12 June 2013
General Assembly
GA/COL/3254

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

Special Committee on Decolonization

4th Meeting (AM)


Special Decolonization Committee Hears from Petitioners, Government Observer


as It Considers Questions on Gibraltar, Western Sahara


There would be “no question of Gibraltar being handed over to Spain” — Gibraltar’s Chief Minister told the Special Committee on Decolonization today, as it considered questions of that Non-Self-Governing Territory and of Western Sahara.


Chief Minister Fabian Picardo reiterated his invitation to Spain to test its position on Gibraltar in the International Court of Justice, following that country’s recent claim that it “did not acknowledge any international legal status to the current inhabitants” of the island.  International law on the subject was “very clear”, he said, stressing that Spain’s stance had no place in the modern world and sounded like “eighteenth century language from a twenty-first century democracy”.


Unfortunately, the Special Committee had remained “surprisingly mute” on the matter, he said, expressing concern that its failure to act would embolden “the bullies”.  As it was, Spain had invaded Gibraltar’s territorial seas on several occasions, challenging its economic model and objecting to international recognition of its sporting associations.


Fernando Arias, of the Spanish observer delegation, stressed that the decolonization of Gibraltar required a negotiated solution, but said it would be unrealistic to proceed on the basis of a “hypothesis” that attempted to ignore Spain’s legitimate rights in that Territory.  The General Assembly had, for years, called on the administering Power and Spain to resolve their differences, but negotiations had reached a stalemate.  The responsibility fell squarely on the administering Power, which was refusing to “even have a dialogue” with Spain.


Also addressing the Special Committee was Denis Matthews of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, who said it would be “totally unethical to even contemplate” handing the Territory over against the wishes of Gibraltarians because self-determination was enshrined in the United Nations Charter.  Spain persisted in its “indefensible and invalid claim”, rejecting two referendums held in Gibraltar, and resorting to “bullying and harassment” to achieve its aim.


The Special Committee then took up the question of the disputed North African Territory of Western Sahara, with several Member States taking the floor to express their support of the Saharan people, who had been caught in the midst of the heated and sometimes violent dispute for more than 40 years.


Cuba’s representative said that the Saharan people, having been expelled and uprooted from their land, had experienced great suffering spurred by clear violations of their human rights.  The Special Committee had an essential role in ending those circumstances, he stressed.  In addition, it was critical to address humanitarian needs in refugee camps, such as food, water and security, especially in light of decreased funds and budget cuts.


Nicaragua’s delegate said he still hoped that negotiations between the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco would lead to a viable solution and free the oppressed people in the Western Sahara.  Nicaragua, having had long recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, would continue to support it until it took its “rightful seat” at the United Nations.


Ahmed Boukhari, of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), called Morocco’s 1975 invasion of Western Sahara a “dangerous precedent”, noting that, since then, all efforts to resolve the issue had come to nothing in the face of Moroccan opposition intended to sabotage mediation efforts.  Furthermore, Morocco had managed to reduce the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) to “practically nothing”, he said, adding that the Organization’s credibility was at stake.


Also speaking on the question of the Western Sahara were the representatives of Venezuela and Ecuador.


The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Monday, 17 June, to hear petitioners concerning Puerto Rico.


Background


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 afternoon to hear petitioners on questions of Gibraltar and the Western Sahara.  Before the Special Committee were two Secretariat working papers on the question of Gibraltar (document A/AC.109/2013/15) and on the question of the Western Sahara (document A/AC.109/2013/1).


The Question of Gibraltar


FABIAN PICARDO, Chief Minister of Gibraltar said his country had repeatedly sought defence of their rights under international law, the United Nations Charter and relevant decolonization resolutions in the Decolonization Committee.  Spain had recently stated that it did not “acknowledge any international legal status to the current inhabitants of Gibraltar”.  Such comments had no place in the modern world and were “eighteenth century language from a twenty-first century democracy”.  The Special Committee would find such remarks denying the existence of a people an “anathema”.


He reiterated his invitation to Spain to test their claim in the International Court of Justice, as international law on the subject was “very clear” on the matter.  If Spain was unwilling, the Special Committee should then seek an advisory opinion from the Court.  Having been listed by the United Kingdom as a Non-Self-Governing Territory in 1946, Decolonization resolution 1514 (XV) applied fully to Gibraltar.  That meant there was “no question of Gibraltar being handed over to Spain”, he stated.


He pointed out that Gibraltar’s people favoured a solution under resolution 2526 (XXV) and had voted in favour of the current Constitution in a referendum of 2006.  He had repeatedly asked the Special Committee to state whether the Constitution embodied “the fullest possible measure of self-determination short of independence” to allow for decolonization, a change in legal status and removal from the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  The Special Committee had remained “surprisingly mute” on the issue and the views of his people were “ignored and sidelined”, he observed.


He went on to say that the treaty being cited as the basis of Spain’s territorial claim had been overtaken by the United Nations Charter, democratic principles and the rule of law.  Article 103 of the Charter states that Charter obligations would prevail when conflicts arose with other international agreements.  Further, on the United Nations decolonization website, it said that the United Nations was working to “advance complete self-determination” for the 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories and the United Kingdom agreed with that position.


He stressed that the Special Committee needed to recognize that “inescapable reality” in its conclusions, not just on its website, and he urged that it start the process.  Failure to act emboldened “the bullies”, with Spain repeatedly invading Gibraltar’s territorial seas, challenging their economic model and objecting to international recognition of Gibraltar’s sporting associations.  Spain had also withdrawn from the Trilateral Forum of Dialogue.  He said he deeply regretted that and expressed his commitment to the Forum.


FERNANDO ARIAS (Spain), speaking as an observer delegation, emphasized the need to explore new formulas that would help reach the objectives of the Special Committee, while bearing in mind the United Nations Charter and various resolutions.  Seeking practical solutions must be an integral part of the Special Committee’s work and should include studying on a case-by-case basis whether the degree of autonomy reached by some Non-Self-Governing Territories was viable and whether Territories were able to govern themselves effectively upon gaining independence.


Emphasizing that the time for open dialogue had come, he said that the opinion of populations was an important factor in the path to decolonization.  Nonetheless, it was important to consider that there were cases where the inhabitants of a territory were in agreement with the colonizing Power.  Under such an agreement, the colonized territory had renounced political independence for an exchange of a guarantee of social and economic stability.  To decolonize Gibraltar, a negotiated solution was required, he said, underscoring that it would be unrealistic to proceed based on a “hypothesis” that attempted to ignore Spain’s legitimate rights.


For over three decades, he continued, the General Assembly had called on the administering Power and Spain to resolve their differences.  The United Nations had proposed the bilateral Brussels talks between Spain and the United Kingdom, and the General Assembly acted to approve a draft decision on the matter.  However, those negotiations had not been ongoing, which was not due to lack of will by Spain.  The responsibility fell squarely on the administering Power, which was refusing to “even have a dialogue” with his country.  Still, he was hopeful that both the United Kingdom and Spain would find “imaginative ways” to resolve differences.


Despite the stagnation of the bilateral Brussels process, he stated that Spain continued to participate in creating a constructive dialogue to the benefit and prosperity of Gibraltar and the region as a whole.  Moreover, his country had encouraged a forum of dialogue as an initiative to promote cooperation and create an “atmosphere of greater trust” on the issue of sovereignty.  Those talks, however, had been blocked by parties more interested in advancing pretences of sovereignty.  All differences between Spain and the administering Power needed to be dealt with and resolved through bilateral negotiations, with the Special Committee playing an important role in respecting the provisions established on decolonization.


Petitioner


DENIS MATTHEWS, representative of the Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group, said Gibraltar belonged to Gibraltarians, not to the United Kingdom or Spain.  Its population, forged in a similar manner to that of many countries in the Americas, had “virtually unanimously” repudiated Spain’s claim to Gibraltar.  The Self-Determination for Gibraltar Group sought recognition for Gibraltar and to inform its population about options for decolonization.


Decolonization, he said, could only proceed by application of the principle of self-determination.  Thus, it was “totally irrational to suggest” that the principle of territorial integrity could be used without consent of the area’s inhabitants.  Self-determination was enshrined in the United Nations Charter, making it “totally unethical to even contemplate” handing the territory over against Gibraltarians’ wishes.  Noting several historical examples of Spain affirming cession of Gibraltar to the United Kingdom, he said that Spain continued with its “indefensible and invalid claim”, rejecting two referendums held in Gibraltar, and resorting to “bullying and harassment” to achieve their aim.


He expressed disappointment with the Special Committee, which had “not even offered a view on whether Gibraltar’s Constitution decolonizes Gibraltar” and which had also appeared to have adopted a “sterile proposition” that the issue should be resolved through bilateral negotiations between the United Kingdom and Spain.  He could not understand why the Special Committee had not “moved into this twenty-first century” and he asked what the people of Gibraltar could do to draw forth a constructive and helpful response from the Special Committee.


Following Mr. Matthew’s statement, Special Committee Chair Diego Morejón Pazmino ( Ecuador), defended the work of the Special Committee.  The only mandate to follow was that of the General Assembly, he said, stressing that “you cannot turn a blind eye” to international law.  There were no large countries and small countries in the Special Committee, he said, adding that “all we have before us is international law”.  Existing resolutions called for dialogue.  He pointed out that out of 80 Non-Self-Governing Territories that existed when the Special Committee first began its work in 1961, only 16 were left.  Progress had been made, but patience was needed.  He had heard several times that the Special Committee was slow to act; that was inaccurate, as the Special Committee worked on a case-by-case basis and had to follow the United Nations mandate, he clarified.


The Question of the Western Sahara


XAVIER LASSO MENDOZA (Ecuador) called on all parties, including neighbouring States, relevant bodies of the United Nations and the Secretary-General’s  Special Envoy, to make it possible for the Western Sahara people to express their unalienable right to self-determination based on the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV).  His delegation believed that it was high time to set up an independent, impartial, comprehensive plan to address the situation in Western Sahara, and in particular, the vulnerable situation faced by refugees in camps.  The conflict had regional implications, he said, emphasizing that improving the situation in Western Sahara would benefit the security situation in the Sahel and vice versa.


YESSIKA COMESAÑA PERDOMO ( Cuba) said that the Saharan people’s struggle had gone on for far too long.  Having been expelled and uprooted from their land, they had experienced great suffering spurred by clear violations of their human rights.  The Special Committee had a particular role to play in ending that suffering.  In the same vein, the Saharan people held the power to their self–determination and in determining the future of Western Sahara.  Addressing humanitarian needs in refugee camps, such as food, water and security, was critical, especially with the decrease of economic funds and budget cuts.  Her country continued to support the people of Western Sahara, contributing to the education of over 300 Saharan youth who were studying in Cuba today.


ARLINE DIAZ MENDOZA ( Venezuela) expressed concern that after five decades since the adoption of General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) proclaiming the universal right to self-determination, there were still colonized countries in the world.  She reiterated the call for the right to self-determination, a process that required both sovereignty and an independent State.  On the basis of the principles enshrined in its national Constitution, Venezuela had recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic since 1983.  Venezuela supported efforts of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy to find a lasting solution of the conflict in connection with the principles of the United Nations Charter and resolution 1514 (XI), as discussions would only be successful if they took place within the principles of the Charter.


JASSER JIMÉNEZ ( Nicaragua) reiterated his support for the Saharan people’s struggle for self-determination and independence, and he still hoped that negotiations between the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and Morocco would emerge a solution to the oppressed people in Western Sahara.  Nicaragua recognized the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, he said, pledging his country’s support to that Republic until it took its “rightful seat” at the United Nations.  He called for an invigorated defence of human rights within the framework of negotiations.  Further, it was critical to relieve the tremendous plight of the Saharan people.  The desired progress on human rights had not been made, with the natural resources of the Saharan people being colonized and exploited.  There must be a response to the emerging needs of the refugees whose situation worsened each day, he said, stressing that Nicaragua would not rest until independence was achieved.


Petitioner


AHMED BOUKHARI, representative of the Frente Popular para la Liberación de Saguia el-Hamra y de Río de Oro (Frente Polisario), said a “dangerous precedent” had been set when Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975.  The precedent was a direct attack on the inviolability of borders and on self-determination.  All efforts to resolve the issue had come to nothing in face of Morocco’s opposition.  A 2003 plan by James Baker had been approved unanimously by the Security Council, but had been rejected by Morocco, which continued to sabotage mediation efforts, including an attempt to have the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Chris Ross, dismissed.


Continuation of the conflict had resulted in the United Nations being humiliated, he said, adding that the Organization had not taken measures to convince Morocco that it needed to act.  That weakness fed the hopes of the occupying Power.  Further, the United Nations’ credibility was at stake, especially if the status quo prevailed and there were continued human rights violations and pillaging of economic resources.  The tragedy was taking place in full view of the United Nations in the form of its Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  Morocco had managed to reduce MINURSO’s presence to “practically nothing”.  That, he stated, should strike at the conscience of any noble person.  The Committee, which had a clear mandate on the issue, needed to do its utmost to ensure that the Saharan people could exercise their full rights.


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For information media • not an official record