SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS FROM NON-SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES

10 July 2000
GA/COL/3032

SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS FROM NON-SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES

10 July 2000

Press ReleaseGA/COL/3032

SPECIAL DECOLONIZATION COMMITTEE HEARS PETITIONERS FROM NON-SELF-GOVERNING TERRITORIES

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The United Nations and parties to the question of New Caledonia must be vigilant against threats to the successful outcome of the Noumea Accord, the representative of that Territory's pro-independence Front de liberation national kanak socialiste (FLNKS) told the Special Committee on Decolonization this morning during its hearing of petitioners from Non-Self-Governing Territories.

Paul Neaoutyine called upon President Jacques Chirac of France to reconvene the electoral college on New Caledonia. The principle of collegiality must be respected, he said. There had been violations of certain provisions of the Noumea Accord and difficulties in convening its signatories. He noted that the signing of the Accord had caused an evolution of the relationship between the United Nations, the French State and New Caledonia. The Kanak people had reestablished their identity and dignity and could now accept coexistence with other cultural communities whom they would welcome in a common citizenship.

Jean Leques, President of the Government of New Caledonia, said the Noumea Accord was being honoured in a way that allowed a successful transition to a new New Caledonia. Many areas of responsibility had been transferred from the French State to the Territory. And the economy was becoming more diversified as government worked with the provinces with the support of France.

He said that the current institutional set-up, which broke free of classic models and acknowledged the Territory’s specific needs, ensured political and social stability for the 20 years ahead, though it also required daily effort to overcome conflicts and other growing pains.

The Special Committee also heard a representative of the United States Virgin Islands as it considered the question of that Territory, along with American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Carlyle Corbin said that flawed attempts at typecasting decolonization as a cold war issue, the focus of United Nations attention on the larger Non-Self- Governing Territories such as Namibia and South Africa, and attempts to create the impression that the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories were satisfied with the status quo had marked the decolonization decade. Not surprisingly, therefore, the ambitious but achievable goals of the decade had not been met.

Decolonization Committee - 1a - Press Release GA/COL 3032 7th Meeting (AM) 10 July 2000

However, there was a growing awareness that fresh momentum could be generated by initiating a new decolonization decade to start in 2001.

The Special Committee also heard a representative from St. Helena and the Administrator of Tokelau.

Also speaking this morning were representatives of Antigua and Barbuda, Papua New Guinea and the United Republic of Tanzania.

The Special Committee's next meeting will be at 10 a.m. tomorrow, Tuesday 11 July, when it will continue its hearings.

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 consider the question of New Caledonia.

Before the Committee was a Secretariat working paper on New Caledonia (document A/AC.109/2000/4) which outlines the political situation in that Territory. The Noumea Accord of May 1998 signed by the Government of France, the pro-independence Front de liberation nationale kanak socialiste (FLNKS) and the integrationist Rassemblement pour la Caledonie dans la Republique (RPCR) has fundamentally altered the political and administrative arrangements in the Territory. Under its terms, the New Caledonian parties opted for a negotiated solution and progressive autonomy from France rather than an immediate referendum on political status.

According to the paper, the transfer of powers from France began in 2000 and is to end in 15 to 20 years, when New Caledonia will opt either for full independence or a form of associated statehood. Also described in the paper is the political and legislative process now under way and the new institutional arrangements in place. Governmental structures include the Congress, a 54-member deliberative body; the Government, the executive arm elected by the Congress; the provincial assemblies; the Economic and Social Council, which advises the Government on projects and possible laws; and the customary councils, which are designed to accommodate the full political recognition of the Kanak identity.

The paper also describes the characteristics of New Caledonia's economy and employment as well as current efforts to implement a policy of redressing economic and social imbalances between the more prosperous South Province and the less developed North Province and Loyalty Islands. New Caledonia's economy is dominated by the nickel industry. The Territory has more than 20 per cent of the world's known nickel resources and is responsible for 6 per cent of world output. A precondition of the talks leading up to the Noumea Accord was the transfer of nickel reserves from the French State-owned company Eramet to the Kanak-controlled Societe miniere du Sud-Pacifique (SMSP).

The paper states that United Nations action on the question of New Caledonia includes the adoption of a resolution by the General Assembly on 6 December 1999. In that resolution, the Assembly urged all the parties concerned to maintain their dialogue in a spirit of harmony, in the framework of the Noumea Accord to continue promoting a framework for the Territory's peaceful progress towards an act of self-determination in which all options would be open. The Assembly welcomed measures taken to diversify the New Caledonian economy in all fields, as well as the importance attached to greater progress in housing, employment, training, education and health care. It also welcomed the accession by New Caledonia to the status of observer in the South Pacific Forum.

Statements

The Special Committee first took up the question of New Caledonia.

PAUL NEAOUTYNE, representing the Front de liberation nationale kanak socialiste (FLNKS), said the signing of the landmark Noumea Accord had caused an evolution of the relationship between the United Nations, the French State and New Caledonia. Its provisions were the result of political negotiations in which the FLNKS had struggled to resolve issues born of colonization and to build a future of hope. The Kanak people had reestablished their identity and dignity and could now accept coexistence with other cultural communities whom they would welcome in a common citizenship.

It was important to restore the means of economic development to create more wealth, he said. New Caledonia had important natural resources, notably nickel, and studies were being conducted with a view to establishing industries in both the North Province and the South Province. Initiatives had also been launched in the sectors of tourism and fisheries, as well as traditional activities.

He stressed the need to respect the letter and spirit of the Noumea Accord over the next 15 years. A year had passed since the establishment of the Territory's new institutions. The customary Senate and other elected bodies were in place and services were functioning. The economy, despite a resurgence of nickel prices, was moving slowly.

The FLNKS called for vigilance on the part of the United Nations and its co- signatories against threats to the successful outcome of the Noumea Accord, he said. In particular, President Jacques Chirac of France must reconvene the electoral college on New Caledonia, which had been suspended in a meeting of the French National Congress. The principle of collegiality must be respected in the functioning of the Government of New Caledonia. There had been delays in linking the State with the provinces and communities and in the co-financing of their budgets and programmes.

He said there had been a delay in the transfer of shares from the Eramet/SLN Group to the provinces of New Caledonia. There had also been attempts to destabilize the Bercy Accord establishing the process of setting up a metallurgical in the North Province. There had also been violations of certain provisions of the Noumea Accord or of the organic law and difficulties in convening the signatories to the Noumea Accord.

The FLNKS was aware of the enormous problems to be resolved, he said. There could always be a resurgence of the demons of the past because the pressure of colonial and neocolonial interests were permanent; political alliances of convenience could always shift; the majority in the Government of France could always change; and the Rassemblement pour la Calédonie dans la République (RPCR) remained politically opposed to the Kanaks' claim to independence.

JEAN LEQUES, President of the Government of New Caledonia, reported on the successful transition taking place in his Territory, set in motion by the Noumea Accord signed in 1998. Since its signing, a great many areas of responsibility had been transferred from the French State to the Territory. Emancipation was being achieved within the framework of the Accord that allowed the New Caledonian Congress to pass legislative resolutions, and also allowed the Territory to begin playing a fully recognized international role alongside France. In addition, the economy was becoming more diversified as the Government worked with the Provinces and with the support of France.

He was convinced that the current institutional set-up, which broke free of classic models and acknowledged the Territory’s specific needs, ensured political and social stability for the 20 years ahead, though it also required daily efforts to overcome conflicts and other growing pains. It also allowed him the opportunity, as President, to make decisions in a way that satisfied not only members of the two major political movements, including the Kanak, but also all the ethnic communities living in New Caledonia.

He had confidence in the New Caledonia that had been taking shape day by day, and in the support of France, within which the vast majority of the New Caledonian population wished to remain. He concluded with a plea for continued peace.

The Special Committee then took up the questions of American Samoa, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Guam, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St. Helena, Turks and Caicos Islands and United States Virgin Islands.

CARLYLE CORBIN, on behalf of the Government of the United States Virgin Islands, said that among developments at the beginning of the 1990s -- the Decade of Decolonization -- had been flawed attempts at typecasting decolonization as a cold war issue, the focus of United Nations attention on the larger Non-Self- Governing Territories such as Namibia and South Africa, and attempts to create the impression that the peoples of the Non-Self-Governing Territories were satisfied with the status quo. These and other factors had caused a decline in the impetus of the decolonization decade.

He said it was not surprising, therefore, that the ambitious but achievable goals of the decolonization decade had not succeeded, he said. However, there was a growing awareness that the work had not been completed and that fresh momentum could be operationalized by initiating a new decolonization decade to start in 2001. Adequate resources should be made available to carry out the necessary studies and other work to avoid creating heightened expectations without having the resources to realize results.

The Special Committee had never really granted the request by Non-Self- Governing Territories for observer status in its regional seminars, he said. However, the provision of resources to enable their representatives to attend sessions of the Special Committee had been accepted in principle. But the slowness of the machinery to release resources was a clear indication that the guidelines for reimbursing the Territories needed amendment. Decisions on funding representatives of Non-Self-Governing Territories should be made in advance of the sessions instead of being made on a reimbursable basis which caused hardship for the Territories.

He said that amid the decolonization decade's Plan of Action and the General Assembly's resolutions and recommendations, a referendum had been held in Bermuda, with a single option, and another in the United States Virgin Islands, with seven options. But neither referendum could be considered a true act of self- determination, as the options were too few in one case and too many in the other. Puerto Rico's Governor had addressed the Special Committee last year and had requested the relisting of that Territory.

The British Non-Self-Governing Territories had now been cast as overseas territories, he said. But that partial and unilateral integration had not actually changed the situation on the ground. The 20-year transition in New Caledonia might be too long for the other Non-Self-Governing Territories. Those and other issues must be considered seriously in order to avoid a tendency to legitimize the current political status. The Special Committee's adoption of similar texts every year, merely for the sake of consensus, had failed to take account of developments in the individual Non-Self-Governing Territories.

PATRICK LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) said that Dr. Corbin's remarks on financing of representatives were distressing. On two occasions, the Special Committee had sent out letters through the administering Powers, but they had not reached the people for whom they had been designated.

He said that representatives from the Non-Self-Governing Territories had a problem in terms of ability to finance themselves. It did not reflect well on the Special Committee when a petitioner said he had not been reimbursed for something that had happened last year. There was a need to amend the financing process. During some regional seminars, the Special Committee had paid experts who had simply rehashed old subjects while better political, legal and economic expertise was available in the Territories themselves.

The Special Committee should pay more attention to the recommendations of the regional seminars, he said. There was a danger of negating and nullifying those recommendations if, after they had been made, Committee members came back and discussed papers and propositions instead of what had been agreed at the seminars.

ED MORGAN, Citizenship Commission of St. Helena, said that the only legitimate form of decolonization was in accordance with the principle of self- determination. Just because the island had served as a way-station for British seafarers did not mean the United Kingdom could just cut it adrift without political or economic viability.

The will of the United Kingdom could not be imposed on the people of St. Helena, he said. Britain had responsibilities and could not impose its options unilaterally. Past governments had deprived the islanders of British citizenship, contrary to the Royal Charter of 1653 and past practice. The present government had promised to restore full citizenship but had been very slow in following through. The Commission requested the Special Committee to appeal to the United Kingdom for the restoration of full citizenship in accordance with the wishes of the people of St. Helena.

JIMMY OVIA (Papua New Guinea) asked whether the issue of full British citizenship had been discussed with the Government of the United Kingdom and whether there had been any response.

Mr. MORGAN replied that proposals had been presented to the British Government but had not been given a formal response. Informal discussions had been held with the Commission in London. Independence was not a viable option for St. Helena, which had only 5,000 inhabitants and was not economically self- sufficient. Full integration was also not a viable option either socially or demographically. Even limited immigration from Britain would drastically alter the demographic character and St. Helena society would disappear. The only viable option was a form of associated statehood, which the United Kingdom was not prepared to consider.

TUVAKO MANONGI (United Republic of Tanzania) asked whose views must be taken into account, those of the Government of the United Kingdom, or those of the inhabitants of St. Helena. How was self-government for St. Helena different from governance in the constituent parts of the United Kingdom?

Mr. MORGAN replied that the citizenship issue and the political relationship between the United Kingdom and St. Helena were two distinct questions. The people of St. Helena had been full British citizens until 1981 when the right of citizenship had abruptly been taken away. If the islanders were to be full British citizens, the matter had to be discussed with Britain. The people of St. Helena did not wish to impose their wishes on the United Kingdom.

Mr. LEWIS (Antigua and Barbuda) said there were many different approaches and formulations with regard to the United Kingdom's dependent Territories. The present British Government had tried to address the problem of the rights of dependent Territories which would ultimately affect citizenship. Were British dependent Territories getting together to formulate a common petition on how the whole question should be treated or would they continue taking an individualistic approach? he asked.

Mr. MORGAN replied that there had been no conference with the peoples of other dependent Territories of the United Kingdom. That would be a positive step if it were to take place. The problem went beyond St. Helena, but the solutions would be different for each Territory.

LINDSAY WATT, Administrator of Tokelau, said that the Government of New Zealand had long been committed to developing self-government in the Territory, taking into account the political aspirations of its people. The question, though, was how to do this. It had become evident that, in these tiny, isolated atolls, all solutions -– in both governance and economics -- must build on the traditional structure of the village. This had to be done without the possibility of returning to the earlier era of subsistence and extreme isolation.

With this in mind, he said, there was in place an approach and a process -– what Tokelau called its modern house project -- that had a solid, well-conceived base and the capacity to carry things through to the objective of self- determination. The outcome might not be, in some aspects, very different from the status quo, but it would be codified in an innovative way, with features that were worked out between the people of Tokelau and its external partner. What was important now was the quality of the process.

That process, in situations where the independence option had not garnered support, needed to include knowledge of alternatives, including the free association option. Governance and external association issues required, in those situations, sound research, well-informed advice and searching analysis.

Mr. OVIA (Papua New Guinea) applauded the process that New Zealand was working out with the people of Tokelau. He asked, since it could turn out to be a model process for small Territories, if it was possible to give an indication of a time frame for the completion of the new arrangements.

Mr. Watt replied that there were certain essential parts of the process -– such as building capacity in the traditional leadership -– that were hard to schedule. The next 12 months, however, promised to be a period of heightened activity, after which he was sure there would be a very positive report to be made, and a greater ability to answer the question more specifically.

For information media. Not an official record.