16/06/2005
Press Release
GA/COL/3123


Special Committee on

Decolonization

9th Meeting (AM)


Decolonization committee urges continued peaceful progress

 

towards act of self-determination in New Caledonia

 


Also Takes Up United StatesVirgin Islands, Bermuda


The Special Committee on decolonization, in a consensual text adopted today, invited the parties involved in the status question of New Caledonia to continue promoting a framework for the peaceful progress of that Territory towards an act of self-determination, in which all options were open and which would safeguard the rights of all New Caledonians, especially the indigenous Kanak people.


More than halfway through its month-long session, the Special Committee also considered the political status of two more Non-Self-Governing Territories -- United States Virgin Islands and Bermuda.


By another term of the draft submitted by Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the Special Committee, noting the importance of the positive measures being pursued by the French authorities, urged all the parties involved to maintain, in the framework of the Noumea Accord, their dialogue in a spirit of harmony.


(The Noumea Accord was signed on 5 May 1998 by representatives of the Government of France, the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) and the Front de libération nationale Kanak et socialiste (FLNKS).  Annexed to a Secretariat paper before the Committee, (document A/AC.109/2005/2114), the Accord puts forth the signatories’ decision to work together towards a negotiated consensual solution, which they would submit to the inhabitants of New Caledonia for a decision.  This solution will define the Territory’s political organization and the arrangements for its emancipation over the next 20 years.)


In a related provision of the resolution, the Special Committee acknowledged the close links between New Caledonia and the peoples of the South Pacific and the positive actions being taken by the French and territorial authorities to facilitate the further development of those close links, including the development of closer relations with the countries of the Pacific Islands Forum.


In that regard, the Special Committee welcomed New Caledonia’s accession to the status of observer in the Pacific Islands Forum, continuing high-level visits to New Caledonia by delegations from countries of the Pacific region and high-level visits by delegations from New Caledonia to Forum member States.


Taking up the question of the United States Virgin Islands, Carlyle Corbin, Representative for External Affairs of that Government, commended the Special Committee for the adoption of resolutions in support of self-determination, but said that if the actions called for in the 25 years of texts had been implemented, the Territories would be much farther along in their political development.  But, implementation of those texts left much to be desired.


Citing insufficient follow-up of the texts, such as on the question of whether Committee members had reviewed the status of the Islands’ admission to such regional bodies as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Dr. Corbin said that adoption of the resolutions without a modality to implement them raised false hopes in the Territories.  Little progress would be made unless the gap between adoption and implementation was narrowed.


A representative of the Bermuda Independence Commission, Dianna Kempe, touched on the constitutional alternatives for Bermuda –- an overseas territory of the United Kingdom -- as well as the social problems confronting its population.  She said that, unlike past colonial jurisdictions, there was no financial imperative for Bermuda to change, nor was there any substantial impasse with the governing authority.  Because many saw little or no British influence and because the standard of living in Bermuda generally was extremely high, Bermudans did not see a need for change.


She said that others, however, viewed independence as the needed last step to “shake off slavery, colonialism and segregation”.  Both views were held strongly, and the strongest advocates on both sides failed to listen to each other.  The Commission’s education efforts might not have changed too many entrenched views, but there was now a much better understanding in the country of what independence would mean to Bermuda and Bermudans.


Also addressing the Special Committee today were several Bermudan student winners of the competition on the best essay devoted to independence:  Akilah Beckles; Caitlin Collis; Dedra-Lee Bean; and Genevieve Brown.  They described the assignment, along with how they had arrived at their particular views on the question of whether or not Bermuda should “go independent”.


Speaking on the burdens facing the Virgin Islands in their quest for self-determination, the President of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, Shelley Moorhead, said that the curse of European colonial domination had not left one stone unturned.  Many of the remaining territories still carried those burdens today, under similar, if not the same, inhumane circumstances.  He had come to extend a new paradigm for international reconciliation and to introduce a twenty-first century prototype for how “colonizer and colonized” could progress past historical challenges and cultivate enabling relationships.


Reparation was not just about money, he said.  It was not even mostly about money.  Reparation was mostly about making repairs –- mental, psychological, cultural, organizational and educational.  The Alliance model in the United States Virgin Islands had initiated the repair of European society and the eradication of the colonial mentality, which had allowed for the dehumanization of African people and the elevation of one race above another.  Bolstered by a recent legislative resolution, the Alliance and the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement were now introducing new formulas for international repair and reconciliation.


Statements were also made by the representatives of Congo, Cuba, China, and Papua New GuineaFiji’s representative, also on behalf of Papua New Guinea, introduced the draft resolution on New Caledonia.


The Special Committee on Decolonization will meet again at 10 a.m. Monday, 20 June to continue its work.


Background


The Special Committee on decolonization met this morning to consider the question of New Caledonia, for which it had before it a draft resolution.  It was also expected to take up the questions of the following additional Non-Self-Governing Territories:  American Samoa; Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; Guam; Montserrat; Pitcairn; Saint Helena; Tokelau; the Turks and Caicos Islands; and the United States Virgin Islands.  A number of petitioners were also scheduled to speak.


By the draft resolution, entitled “Question of New Caledonia” (document A/AC.109/2005/L.9), submitted by Fiji and Papua New Guinea, the Special Committee would invite all the parties involved to continue promoting a framework for the peaceful progress of the Territory towards an act of self-determination, in which all options were open and which would safeguard the rights of all New Caledonians, especially the indigenous Kanak people, according to the 1998 Noumea Accord, which was based on the principle that it was for the populations of New Caledonia to choose how to control their destiny.


In a related provision, the Special Committee would acknowledge the close links between New Caledonia and the peoples of the South Pacific and the positive actions being taken by the French and territorial authorities to facilitate the further development of those close links, including the development of closer relations with the countries of the Pacific Islands Forum.


In that regard, the Special Committee would welcome New Caledonia’s accession to the status of observer in the Pacific Islands Forum, continuing high-level visits to New Caledonia by delegations from countries of the Pacific region and high-level visits by delegations from New Caledonia to Forum member States.


The Special Committee would also welcome the cooperative attitude of other States and Territories in the region towards New Caledonia, its economic and political aspirations and its increasing participation in regional and international affairs, as well as its intention to host the 2005 meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Pacific Islands Forum.


Question of New Caledonia


Introduction of Draft Resolution


The representative of Fiji, also on behalf of Papua New Guinea, introduced the text (document A/AC.109/2005/L.9), noting that there were minor changes in the text that reflected new developments on the ground.  Operative paragraph seven would read:  “Requests the administrative Power to continue to transmit to the Secretary-General information, as required under Article 73 e of the Charter”.  It would also read:  “According to the report of the Secretary-General A/60/69 which was presented to this Committee last week, the administrative Power has submitted information on New Caledonia for the period 2003 and therefore, we believe that it should continue its commitment in this area in future”.


The second change, he said, was on operative paragraph 15, which was a totally new paragraph.  That paragraph would read:  “Also welcomes the cooperative attitude of other States and Territories in the region towards New Caledonia, its economic and political aspirations and its increasing participation in regional and international affairs and its intention to host the 2005 meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Pacific Islands Forum”.  The sponsors had included the paragraph, as it indicated the willingness and supportive roles played by other States and territories towards New Caledonia in their effort to provide a conductive environment to promote New Caledonia’s economic and political participation in the region.


The Committee then adopted the text, as orally amended, without a vote.


Other Territories


Next, the Special Committee turned to questions of the other Non-Self-Governing Territories (American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Saint Helena, Tokelau, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands).


Addressing the Special Committee on the question of the United States Virgin Islands, for which the Committee had before it a working paper of the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2005/9) CARLYLE CORBIN, Representative for External Affairs of that Government, said that member States of the Special Committee were to be commended on, among other things, the dissemination to the people of information on their political options, as well as for the adoption of resolutions affirming the right of the people of the territories to “own” their natural resources.  Also relevant had been the fact-finding missions sent to the Territories.


He said that if the actions called for in the resolutions over the past 25 years had been implemented, the Territories would be much farther along in their political development, but implementation of those texts left much to be desired.  He was puzzled at how such inaction could continue year after year.  Perhaps there were different interpretations as to what constituted success.  For him, success meant implementation, and not the mere adoption of resolutions.  In 1990, 18 Territories had remained on the United Nations’ list; 15 years later, there were 16 remaining.  Many of the Territories wished to know why so little progress had been made, given the action plans for the two International Decades to eradicate colonialism.  They had a right to an answer to that question.


It was easy to blame the administering Powers alone, but many provisions in the texts had not required actions by them.  Among his concerns was the annual adoption by the General Assembly of a resolution regarding the successful dissemination of information, yet the people of the territories had not been the recipients of such information and had remained largely unaware of the relevance of the United Nations Charter, human rights instruments and the salient aspects of the self-determination process. The inclusion only of United Nations documents on the websites were another impediment.  The Special Committee should also consider reassessing the usefulness of the Secretariat’s working papers and target resources to more pointed outcomes.


He specifically asked the Special Committee to consider whether the United States Virgin Islands had been admitted to such regional bodies as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), given the General Assembly’s support over the years for its inclusion in those bodies.  He also asked whether the Committee had considered whether or not the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had responded to the request made of it, and why such a reference had been deleted from the resolution in 2004.  Finally, he asked the Committee to consider how implementation of provisions related to the marine resources of the Territory had fared.  Overall, it was about implementation and accountability.  Adoption of resolutions without a modality to implement them raised false hopes in the Territories.  Unless the gap between the resolutions and their implementation was narrowed, little progress would be made, he stressed.


SHELLEY MOORHEAD, President of the African-Caribbean Reparations and Resettlement Alliance, noted that from 1666 to 1917, Denmark had owned and occupied the islands of Saint Thomas, Saint Croix, Saint John and the now United States Virgin Islands.  For more than 175 years, Denmark had been actively involved in the institution of African slavery, resulting in the displacement of many thousands of men, women and children who were forced to labour on the islands’ plantations.  While the Danish West Indies was sold in 1917 to the United States, Virgin Islanders had yet to recover from the cultural, political and socio-economic underdevelopment imposed by the era of Danish colonization and slavery.


The emergence of critical VirginIsland issues before the United Nations came at a time when the United States Virgin Islands was poised to explore its self-determination, he said.  The Territory’s resolve to define an existence beyond the post-transfer environment was evident in various local initiatives.  The Committee for Saint Croix Self-Government had succeeded in bringing attention to the many disparities the colonial constructs had left in place.  Their predicament was not unique to the Virgin Islands, for the curse of European colonial domination had not left one stone unturned.  Many of the remaining Territories carried the same burdens and existed under similar, if not the same, inhumane circumstances today.


He said he had come to extend a new paradigm for international reconciliation and to introduce a twenty-first century prototype for how colonizer and colonized could progress past historical challenges and cultivate relationships that allowed future generations to flourish.  He would do that using a precedent set by the United Nations when it was established in 1945.  The founders of the United Nations had used biblical prophecy as the primary impetus for the establishment of the international body.  The prophet Isaiah had provided the ultimate solution for war among nations and represented the cornerstone of United Nations philosophy.


Quoting numerous Biblical references, he said the problems plaguing African descendents in the Caribbean and other colonized people were spiritual.  Virgin Islanders had somehow concluded they had not been brought into slavery by the Danes, but delivered into captivity by God.  That understanding had shifted the entire paradigm.


Reparation was not just about money, he said.  It was not even mostly about money.  Reparation was mostly about making repairs –- mental, psychological, cultural, organizational and educational.  Reparation, like charity, must begin with the individual.  The first place to begin was to determine what weaknesses had made the holocaust possible.  If such weaknesses were not corrected, reparations in the form of money would be frittered away again and recycled back into alien hands.  The Alliance model in the United States Virgin Islands had also initiated the repair of European society and the eradication of the colonial mentality, which allowed for the dehumanization of African people and the elevation of one race above another.


Bolstered with the strength of a recent legislative resolution, the Alliance and the Virgin Islands Reparations Movement were now introducing new formulas for international repair and reconciliation.  It must not be the desire of African descendents in the West and other colonized people for Europe to fall, so that they could rise.  A repaired people must be the vanguard of reconciliation and repair and use those formulas to usher in the long-awaited era of “peace and goodwill to men”.


Turning to the question of Bermuda, for which the Special Committee had before it another working paper by the Secretariat (document A/AC.109/2005/5), DIANNA KEMPE, Bermuda Independence Commission, noted that Bermuda had enjoyed a parliamentary form of government for nearly 400 years.  The responsibility for Bermuda’s internal affairs was in the hands of the Premier and the Cabinet through the legislature.  The discussion of Bermuda’s independence had been sporadic over the last 37 years; there had been “green and white papers” on the topic, and in 1996, the then government had proposed the holding of a referendum.  At that time, the opposition party, which had always had Bermuda’s independence on its political platform, had refused to participate.  It had urged its supporters not to vote in the referendum.  The result had been a poor turnout and a strong negative vote.


She said that that opposition came into power for the first time in 1998 and was now in its second term.  Its Premier announced in December 2004 that he was forming the Bermuda Independence Commission.  In January 2005, it began its work.  Highlighting the main points the Commission had learned from its work thus far, she recalled that Bermuda was an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, and that that country had granted British nationality to all born Bermudans and people possessing Bermuda status in 2002.  British nationality allowed Bermudans not only the right to reside in the United Kingdom and the European Union countries, but also the right to work without a work permit in the United Kingdom and throughout the Union countries.  That grant was extremely important to Bermudans, as that provided Bermudans with an alternative place to live and work, in the event Bermuda’s fragile economy deteriorates.


After touching on constitutional alternatives for Bermuda, as well as the social problems afflicting its population, she said that, unlike past colonial jurisdictions, there was no financial imperative for Bermuda to change, nor was there any substantial impasse with the governing authority.  Because many saw little or no British influence and because the standard of living in Bermuda generally was extremely high, Bermudans did not see a need for change.  Others saw independence as the needed last step to “shake off slavery, colonialism and segregation”.  Both groups’ views were held strongly, and the strongest advocates on both sides failed to listen to each other.  There was also a great deal of institutional thinking on both sides, which led to further misunderstanding and a failure to communicate.  The Commission’s education process might not have changed too many entrenched views, but there was now a much better understanding in the country of what independence would mean to Bermuda and Bermudans.


She added that the Commission’s report would be delivered to the cabinet at the end of the month, and the Premier had advised that, within 30 days of its delivery, the document would be made public.  The Special Committee would also receive a copy.


LUC JOSEPH OKIO (Congo) said Ms. Kempe’s statement had provided much information on the situation.  He asked her to convey to the Seminar’s hosts the Committee’s deep appreciation for the warm welcome and hospitality accorded to them.


ORLANDO REQUEIJO GUAL (Cuba) said he was pleased to have representatives from Bermuda participating in the Committee.  He had been unable to participate in the mission to Bermuda, but had heard about the excellent treatment they had been given.  He asked for more information on the spirit of self-determination among Bermudans.  In particular, he asked the delegation to further explain Bermuda’s possibly “fragile economy”.  How did Bermudans feel about the issue of migration in the event of a political or economic crisis? he asked.


Responding, Ms. KEMPE explained that Bermuda’s economy had two pillars, namely tourism and international financial services.  In days gone by, the tourism component had been the larger.  That had completely reversed in the last 10 years and some 70 per cent of the economy was based on international financial services.  In that regard, Bermuda’s trading commodity was its people and knowledge in that area.  Bermuda was extremely small -- only 21 square miles.


She added that there were many issues regarding international business and the insurance industry.  New York’s Attorney General had, in fact, embarked upon significant prosecutions in the insurance business.  The economy was fragile, in that its business could be easily extinguished by external forces.  While Bermuda had a good economy, if things changed, it would have nothing else on which to base its economy.  Migration and immigration, especially after September 2001, were becoming increasingly restrictive.


Special Committee Chairman, JULIAN R. HUNTE (Saint Lucia) announced the presence of several student winners from Bermuda of an essay competition devoted to independence.  It had been agreed that they would briefly address the Committee.


AKILAH BECKLES said her grandmother had lived through a segregated Bermuda and that story had strengthened her opinion in support of independence.  She had been one of few students in support of independence.  As she researched the matter, she gathered more evidence in support of independence, including Bermuda’s proper participation in a globalized world and the issues of housing and crime.  For those reasons, she favoured independence for Bermuda.


CAITLIN COLLIS said independence was a hot and pressing issue in Bermuda.  Her understanding on the issue had originally been unresearched and unsupported.  By participating in the debate she had been able to learn both the pros and cons of independence.  Arguments in favour included giving Bermudans a catalyst to work harder and to participate in an interdependent world.  The cons went along with the saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.  Whatever the outcome, it should be the product of a referendum.  While she did not support independence, she would support Bermuda in whatever direction it chose.


GENEVIEVE BROWN said she had had to forget her personal views when participating in the debate.  Her argument opposing independence was based on the loss of the British passport.  It was important that Bermudans had an open door to the United Kingdom and EuropeBermuda was small and many loved to travel.  That would become more difficult without the British passport.  An argument in favour of independence included national pride.  She would stand by her original position, however, that Bermuda should not go independent.


DEDRA-LEE BEAN said she had studied the constitution to prepare for the competition.  When would Bermuda be ready for independence?  It had not been ready 10 years ago when the referendum had been held, mostly due to a lack of information on the options available to the Territory.  A decade later, Bermuda was still uncertain and afraid.  Yet, Bermudans had grown to consider independence as much more of a reality.  It now had a body in the form of the Bermuda Independence Commission, which had the mandate of informing the people of what independence would mean for them.  She felt that Bermudans were ready to pursue a system of progression.  They had to overcome a mindset of never having been a non-colonial country.  Just as a child, who had never spoken, Bermudans must do more to explore the unknown.  Readiness would come from education.  She believed Bermuda was ready for independence.


XIE YUNLIANG (China) thanked the students for expressing the aspirations of the young generation in the territory.  One had mentioned the Olympic Games.  China would be hosting the 2008 Olympic Games.  At that time, regardless of whether Bermudans had chosen independence, China would welcome the people of Bermuda to participate in the Beijing Games.


JIMMY URE OVIA (Papua New Guinea) also thanked the delegation.  He had been part of the special mission to Bermuda on both occasions and had enjoyed the hospitality extended to them.  Before going to Bermuda, many had held a view that Bermuda was self-governing, economically strong and should be delisted.  Having been there, however, he now had the feeling that some work and education needed to be done.  Debate was a healthy sign, and he encouraged them to continue the education process.


Mr. OKIO (Congo) thanked the students for their brilliant statements.  He asked them to continue with their reflections on their country’s future.  In that regard, he wanted to know how the debate was developing among the student population.


Mr. HUNTE, Committee Chairman, asked if more debates were being planned.


Responding, Ms. KEMPE noted that, in the past, most students had said they were not in favour of independence.  With greater information and knowledge, that had changed dramatically.  As a consequence, they were absorbing information and wanted to know more.  She hoped the schools would continue to educate children on independence, as it was an important topic for them to consider as they progressed.  While the Commission’s work ended this month, she hoped it would continue to educate others.


* *** *