21 May 2003
PRESSING DEVELOPMENT ISSUES STALL PREPARATIONS FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT,
CARIBBEAN REGIONAL SEMINAR TOLD
Role of Administering Powers
And Relationship with Locally Elected Officials Debated
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
THE VALLEY, Anguilla, 20 May -- As the Regional Seminar on Advancing the Decolonization Process in the Caribbean and Bermuda continued this afternoon, a dynamic discussion ensued about the most pressing social and economic development issues underpinning the preparations for the Non-Self-Governing Territories to assume the responsibilities of self-government.
Convening the three-day regional seminar in the context of the United Nations Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism (2001-2010) was the Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, also known as the Special Committee of 24 on decolonization.
Established by the General Assembly in 1961, the Special Committee examines the application of the 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, which advocates that “steps should be taken to transfer, unconditionally, all powers to the Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories so that they might enjoy complete freedom and independence”.
Administering Powers had an obligation under the United Nations Charter to bring the peoples of those Territories to a full measure of self-government, which could be achieved through free association, integration with another State, or independence.
Their relationship with the territories of the Caribbean was discussed this afternoon by regional experts, ministers and other elected officials of the Non-Self-Governing Territories, as well as by a representative of the United Kingdom, which administers 10 Territories of the remaining 16 Territories on the United Nations list.
The Leader of the opposition in Anguilla said he was sending an “SOS” to the United Nations –- “we need your intervention”. Asserting that there was no true partnership between Anguilla and the United Kingdom, he said the administering Power had done everything to ensure that Anguillans did not have the ability to determine their own destiny. All forms of colonialism also implied economic and social colonialism, and Anguilla was in a “desperate” state. Yet, “stay small, keep investors out, don’t spoil Anguilla” were the instructions of the Government of the United Kingdom. Moreover, appointed officials of the United Kingdom had absolute power over locally elected ones.
Addressing the concern that locally elected officials in Anguilla had responsibilities without power, the United Kingdom representative said that was the exact characterization of the London perspective –- that its overseas governors had responsibilities, but no power. “So, we are at complete ends of the spectrum on that one”, he said. On the point made that the United Kingdom was turning away meaningful investments from Anguilla, certainly it understood its responsibility to encourage investment. If it was turning them away, then that was being done, in consultation with the Anguillan Government and others, for a very good reason. He suspected that the investments being turned away were those that Anguillans had not wanted in the first place.
Reminding participants that the seminar was not intended to put on trial the administering Powers, the representative of Côte d’Ivoire, a Special Committee member, said the Seminar was a valuable forum for an exchange of views, aimed at educating about the “feelings of the fight” to end decolonization. Members could also review the three options presented by the United Nations to allow the peoples of the Territories to choose, when they were ready, the best one for their peoples. That decision had not only involved development, but also the wishes of the peoples to decide their economic, social, and political path.
Participation by member States of the Special Committee also included an intervention by the representative of the United Republic of Tanzania, which, although independent for more than 40 years, was still grappling with the effects of colonialism, economic independence, and, now, globalization. She had really understood the sentiments expressed throughout the day about the difficulties facing the Territories; her country still had needed the assistance of its former “colonial Power” to reform its civil service. So, the question of what was desirable and what was doable must be addressed. As that was her delegation’s first regional seminar on decolonization, she commended it for being educative, frank and dialogue-driven.
The representative of Indonesia, another Special Committee member, said he supported the view at the previous seminar that the Declaration on decolonization would not be complete if there remained even one Non-Self-Governing Territory. Having been a “victim” of colonialism, Indonesia supported the wish of the
16 Territories. Echoing the views expressed in various forums, it was not prudent to apply only a single set of specific rules to all cases. The Committee probably should evaluate each of the 16 cases individually.
Hailing the Seminar as a unique opportunity for dialogue, the representative of Iran, also a Committee member, said he heard much about the Committee’s plan of action, on the one hand, and the process of modernization of the constitutions of the Territories, on the other hand. The latter was between the administering Powers and the governments of the Non-Self-Governing Territories. Perhaps the time was now to explore ways and means for closer cooperation between the Committee and the “other side”, he suggested.
From the region, the representative of Montserrat called for a clear definition of decolonization, which presently meant different things to different people. Preparations for independence should also be clarified. Within England, there were people of colour who were capable of being governors, yet there was no black governor in any of the colonies. He also wondered why it had not been possible to have a local person elevated to the position of governor. If his and other Territories were preparing for self-determination, they should at least “get the practice to do what we ought to do”, he said.
Experts also shared their views on the question of constitutional modernization in the Caribbean. In an essay entitled “Constitutional Modernization in Montserrat and Cayman Islands: Constitutional Advancement or Colonial Entrenchment?”, Howard Fergus (Montserrat) asserted that, over the past 30 years, none of the Caribbean British Overseas Territories had made any vigorous or sustained agitation for constitutional modernization, which connoted advancement in self-government and self-determination. Guidelines for reform leading to self-determination should define the circumstances that were conducive to reform and those that constrained it.
Speaking about self-government in the Cayman Islands, Sophia Ann Harris, President-elect, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said that, notwithstanding that it was a Non-Self-Governing Territory, the Caymans, over the years, had developed a plan to virtually create itself out of nothing, with almost no aid or input from the United Kingdom Government over the past six decades. As a stable and sound financial centre, the Cayman Islands had done much right in its own development. How did one then address the issue of self-government when a jurisdiction in question had enjoyed much success under the present system? she asked. For the first time, it seemed, the Caymans were at a crossroads. It must ponder the question carefully, as it had much to lose if the wrong path was taken.
(The papers of both experts were made available to participants).
An expert from Bermuda, noting that, since 1999, the United Kingdom had sought to delete a number of Non-Self-Governing Territories from the list and had issued a “white paper” imparting a rationale for seeking to do so, said that he had, in that same year, put forward a litmus test for the criteria to be met in “delisting”. That was not simply a question of the Special Committee identifying a set number to be delisted in any given year. When looking at the whole issue of self-determination, one option was to hold a referendum.
He said that the results in Bermuda in 1995 had demonstrated that the rejection of one approach or structure did not necessarily mean that something else was embraced. One should be careful about coming to conclusions about the will of the people in that case. Meanwhile, given the United Kingdom’s Charter obligations, that Government should be able to help countries achieve political advancement and allow inhabitants to make “real” decisions about their future.
Responding later in the meeting to comments by the Chairman and government representatives, the representative of the United Kingdom said the process of constitutional review had not been imposed on the Territories, but had been led by the Territories, themselves. His Government would then consider the proposals that had emerged from that process, which was already completed in Bermuda, and pretty much in the Cayman Islands. Regarding St. Helena, the proposals put forward were found not to be in accordance with the thinking of the United Kingdom about the best way forward.
He said he could not prejudge the extent to which his Government could accept the proposals, until they were received and reviewed, including at the ministerial level. When it looked at draft constitutions and changes to them, a number of factors should be considered, including external relations and defence needs. The United Kingdom had to make sure it had the tools in place to be able to fulfil those responsibilities. If the discussion was about “sweeping away” those responsibilities of the United Kingdom, “then we’re talking about independence”, he said.
A representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (POLISARIO Front), referring to an earlier comment, said he was not putting on trial the administering Powers, but if he could, he would put Morocco on trial.
Statements in the discussion were also made by the representatives of St. Helena, United States Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands, Antigua and Barbuda, and the Cayman Islands. In addition to the government representative of Anguilla, an observer of that Territory also spoke.
The Regional Seminar will meet again at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, 21 May, to discuss the implications of self-government in the Caribbean and hear views of the Caribbean Non-Self-Governing Territories on their present status and completion of the decolonization process.
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