he stressed that his comments had been made in his national capacity and on behalf of MERCOSUR.
Ms. GOMES (Portugal) said Portugal had left East Timor when Indonesia invaded it.
Mr. BAPTISTA (Indonesia) said Indonesia's position on the subject was very clear and he did not wish to prolong the debate.
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