28 February 2008
General Assembly
GA/COL/3167

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Special Committee on

Decolonization

1st Meeting (AM)


DECOLONIZATION ONE OF ‘PROUDEST CHAPTERS’ IN UNITED NATIONS HISTORY


SAYS SECRETARY-GENERAL, AS SPECIAL COMMITTEE OPENS SESSION

 


All over the world, hundreds of millions of people had exercised their right to self-determination and achieved self-government, and facilitating that process was “one of the proudest chapters of our Organization’s history” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this morning, as he opened the current session of the Special Committee on decolonization.


That chapter was still being written, he said, and until the status of the 16 remaining Non-Self Governing Territories was satisfactorily resolved, the ideals of the General Assembly Declaration on Decolonization would continue to be unfulfilled.  As the end of the Second International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism approached, he looked to the Committee to advance the process.


Recalling Tokelau’s referendum last year on the question of self-government in free association with New Zealand, its administrating Power, he said, although it had fallen short of the two-thirds majority needed for a change in status, the fact that the people of Tokelau had freely expressed their will marked an important step forward.  The referendum stood out for the constructive spirit with which the Government of New Zealand and the people of Tokelau approached the question.


“Tokelau is a commendable example of what can be achieved when there is political will and close cooperation,” he said, expressing his hope that the experience would inspire other administering Powers and Territories to find innovative and practical ways to advance the decolonization process.  He commended the Committee’s focus on productive cooperation with the administering Powers, and urged transparent and creative dialogue to ensure the views of the remaining Territories were heard going forward.  (For full text of statement, see Press Release SG/SM/11440.)


In his opening remarks, Chairperson Marty N. Natalegawa ( Indonesia) said decolonization historically had been among the most challenging mandates of the United Nations.  Indeed, since the Organization’s founding, nearly 750 million people had exercised their right to self-determination, and more than 80 once-colonized Territories had gained independence.


Despite those achievements, decolonization remained “unfinished business”, and he urged Members to seek effective ways to accelerate that process, particularly in resolving questions of “permanent” international political status in accordance with General Assembly resolutions.  There was an urgent need to establish a compelling basis for the global community’s approach to decolonizing the Territories that would directly involve all concerned.


“We need to approach each case with an open mind,” and build on available options to bring about a results-oriented evolution of positions for moving forward, he said.  Progress required considering each Territory on a case-by-case basis, and he urged Members to make genuine efforts to address the concerns –- even passions -– of all relevant stakeholders:  the global community, administering Powers and the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.


Commending New Zealand’s example with Tokelau, he encouraged other administering Powers to follow suit in pursuing meaningful collaboration with the Committee.  He also urged Members to use the annual regional seminar on decolonization, to be held in May in the Asia and Pacific region, as a forum to explore innovative ideas.


In closing, he recounted Indonesia’s experience of declaring independence from colonial rule, saying that the country’s 1955 hosting of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung “laid a new foundation for the cause of decolonization across the globe”.   Indonesia had come a long way since embarking on its path and had kept the Bandung spirit alive.


Taking the floor in general statement, the representative of Papua New Guinea pointed out that the history of the United Nations was underpinned by the decolonization process, and he echoed calls to innovatively resolve outstanding issues around the 16 remaining Territories.  Referring to New Zealand’s efforts with Tokelau, he called on other administering Powers to also be engaged in the Committee’s work.


The representative of Dominica stressed that, with only two years remaining until the end of the International Decade, the Committee must stimulate the decolonization process.  Thus far, its review had been insufficient, and it was left wanting for analysis on the ground, particularly in small island Territories.  He urged taking steps to implement the case-by-case work plan, and encouraged Members to be forward looking in developing indicators of success.  “The clock is ticking,” he said.


On territories that were the subject of sovereignty disputes, he said debate would intensify in the coming year, and he was concerned that such discussion would take attention away from small island Territories.  He urged the creation of an open-ended working group for small island Non-Self Governing Territories, which would resume the functions of a former sub-committee on territories.  Such a group could be accommodated using existing resources.


Supporting that idea, the representative of Saint Lucia also focused on the fact that most administrating Powers had discontinued their cooperation on the decolonization issue, and the extent of information and analysis in the Territories was not enough for States to offer real solutions to move the process forward.  Development of the case-by-case work plan had been “effectively stalled”, and unless implementation efforts were intensified, progress would be elusive.


In other matters, the Committee elected Marty N. Natalegawa (Indonesia) as its Chairman, Luc Joseph Okio (Congo) and Rodrigo Malmierca Diaz (Cuba) as Vice Chairmen, and Bashar Ja’afari (Syria) as Rapporteur.


Approving its revised organization of work for the year (documents A/AC.109/2007/L.1 and 2), the Committee deferred its decision on the meeting schedule for its substantive session in June.  The Chairman expressed his intention to convene one or two informal meetings to consider issues related to the organization of the next regional seminar, typically held in mid-May, around the Week of Solidarity with peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories.


The Special Committee on the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples (also known as the Special Committee on Decolonization or the Committee of 24) is the focal point for the implementation of the Declaration on Decolonization.


The representatives of Cuba, Congo, Fiji, Syria and Ethiopia also spoke.  The representatives of Thailand, Burundi, Lebanon, Spain, Turkey, Malaysia and Argentina participated as observers.


The Committee will reconvene at a date to be announced.


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For information media • not an official record